Thursday, 11 August 2016


“Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, producing varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs.” - Francis of Assisi

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a common species of Origanum, a genus of the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It is native to temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region. Oregano is a perennial herb, growing from 20–80 cm tall, with opposite leaves 1–4 cm long. Oregano will grow in a pH range between 6.0 (mildly acidic) and 9.0 (strongly alkaline), with a preferred range between 6.0 and 8.0. The flowers are purple, 3–4 mm long, produced in erect spikes. It is sometimes called wild marjoram, and its close relative Origanum majorana is known as sweet marjoram.

Oregano has purple flowers and spade-shaped, olive-green leaves. It is a perennial, although it is grown as an annual in colder climates, as it often does not survive the winter. Oregano is planted in early spring, the plants being spaced 30 cm apart in fairly dry soil, with full sun. It prefers a hot, relatively dry climate, but does well in other environments.

Many subspecies and strains of oregano have been developed by humans over centuries for their unique flavours or other characteristics. Tastes range from spicy or astringent to more complicated and sweet. Simple oregano sold in garden stores as Origanum vulgare may have a bland taste and larger, less dense leaves, and is not considered the best for culinary uses, with a taste less remarkable and pungent. It can pollinate other more sophisticated strains, but the offspring are rarely better in quality. The related species, Origanum onites (Greece, Turkey) and O. syriacum (West Asia), have similar flavours. Some varieties show a flavour intermediate between oregano and marjoram. The ‘Greek Kaliteri’ cultivar  is a small, hardy, dark, compact plant with thick, silvery-haired leaves, usually with purple undersides. It has an excellent reputation for flavour and pungency, as well as medicinal uses, with a strong, archetypal oregano flavour (in Greek i kaliteri means ‘the best’).

Oregano is an important culinary herb, used for the flavour of its leaves, which can be more flavourful when dried than fresh. It has an aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste, which can vary in intensity. Good-quality oregano may be strong enough almost to numb the tongue, but cultivars adapted to colder climates often have a lesser flavour. Factors such as climate, season, and soil composition may affect the aromatic oils present, and this effect may be greater than the differences between the various species of plants.

Among the chemical compounds contributing to the flavour are carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene. Oregano’s most prominent modern use is as the staple herb of Italian-American cuisine. Its popularity in the US began when soldiers returning from World War II brought back with them a taste for the “pizza herb”, which had probably been eaten in southern Italy for centuries. There, it is most frequently used with roasted, fried, or grilled vegetables, meat, and fish. Oregano combines well with spicy foods popular in southern Italy. It is less commonly used in the north of Italy, as marjoram generally is preferred.

The herb is widely used in cuisines of the Mediterranean Basin, the Philippines, and Latin America. In Turkish cuisine, oregano is mostly used for flavouring meat, especially for mutton and lamb. In barbecue and kebab restaurants, it can be usually found as a condiment, together with paprika, salt, and pepper. The dried and ground leaves are most often used in Greece to add flavour to Greek salad, and is usually added to the lemon-olive oil sauce that accompanies fish or meat grills and casseroles. Oregano is used in the southern Philippines to eliminate the odour of carabao or water buffalo when boiling it, while simultaneously imparting flavour.

In Austrian folk medicine, oregano was used internally (as tea) or externally (as ointment) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and nervous system. Traditionally, oregano has been used in Mediterranean countries as an aid to digestion in the form of tisanes, as a topical remedy for infections in the form of poultices for the skin and as a dietary aid to lowering blood pressure.

Oregano oil is under research for its potential use on foods or skin as an antibacterial agent. It is also tested for its ability to reduce the methane production in cows, which emit 70-120 kg of the greenhouse gas per year per cow. Origanum vulgare viridulum extracts inhibited the growth of HepG2 hepatic cancer cells. Herbalists use the herb as a powerful antibacterial and antifungal agent, that has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-parasitic properties. It’s typically taken as a supplement or used as an essential oil.

In the language of flowers, a sprig of the fresh herb without flowers means: “You have piqued my interest”. A sprig of the herb in flower means: “You have filled my heart with gladness”.

This post is part of the Floral Friday Fotos meme,
and also part of the Food Friday meme.


  1. Oregano is one of the herbs I plant each spring and use 'til the first frost. I love its many uses.

  2. I never knew oregano has such beautiful flowers