Each year, a species is chosen as Herb of the Year. For 2017, oregano received that honor. This plant is among the top ten culinary herbs.
When the word oregano is mentioned, the one that comes to mind is the common or ordinary oregano (Origanum vulgare). Yet, there are actually several subspecies or hybrid types of oregano.
All of the oreganos prefer a sunny, dry, well-drained spot. They do best in a slightly alkaline soil.
Common oregano or wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare subsp. vulgare) is a perennial herb. It grows wild in the Mediterranean area and Asia, especially at the higher altitudes. The hairy, purplish stem arises from a creeping rootstock. Like all the members of the mint family, this has a square stem and opposite leaves. The surface of the egg-shaped foliage is uneven due to the presence of sunken areas. Blooming from July through October, oregano produces purple blossoms that are typically two-lipped like other members of the mint family. This species is hardy to about -20 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant is easily grown from seed or cuttings, and may also be divided.
So far as its many culinary uses are concerned, common oregano is a favorite for tomato sauces, grilled meats, and fried vegetables. It is often found in pizza and other Italian dishes. Used to a less extent in Greek, French, and Spanish cooking, it is most common in Mediterranean cooking.
In addition to its many culinary uses, oregano has long been a favorite medicinal herb-especially among the ancient Greeks and Asians. Oregano contains thymol, an ingredient that can help loosen mucous and relieve symptoms of the respiratory system.
Oregano has also been the source of a natural dye. When they’re in bloom, the tops of the plants are cut and used for a reddish-brown dye.
This herb was used for aromatic purposes as well. People would rub the foliage over wooden furniture, which gave the item a nice scent.
The history of oregano is an interesting one. Young Greek and Roman couples were crowned with the herb. If it happened to be growing on a grave, the ancients believed that it would ensure happiness of the deceased one.
Greek oregano (Originum vulgare hirtum) is considered by some experts to be a hybrid of the ordinary oregano, while others see it as a subspecies from Greece. Originally native to Greece, it is now commonly found in other parts of Europe. It has become naturalized in the Middle East as well.