Herb Profile: Oregano (Oreganum spp.)
Oregano is a name that actually represents a whole genus of similar herbs. When we refer to oregano in a culinary sense, we're talking about a perennial plant that generally creeps along the ground, sprouting new roots from low limbs, and sends up a prostrate shoot when it flowers. It offers tiny, fragrant, pinkish flowers popular with honey bees and humans alike. It's name in Greek means "Joy of the Mountain". As such, it likes well drained, rocky soil.
Oregano was regarded as a valuable medicinal by the ancients, who used it as a poultice for sores, insect bites, and muscle aches. Tea of oregano was used for chronic respiratory ailments by early colonists, who brought the herb along with them to America. It has also been used as a digestive stimulant and to promote menstruation.
Oregano likes to be stored like it likes its growing environment: dry and cool. Either place it in a water-proof, air-tight container in the fridge and use within 5 days, or simply hang to dry in a cool low-light low-humidity area. Make sure to take it down when crisp, and in a paper bag, rub the leaves off the stems with your fingers and jar or bag them up for later use.
Oregano's hot, peppery flavor is known in pasta sauce and on pizza, however it does wonders for cheese and egg combos, roasted bell peppers, mushrooms, beef, poultry, onions, black beans, potatoes, eggplant, and shellfish. It combines well with garlic, parsley, thyme, and olive oil.
When stems are tender, you can simply chop up the sprigs whole and incorporate them in cooking. When they are stiff and fibrous, you can simply remove the leaves of oregano by sliding your thumb and pointer finger down the stem over a bowl.
Leaves of oregano contain a bit more moisture than other mint family plants, but can still be dried relatively easily by hanging in a low-light, low- humidity place with good air circulation. You can also use a dehydrator. We do not recommend drying in an oven, as heat will destroy flavor and color of the herb.
The Gift of Healing Herbs by Robin Rose Bennett
The Rodale Encyclopida of Herbs
Asparagus to Zucchini by Fairshare Coalition
Produce: A fruit and vegetable lover's guide by Bruce Beck
Our own experience!