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Oregano is a robust herb that is both complex and strongly aromatic (a bit camphoraceous). There are so many plants that are called oregano that some have even suggested that oregano be considered a flavor rather than a specific species. Nonetheless, in most kitchens there are two types of oregano that are the most often used – the more popular is Origanum vulgare which is a member of the Lamiaceae family (mint) and is commonly known as Mediterranean oregano, true oregano, or Greek oregano. The other is Lippia graveolens, or Mexican oregano, a member of the Verbenaceae family.

Mediterranean Oregano is closely related to Marjoram and is similar in taste. In fact, oregano means marjoram in Spanish. Oregano grows throughout Europe and Asia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt and here in the US in both California and New Mexico.

Mediterranean Oregano has an essential oil with a color that ranges from yellowish red to a dark brown. The essential oil is about 1.0% to 2%, and that is mostly made up of phenols and monoterpene hydrocarbons.

Oregano is called tawabul in Arabic, Niú zhì in Mandarin, Origan in French, Oregano in German, ajavaayan kee pattee in Hindi, origano in Italian, Oregano in Japanese, orégano in Portuguese and Spanish and oregano in Russian.

History of Mediterranean Oregano

Though many people instantly think of Italy when oregano is mentioned, the Greeks were the first people to use it, both in food and as a medicine. Which species of oregano was the first or most loved cannot be determined. Oregano found itself at the heart of many dishes, enjoyed day in and day out by ancient Greeks. In the way of medicine, oregano was thought to have relieved the “sour humors” that burdened so many farmers, and it was thought to be an effective treatment for spider bites as well as other poisons. Some people were afraid of oregano’s power, as it was said that it could pull poison directly from wounds.

Through the Romans, oregano gained popularity in Europe and parts of Africa. They took the herb with them everywhere they conquered because they loved it and wanted to spread it around wherever it would flourish. 

Biblical texts consider oregano to be a body cleanser that helped toxins leave system. It was also thought to be anti-parasitic and was used to rid both humans and animals alike of worms. During the middle ages, oregano was used as an antidote for toothaches; people would chew on the leaves to ease pain. Oregano then made it to China where it was still used medicinally as a treatment for fevers. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, or the Elizabethan era, oregano was used for pretty much anything imaginable. It was consumed for health and happiness, as well as continued fortune. It was used decoratively, because it was considered to be a very pretty herb, and was also used simply as an herb for flavor. Oregano gained its immense popularity in the United States after World War II when men came back from Italy with a palette enriched by the enchanting flavor of the herb.

If you have a witch stay over, offer her some oregano to carry to bed with her. Witches of both past and present believe that wearing oregano on the head while sleeping can help conjure psychic dreams. Witches also use oregano in spells used for happiness, prosperity, healing and love. Fortune spells frequently include oregano and carrying it around with you may ward off bad spirits. They say that oregano based spells can also be helpful when looking for a solution for your particularly difficult in-law issues.

Witches are not the only people who think that oregano plays a part in what dreams come during sleep; there is an old wives’ tale that says, “if you rub your skin with oregano before going to sleep, your future spouse will appear in your dreams.” Perhaps if you are single, this Mediterranean oregano is the key to figuring out who you will end up with.

Mediterranean Oregano Cultivation

Cultivation is almost positively Mediterranean in origin, though its exact location is unknown. Oregano thrives in the sun, so when planting, a location with lots of direct light is ideal. It can be grown from seeds or cuttings, and it is a great plant for gardens because it is compatible with all vegetables.

Oregano may grow as tall as two feet and plants have a spread from 12" to 18". Oregano is considered a perennial in warmer climates. It has a tough time combating cold weather and so it is considered an annual in colder climates. Oregano likes direct sunlight, but also enjoys some shade as it gets closer to the equator. At 1" long, oregano leaves are relatively small. The plant also has edible white, pink, or purple flowers. Egypt, Greece, Italy, Morocco, Spain and Turkey are all places where Mediterranean Oregano is cultivated.

When growing oregano in your garden, trimming the plants regularly will prevent legginess and will encourage regrowth. Watering the plants should be done thoroughly but not frequently, as oregano needs less water than other herbs. Water it when the soil surrounding the plant seems dry to the touch.

Leaves can be frozen to be preserved for the winter months if you are in a colder region. They store very well and are dried easily.

Our Mediterranean Oregano is grown in Turkey. 

Types of Oregano

Greek, Mexican, African, Italian, Spanish, Syrian, and Moroccan are all different types of oregano. Types indigenous to the Mediterranean include Italian, Greek, Turkish, French, Israeli, and Moroccan.

When discussing various varieties of oregano, we would be remiss if we didn't specifically talk about Greek Oregano. Some people have heard over the years that Oregano from Greece is the finest oregano in the world. We don’t exactly share that opinion, as in any given year, any of the various cultivars can be outstanding. In addition, finding a reputable supplier of true Greece grown oregano is basically impossible, as there is little to no commercial production on the island. What little amount of Greek Oregano you may find marketed is most often an adulterated version, and is not going to be 100% pure Greek grown and will command a stiff price. 

Cooking with Mediterranean Oregano

In Mediterranean and Italian cooking, oregano is a key ingredient and when partnered with basil, the two form an unbeatable combination in pasta, on roasted vegetables, and most definitely in pizza sauce. The herb is also widely used in Egyptian, Greek, Italian, Lebanese, Palestinian, Portuguese, Philippine, Spanish, Syrian and Turkish cuisines. In Turkish cooking, oregano is primarily used to flavor meat, most notably lamb and mutton. In popular Turkish barbecue and kebab restaurants, it is often found on the table, alongside paprika, pepper and salt.

This herb can easily become an addition to your regular chili recipe. When cooking chili, just before you are ready to serve, add in a few sprigs to liven up the flavor of the tomato sauce. 

If you cannot stop thinking about the Italian restaurant in Canada, aptly named “Restaurant” that you can’t seem to find anywhere except for the depths of your memory, and you miss that dressing they dashed over your salad, you can make it with five quick ingredients. Get together at least eight ounces of an olive oil vinaigrette dressing, a half teaspoon of dried oregano, a half teaspoon of dried basil, a tablespoon of white sugar, and one glove of garlic. Whisk them together and voila. It may not taste as perfect as it did in Canada, but the flavor just may convince you that you didn’t make Restaurant up, after all.

If you want to liven up your olive oil, mix some oregano into it and use it as a marinade for a variety of meats on the grill or vegetables. Add some fresh lemon juice to this mixture for a light tasting addition to a fish based meal.

If any recipe calls for Greek, Italian or Spanish oregano, this Turkish Oregano can be substituted. If your recipe calls for Mexican oregano, this will provide a very different flavor profile.

Use Mediterranean Oregano with cream sauces, vinegars, salad dressings, soups, and herb butters. It’s also outstanding in egg and cheese dishes (such as omelets, frittatas, and quiches). Combine olive oil with oregano and brush on foods for the grill. It is also commonly mixed with other herbs and spices for a salt-free seasoning. 

It is good with anchovies, artichokes, beans, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, cheese dishes, chicken, corn, duck, eggplant, eggs, fish, shellfish, lamb, and mushrooms.

Mediterranean Oregano works well in combination with basil, garlic, thyme, and parsley.

Dried vs Fresh

Oregano is an important culinary herb and its leaves provide its signature flavor. Unlike many herbs, the dried version of oregano tends to be more flavorful than fresh oregano. Mediterranean Oregano can vary in intensity depending on where it is grown, but a good quality oregano may be strong enough to practically give a numbing sensation to the tongue.

What does Mediterranean Oregano taste like?

Mediterranean Oregano tends to be a bit sweeter and more anisey. One whiff and you may find yourself fantasizing about an old school pizza shop that you haven’t visited in a while. 

Substitutions and Conversions

A suitable substitution for oregano may be basil, as they have similar flavors, and you can use about the same amount of basil for a similar flavor effect. If you are cooking a chili recipe for example, and that requires the use of oregano that you don’t have, a good substitution would be marjoram. Be sure to use a little bit more marjoram though, as the flavor is slightly more subdued than oregano. Thyme is a substitute for oregano that can be used in a slightly lesser quantity than what is called for in oregano.

Mediterranean oregano provides a very different flavor experience from Mexican oregano, so be careful to pay attention to which your recipe calls for.
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Tags: Herbs, Oregano, Italian, Continental, Seasoning, Herb

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