Growing oregano is an effortless endeavor as long as you’ve got the loose, well-draining soil of its native mountainous growing conditions. Oregano is native to southern and central Asia and to the Mediterranean, where is it known to the Greeks as the “joy of the mountains”
The oregano plant is just as spectacular in the garden in the crevice of a retaining wall or spilling out of a decorative container as it is in the kitchen, where it is classically paired with basil in Italian and Greek dishes.
Below you will find a description of the oregano plant, including its height, hardiness, and flower; light, moisture, and soil requirements; cultivation tips for keeping your growing oregano healthy and tasty; our favorites varieties; and some ideas for how to use oregano in your home.
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Though the oregano herb can hold many postures, you’ll most commonly be greeted by a small round woody shrub-ette no more than 18 inches high and wide. Depending on the combination of variety and site, oregano can be anything from annual to evergreen. Here in the mid-Atlantic states, most varieties survive most winters intact.
Oregano flowers are white, pink, or purple and cluster in pompoms or pannicles (pointy ice cream cone shape).
Site Conditions and Requirements
Light: Full sun, a minimum of 6 hours, unless you live with very hot summers. In this case, a high bright shade intruding on some of that sun can be helpful.
Moisture: On the dry side. Oregano plants are somewhat drought tolerant.
Soil: Gritty, well draining. Think ‘mountains’.
Cultivation Tips for Growing Oregano
Start from seed, stem cuttings, or root division, whichever you are most comfortable with. This willing herb will work with you.
Once it’s growing, wait about six weeks from seed germination or rooting out, and then cut the growth back to within 1 inch of the center to encourage bushy, leafy growth. Feel free to use the foliage from this cut-back in your recipes though you’ll notice a more pungent flavor out of the later season leaves.
Overwintering: some less hardy oreganos are grown as annuals in zones 5 and north, and some are evergreen in the south. A good mulching over the winter can help your oregano survive, but you must pull the mulch back in the spring and let the cleansing sun dry it back out.
Varieties to Try
Greek oregano is the considered the truest and most accurate form of culinary oregano according to aficionados of the herb.
Hot ‘n Spicy is a variety gaining in popularity due to its more pungent, peppery flavor. Kent Beauty is another popular variety, praised for its delicate branching habit and soft pink and white bracts, but NOT for its flavor. Kent Beauty is not tasty.
What about Marjoram?
Marjoram is a variety of oregano bred for its softer, more delicate flavor. It is a staple of French cuisine, and used to be considered its own type of herb. It’s now understood as one of many species within the Oregano genus.
How to Use Oregano
Oregano is an absolute essential in Italian and Greek cuisine, especially tomato-based marinades, sauces, and chilies. Oregano sprigs flavor oils and vinegars beautifully.
Marjoram is quintescentially French in flavor, where it is paired with thyme, savory, fennel, basil, and lavendar to form the famous Herbes de Provence.