Native to the Mediterranean and strongly associated with Italian cooking, especially tomato-based sauces, oregano is a great herb to have on hand. It has a pungent and distinctive aroma and is super easy to grow, forming a spreading groundcover which looks just as good in an ornamental garden, as it does in a herb patch.
Oregano is closely related to marjoram – they’re both different species of the same genus, Origanum, and the flavours are quite similar. Both can be used in a whole host of meat and vegetable dishes to lift the final flavour subtly to a more delicious result.
How you grow it
A sunny spot and average well-drained soil is all you need to grow oregano. It forms a compact groundcover, reaching about 30cm high with trailing stems which spread out to cover an area of 50cm or so, though regular harvesting will keep it smaller. Feed it in spring, water it fairly regularly over summer and it will flourish. As with many herbs, luckily the oil-rich leaves are largely free of pests and diseases.
If you want to propagate your own plants, you can either sow seeds through spring and summer, or strike cuttings from a friend’s plant.
Fresh leaves can be harvested year-round as you need them, but both oregano and marjoram are actually more flavoursome if you dry them after picking – this seems to concentrate the flavours. Unusually too, the flowers are as full of flavour as the leaves, so in summer you can cut the stalks, flower and all, tie them in bunches and hang them upside down to dry (this will only take a few days in warm weather). Once dry, rub the flowers and leaves from the stems and store in a clean dry jar, to use as you need – especially handy for winter casseroles!
Up the flavour
For a more subtle earthy flavour, generously add sprigs at the beginning of cooking. For more intensity, sprinkle chopped fresh leaves or crushed dried flowers over the finished dish – at this stage a little goes a long way – flavour plus!
Even better haloumi
Oregano, lemon and honey are a winning combo. For next-level haloumi, pan-fry batons of haloumi until golden, add a few sprigs of oregano, a spoonful of honey and a squeeze of lemon. Swirl the pan to coat the haloumi, then serve.