Oregano, Origanum vulgare, is a culinary herb used to flavor pizza sauce and other savory foods.
Oregano has very small leaves and many tiny white to purple-pink flowers depending on the variety. Many oregano varieties are available to add spicy sweetness to Greek and Italian dishes.
- perennial, needs winter protection from freezing
- low-growing in northern climates
- leaves are small, rounded
- leaves in pairs, opposite
- crushing a leaf releases resinous scent
- stems have trailing habit
- tiny white to purple-pink flowers
Growing conditions: Oregano grows very close to the ground in partial shade and reaches a taller height in sunnier locations.
Height: 24 inches
Spacing: 12 inches
Planting comments: Seed germination may be slow and erratic. Can be propagated more easily by division.
Where to Buy Oregano
Oregano is available as seeds or plants. Depending on the time of year you may be able to find a plant at your nearby garden center. In case they’re are not available locally, here are some places that offer herb seeds and herb plants.
- Abundant Life Seeds Cottage Grove, OR
- Artistic Gardens / Le Jardin du Gourmet St. Johnsbury Center, VT
- Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Mansfield, MO
- Bluestone Perennials, Inc. Madison, OH
- BorgheseGardens.com Gautier, MS
- Bountiful Gardens Palo Alto, CA
- Companion Plants Athens, OH
- Ed Hume Seeds Puyallup, WA
- Eden Organic Nursery Services, Inc. Davie, FL
- GreenDealer Exotic Seeds Louisville, KY
- Heirloom Seeds West Elizabeth, PA
- Henry Field Seed and Nursery Co. Aurora, IN
- High Altitude Gardens Cornville, AZ
- Irish Eyes Garden Seeds Ellensburg, WA
- Jim Johnson, Seedman Gautier, MS
- John Scheepers Kitchen Garden Seeds, LLC. Bantam, CT
- Johnny’s Selected Seeds Winslow, ME
- Jung Quality Seeds Randolph, WI
- Logee’s Greenhouses, Ltd. Danielson, CT
- NESEED.com Hartford, CT
- Nichols Garden Nursery Albany, OR
- Ornamental Edibles San Jose, CA
- Otto Richter and Sons Limited. Goodwood, ON, Canada
- Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, Inc. Grass Valley, CA
- Pepper Gal Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Peters Seed and Research may be out of business,
- Pinetree Garden Seeds New Gloucester, ME
- R.H. Shumway’s Randolph, WI
- Redwood City Seed Co. Redwood City, CA
- Renee’s Garden Seeds Felton, CA
- Seed Savers Exchange Decorah, IA
- Southern Exposure Seed Exchange Mineral, VA
- Stokes Seeds Inc. Buffalo, NY
- The Cook’s Garden Warminster, PA
- Thompson and Morgan Jackson, NJ
- Underwood Gardens Chino Valley, AZ
- Veseys Seeds Ltd. Calais, ME
- Victory Seed Company Molalla, OR
- W. Atlee Burpee & Co. Warminster, PA
- Willhite Seed, Inc. Poolville, TX
In case you can’t find what you’re looking for commercially, take a look at some of the online seed swap sites where you can find many unusual plants and common ones, too.
Chef’s Article: Oregano is The Italian Pizza Herb
by Naomi Gallagher
Oregano comes from the perennial herbaceous plant Origanum vulgare, a member of the mint family, Lamiaceae. Native to the Mediterranean hills it’s now naturalized in parts of Mexico and the western United States, thanks be to early explorers. The derivation of the name ‘oregano’ is from Greek words meaning ‘mountain joy’, which speaks to the origin of this spicy plant.
Sometimes referred to as origanum, oregano may also be known as wild marjoram. Sweet marjoram is actually a different herb from a related plant, Origanum majorana. It has similar aromatic properties compared to oregano, so the two herbs can be used interchangeably in cooking. Hybrids between O. vulgare and O. majorana may have unique qualities and be highly desirable in culinary circles.
Over hundreds of years people have developed many subspecies and strains, or cultivars, of oregano. Some have grayish to light green leaves while others have dark green, glossy leaves. The flowers may be pink, purple or white. Each has its unique set of qualities that make it desirable. They range in taste from intensely spicy to pungent and sweet. Different strains of oregano may be known by common names such as Greek oregano, Italian oregano, Turkish oregano, and pot marjoram.
Mediterranean cooking, especially Italian cooking, relies on oregano for many dishes. Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Portuguese, and Latin American cuisines often use it. The strong aroma is pungent and the taste is warm, spicy and bitter. It’s a flavorful complement to tomato, zucchini, eggplant, onions and green beans. Other foods that use oregano are pasta sauces, Mexican chili con carne, Greek salad, vegetable dishes, beans, mushrooms, cheeses, meat dishes, kebabs, stews and salads.
Oregano may be most recognized from the aroma of pizza sauce. Italian restaurants and pizza joints typically offer the dried herb in shakers, along with garlic powder and Parmesan cheese, so that you can add as much as you like at the table.
Oregano is available dried in the spice section of supermarkets. Fresh herb may be available in the produce section. Keep the fresh herb for only a few days in a refrigerator crisper. If it’s not used in that time, hang it up to dry the herb for later use. Store the dried herb in a cool, dry, dark place for up to a year. The dried herb has a stronger aroma than the fresh herb, so less of it is needed to spice up a dish.
There are many varieties of oregano which vary in their essential oil content, and therefore aroma and taste. Essential oils are primarily thymol and carvacrol, depending on the variety. The essential oils are responsible for oregano’s antioxidant, antimicrobial, antiseptic, and sedative characteristics.