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Greek oregano

Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum

Perennial

H to 24 S12 Sun, Partial Sun

Origanum vulgare subsp hirtum is native to Greece and Turkey and grows throughout the Mediterranean to central Asia. The Greeks and Romans used oregano but exactly which one is unclear. It was brought to North America by the colonists and is now naturalized throughout the eastern United States. Most herb lovers agree that Greek oregano is the most flavorful, but until recently, it was used mainly as a medicinal.

Harvest and Use: Medicinally, oregano tea is still used for indigestion, coughs, and to bring on menstruation. The oil is still used for toothache. It is also found in cosmetics. But its main use today is in cooking. After all, what is a pizza or tomato sauce without the hot, peppery taste of oregano? It enhances cheese and egg dishes such as omelets, frittata, quiches, and flans. It can be added to yeast breads, marinated veggies, roast peppers, mushrooms, roast and stewed beef, pork, poultry, game, onions, black beans, zucchini, potatoes, eggplant, and shellfish. Cut sprigs as soon as the plant is 6" tall. This also promotes bushiness. Harvest to the first set of leaves as it begins to flower and again in the fall. To dry, hang in small bunches in a shady area with good air circulation. Store in a tight-lidded jar in a dark, cool place. If space permits in the jars, try not to crush leaves.

Cultivation and Propagation: This aromatic, herbaceous perennial is compact and grows to about 20" tall. Its leaves are hairy, and its flowers small and white. It likes a pH of 6.8, well-drained, average soil, and full sun. It is hardy to zone 4. In companion planting, oregano is said to enhance the growth of beans.

It is easy to grow from seed, but make sure to check the Latin name because a lot of seed that is labeled as oregano is really wild marjoram (a plant worth growing for crafts as it dries beautifully and looks wonderful in floral arrangements and dry culinary wreaths). If you are growing from seed, do not cover the seed. It needs light to germinate. Sow thinly and grow on the dry side. Optimum germination takes place at 70F. Oregano can also be propagated by division in spring or cuttings in summer.

Pests: Oregano is not prone to disease, but is mildly susceptible to root rot. If you are growing it indoors, watch for aphids, spider mites, and leafminers.