Oregano is popularly known as the pizza herb, which is not to say that its role is limited to flavouring tomato sauces. A few sprigs of oregano will add a je ne sais quoi to stews, or use them as a brush to baste oil onto barbecuing meats, and a few leaves perk up a plain omelette or meaty fish no end. The plant itself has an abundance of dark green, gorgeously aromatic and very slightly hairy leaves that in summer form a gentle undulation but lie lower throughout winter. The summer sees clusters of tiny, tubular mauve flowers which transform it into a plant worthy of any border or to grow in decorative pot on a terrace. The flavour of the leaves in this country is less pungent than were it growing wild in the Mediterranean from where it originated. Our summers are just not hot enough to achieve that but nonetheless it adds a heft and depth to any Mediterranean cooking.
A Mediterranean herb for an English herb garden
Rather like mint, there are many varieties of oregano, including pot marjoram which has a similar but slightly less strong flavour. Some oreganos are more decorative than culinary but that is not a reason not to seek out other types and make an oregano garden to include some of the golden or curly varieties with white or deep purple flowers. Oregano also would be a vital component in a Mediterranean garden filled with scented herbs like rosemary and thymes. An accommodating plant, it requires the minimum of watering once established and if you grow it in pots it just asks for a liquid feed of fertiliser after flowering. Pots should be protected against frost over winter and all plants cut down to about 6 cm from the soil. Trim after flowering to prevent the plant becoming straggly. And pick the leaves fresh whenever they are around. The leaves can be frozen but the flavour is best preserved by dunking several sprigs in oil or vinegar and leaving them to macerate to impart their taste.
- Height: 45 cm
- Spread: 45 cm
- Colour: dark green foliage, tiny purple/mauve flowers
- Flowers: July-August
- Uses: culinary, herb garden
- Spacing: 25 cm
- Scent: aromatic, the pizza herb!
- Habit: forms a mound and mat in winter
- Life: hardy perennial
Oregano bits and bobs
Although oregano did originally come from the Mediterranean its versatility has meant that it has adapted to whichever country it has been imported to form its own native version. In Greece the Greek oregano, Origanumn vulgare ssp hirtum is probably the most pungently aromatic and they use bunches of it to baste the lambs that are slaughtered and then roasted on a spit in the streets at Easter time.