Growing Oregano

by National Gardening Association Editors

There are several species of oregano used in cooking, but the one we recommend for kitchen use is Origanum heracleoticum. If you haven’t been impressed with the flavor of oregano you’ve purchased at the store, consider that commercially available dried oregano may contain any number of species of oregano, and even unrelated plants! Growing your own is the best way to find out which best suits your palate and compliments other ingredients.

Origanum heracleoticum is commonly known as Greek oregano, winter sweet marjoram, or Italian oregano. Common names for O. vulgare include European oregano, wild marjoram, and winter marjoram. Sweet marjoram, another desirable addition to the herb garden, is also a species of oregano: O. majorana.

Cultivation

Purchase plants or seeds from a reliable source to be sure you’re getting the right species. Plant in full sun and well-drained soil after danger of frost has passed, spacing plants or thinning seedlings to stand 8 to 10 inches apart. Trim plants back before flowering (approximately 5 to 6 weeks after planting) to stimulate a dense growth habit. If you allow some of the flowers to produce and drop their seed, you can keep your oregano patch fresh and vigorous. Remove 3- to 4-year-old plants to keep the bed quality high.

Harvest and Storage

Harvest leaves as you need them. The flavor is best just before flowers bloom. Unlike some herbs, dried oregano leaves keep their flavor well in storage. Hang harvested sprigs in an airy, shaded location until the leaves crumble easily, then store in an airtight container. You can also freeze fresh sprigs in zippered plastic bags; press as much air from the bag as possible.


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