Oregano is widely used in Mexican, Spanish, and Italian cuisines. Its dried form is often used for culinary purposes rather than the fresh form, as the former is packed with flavor. Its botanical name is Origanum vulgare. It is a perennial plant that grows up to a height of 2 feet. It has an 18 inch rounded, sprawling spread on the ground. The flowers are white or pinkish-purple in color. The flower spikelets bloom in mid to late summer. Aureum, which is one of the cultivars, has golden-yellow leaves and 8 - 10 inch mound. This is an ornamental plant, which is not used as a flavoring herb.
How to Grow it
Though it is used for cooking, it is a popular gardening plant too. It requires very little maintenance and is great for small rock gardens and alpine gardens. If you are planning to plant it, then look for a site that gets ample sunlight. It is equally important to plant it in a well-drained soil. The soil can be average-to-low fertility in quality.
Dig the plant bed thoroughly and add organic matter like leaf mold or homemade compost. This helps in breaking up heavy soil and improving drainage. Sow the seeds 2 meters deep and about 15 centimeters apart in the prepared plant bed. You can begin sowing the seeds from late April. Seedlings will appear after 2 - 3 weeks. You should divide the thin seedlings about 30 centimeters apart, as it will help provide ample room to the fully-grown plants.
In the first few months, the plant needs to be watered regularly to prevent it from drying. However, make sure that you do not make the soil waterlogged, as it will not survive in wet conditions. Make sure it is grown in a well-drained soil. In case of container gardening, the container should have plenty of grit that facilitates drainage.
You should keep the flowers pinched, as it will help keep the plant bushy. It also prevents the flowers from bolting to seeds. You should divide the plants, when the centers begin to dry out. You can also divide it when the stems look too woody. If you are living in Zone 5 or lower, you will need to provide some protection to the plant. To protect plants from wind damage, cover the plants with an evergreen bough after the freezing of the ground.
This herb has a strong flavor and pleasant aroma. The plant leaves are used as flavoring agents in many food recipes. They are mostly added towards the end of cooking, so that the flavor is retained. In its dried form, this herb is often used in many Greek and Mexican recipes, and most commonly in pizza toppings and spaghetti sauces.
Though oregano herb is looked upon as a flavoring agent, it does offer certain health benefits. It is antibacterial in nature. It contains thymol and carvacrol, which are volatile oils that are antibacterial in nature. These oils are known to inhibit growth of bacteria that cause food spoilage. Mexican researchers have found this herb to be effective against parasites such as giardia.
The antioxidants present in this herb help in preventing the damage caused by free radicals. It is also known to slow down aging process to some extent. You will be surprised to know that its antioxidant activity is way higher than that of apples and oranges. This makes it a very powerful antioxidant food.
Oregano makes a nice edging and ground cover plant. So, you can plant it for beautifying your garden, and also create culinary delights in your kitchen using the herb.