Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Oregano Varieties - Herb of the week

Oregano or Origanum is a genus of herbs that includes several species including Marjoram.  I have discussed Oregano and Marjoram before so this time I just want to point out the various species and why you should look for different ones to grow in your garden.

Oregano is one of the herbs we will have available at the Plant Sale for the Garden Club of Villa Park, IL  Great Culinary Herbs and Native Plants will be included in the sale on May 12 & 13, 2017 8 am to 3 pm at the Lions Recreation Center 320 E wildwood, Villa Park, IL.

Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare, hirtum) This is the go to for fresh oregano in cooking.  It is highly fragrant, spicy tasting and can even leave a burning tingle in the mouth.  It is a hearty perennial that dies back to the ground in the fall, the reappears around the time the tulips bloom.  In the summer the tiny white flowers arrive on lacy stems.  When using to cook, do not overdo it.  You want it to enhance, not overpower.  It is a fleeting flavor however, so if you do add too much, just cook the dish a bit longer to tone down the flavor.  It is a wonder with summer vegetables, like eggplant, tomato, peppers of all styles and white beans as well as a complement to meat dishes.

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) A tender perennial herb with a shallow root system that does not do well in colder winters, most grow it as an annual.  Marjoram attracts honey bees and helps the garden. The flavor and aroma are very herbaceous.  It is softer than oregano, with a slightly camphoric taste but not a fiery heat. The flower heads are tight green balls called knots that can be harvested and dried for flower arrangements or decorations.  The flavor is compatible with many varieties of foods, from summer vegetables to mushrooms, fish, meat and poultry.  It flavors stews, marinades, sautes, dressing, vinegars, butter, and oils making it a must have in most kitchens. You can even take it as a tea to relieve stomach upset and to assist with coughs.

Italian Oregano (Origanum x majoricum) A more recent cross between Greek oregano and Sweet marjoram, Italian oregano tastes like marjoram but has a more perennial habit of Greek oregano, but is not quite as hardy.  It goes to flower later in the season, and springs forth sooner in the spring giving it a longer harvest season than marjoram. An easy-growing plant for the garden or container.  In the garden, use this oregano as an edging plant. Plants spread when happy, rooting along the stems. Harvest leaves or stems anytime during the growing season. Flavor is most intense just before plants flower. Trim plants often to keep flower formation at bay. It has all the uses of both plants above.

Common Oregano (Origanum vulgare) This is an aggressive grower that this nearly identical to Greek oregano except the flowers are pink instead of white.  It however as almost no flavor.  You will find it sold in garden centers marked as oregano (because it is) but it is not the culinary herb you may be looking for.  It can cross pollinate other oreganoes diminishing their flavor or spread so much more quickly that is overtakes the more tasty varieties.  Because of these issues it is best to smell and taste the oregano at the garden center before you buy it to make sure it has the strong culinary flavor you desire.

To care for any of these oregano varieties, cut them back if they begin to flower to keep the flavor at its peak and use them dried or fresh throughout the year.

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