Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Italian Oregano - Herb of the Week

I covered Italian Oregano in a short paragraph in post about the many varieties of oregano and decided that this time I would discuss this plant in detail and help dispel a few myths and inaccuracies about it. 

So the Herb of the Week is Italian Oregano
                                            (Origanum x majoricum

Italian Oregano is a cross of Oregano and Marjoram and has a mild flavor that blends well with other savory herbs like Basil and Tarragon.

Technically Italian Oregano can be cut back to the ground. Often when we are trimming oregano in the field we will use a weed eater and cut it back to about an inch. But with one as old as this we usually only cut back to where the main mass is. For this plant that was at about 10 inches. We take our grass sheers and find the top of the tuft and cut back to there. It takes about two or three weeks before new growth covers the plant and it both looks beautiful again and has usable leaves once again.

To Grow
An aromatic, hardy, bushy evergreen perennial with thick dark green leaves and white flowers, this hybrid between sweet marjoram (O. majorana) and Greek Oregano (O. vulgare.) Both of these parent species are native to the Mediterranean, so it is best suited for zones 6 thru 9 in North America.  Although I can grow it here in Zone 5b, if we have a polar vortex or long stretches of cold without snow cover it is unlikely to live through the winter. Italian oregano may develop stiff, woody stems in regions with mild winters.

Italian Oregano is easy to grow in well-drained soil, forming an attractive, clumping mound of trailing branches with rounded, aromatic light-green leaves about 1-inch long. I find in some cases it looks like thyme at a distance, but close up you see the fuzzy veined leaf that is characteristic of oregano.  In early summer, it's topped with spikes of tiny white flowers. Very adaptable, you can plant it at the edge of your herb garden, in the front of a border, or in a container. To encourage the bushy growth habit, pinch it back before flowering begins. Grows 12–24″ tall.

The aromatic leaves occur in opposite pairs. Anytime from early summer to early fall, plants display tiny white to ivory flowers. They emerge from whorled bracts in a cone-like cluster on stem tips. Both bees and butterflies are attracted to them. Usually Italian oregano is sterile, but occasionally seed is produced. Winter cold kills back the plant to its roots or stem bases. The best propagation method is from herbaceous stem cuttings that can be rooted in soil or water.

It bears white flowers that are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by bees. You can grow it in any well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade. Non-acidic, poor to moderately fertile soil is best. This means you can grow it in a container or garden bed with equally good results. Too much fertilizer and shade causes this herb to falter. Loose, sandy potting mix with some added compost is excellent for container culture. Trim back plants to prevent flowering if you wish to maintain an abundant crop of fresh foliage to use in the kitchen. In regions where this oregano becomes shrubby, cut back the plant to the ground in winter or early spring. The oldest stems aren't as productive as new growth in yielding foliage.

It resembles O. majorana in appearance and aroma, and has the same culinary uses.

To Use
Many gourmets consider Italian oregano the best oregano for culinary flavor. The seemingly perfect, mild intermediate flavor is the result of its origins: the hybrid between sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) and Greek oregano (O. vulgare). Leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The flavor resembles a blend of thyme, rosemary and sage. It goes well with eggs, cauliflower, tomatoes and in salads and marinades. Use it in herb butters, vinegars, stews and sauces. It is an amazing flavor in salad dressings and oils for use on vegetables, greens and legumes. The flower bracts may be cut and used in arrangements, or allowed to dry. Leaves may also be used fresh or dried in a variety of foods, especially pastas and pestos, meats, dressings and both cream- and tomato-based sauces. Italian oregano tastes less sweet than sweet marjoram, but its flavor is pleasantly less pungent than Greek oregano.

The gently pungent flavor of Italian Oregano makes a delicious contribution to savory meats and vegetables, gives a pleasant accent to cheese spreads, and is often the key to a good pizza sauce. A cross between Sweet Marjoram and the more piquant Wild Marjoram, Italian Oregano tastes like a blend of its parents. The milder flavor makes it more versatile than Greek Oregano—it's not likely to overpower a recipe if you add a pinch more than intended. In short, it's probably the most popular culinary Oregano and we think it belongs in every cook's garden. Use the leaves fresh or dry and only add towards the end of cooking. An herb tea is made from the fresh or dried leaves.

Medicinally it is an antiseptic, relives involuntary muscle spasms, relives flatulence, stimulates the liver, it is a diuretic and causes sweating, making it good for fevers, it stimulates or increases menstrual flow, works as both an expectorant and a stimulant, promotes appetite and digestion and mildly provides a feeling of vigor and energy.  It has been taken internally to treat bronchial complaints, tension headaches, insomnia, anxiety, minor digestive upsets and painful menstruation. But as such is not recommended for medicinal use by pregnant women.

Because of its ability to relieve muscle spasms and other muscle pain, Italian Oregano is perfect to use in an Herbal liniment.  Liniments offer instant relief for pain, inflamed muscles, bruises, and sprains.

Italian Oregano Liniment
Rubbing Alcohol
Fresh or dried Italian oregano in combination with Calendula flowers (about ½ cup total per 2 cups of rubbing alcohol)

Chop herbs finely and place in a clean glass jar. Cover thoroughly with rubbing alcohol and cap with a tight-fitting lid. Place the jar in a warm area and shake daily or as often as possible. After 4-6 weeks, strain the herbs out using cheesecloth and pour the remaining liquid into glass bottles with mister tops. When properly stored in a cool dark place, the liniment will keep almost indefinitely. Make sure to label the liniment for “External Use Only”.

To Use:  Spritz inflamed or irritated muscles or bruises and rub in gently with fingertips.

The essential oil of Italian Oregano (sometimes called oil of Sweet marjoram) is used as part of aromatherapy as a muscle relaxant. And is added to salves and lotions for the treatment of muscular pain, arthritis, sprains and stiff joints. Italian Oregano has also been used to disinfect bee hives.


Italian Herb Dressing (makes 1 1/2 cups)

2 small garlic cloves, pressed
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup sunflower oil or canola oil
1 tablespoon vidalia onions, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh marjoram, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon fresh Italian oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh parsley, finely chopped
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon parmesan cheese (optional)

Whisk garlic, sugar, mustard, grated onion, salt and pepper, red pepper flakes, vinegars,

and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Whisk together oils; add to vinegar mixture in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified. Whisk in herbs, celery seeds, and Parmesan cheese. Season with extra salt and pepper. Refrigerate in an airtight container up to 1 week. Use over seasonal greens.

Herbed Marinade for Vegetables
¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup water
2 Tablespoons honey
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 teaspoons fresh chopped herb mix
      (rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano)

Combine ingredients together in a glass jar with a tight lid and shake to combine.  Pour the mixture over cubed vegetables in a non-reactive container and refrigerate for 2 hours.  This recipe is enough for 2 pounds of vegetables.  You can enjoy the vegetables as a cold salad or grill them for extra flavor.

This month we have focused on Chicken Soup as our recipe theme and I found this perfect recipe using Italian Oregano and Italian Pasta to keep up with that theme.

Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes (vegetarian dish) 
10 large tomatoes
3/4 cup un-cooked short grain rice
2 zucchini, peeled and grated
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon fresh Italian oregano (or 1 teaspoon dried)
2 tablespoons dry mint
4 tablespoons fresh parsley (or 4 teaspoons dried)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 1/2 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 1/2 pounds potatoes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the tops off the tomatoes (keep the tops, though) and use a spoon to empty out the middle of the tomato. Reserve the juice in one bowl and insides of the tomato in a separate bowl. Make small slits in the inside bottom of the tomatoes – making sure not to cut all the way through the tomatoes. Lightly grease a 9x13 baking dish and place the tomatoes inside the pan. Put the onion, garlic, a teaspoon of oil, and a pinch of salt into a food processor and mix it just a bit. (Or, simply mix in a bowl with a spoon if you don’t have a food processor – just chop the onions and garlic a little more finely). Take the insides of the tomato and chop them into small pieces, and then add them to a large bowl with the grated zucchini. Then, add 1 tablespoon of salt, the dry mint, parsley, and tomato paste and combine. Finally, add the uncooked short-grain rice, 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and 3/4 cup olive oil and let the mixture sit. In the meantime, peel the potatoes and cut them into chunks. Toss them with the tablespoon of oregano, 3/4 cup olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Mix them well and then add the reserved tomato juice. Fill the tomatoes to the top with the rice mixture and top them with their caps. Then, place the potatoes/tomato juice in the empty space around the tomatoes – also add any leftover rice mixture in the gaps, too. Add a cup of water to the corner of the pan and tilt it so that the water is evenly distributed. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 400 degrees F, and then reduce the heat to 325 degrees F and bake them for another 60-90 minutes. If it seems dry during the process, add a little more water to the pan. Makes 10 servings. You can freeze the leftovers.

Italian Chicken Noodle Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil 
¼ cup onion, chopped
1 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 to 2 tsp granulated onion
1 to 2 tsp minced garlic
1 to 2 tsp Italian Oregano

1 can (10 3/4 ounces) Cream of Chicken Soup
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups fresh or thawed frozen broccoli florets
4 cups Mafalda or rotini pasta, cooked and drained 

Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and sauté until translucent.  Sprinkle granulated onion, minced garlic and oregano over chicken, then add to oil and cook chicken until well browned on both sides.  Pull chicken part with a fork.

Stir in soup, water, cheese, garlic powder and broccoli in the skillet and heat to a boil. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and cook for 5 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Serve with prepared pasta.

To find any Chicken Soup recipe featured this month - use the search box and type: ChickJan

To find any theme recipe from this year type: recipe2018

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