About Oregano - Origanum vulgare

The botanical name Origanum means "joy of the mountains," derived from the Greek words oros (mountain) and ganos (joy). Those who have visited Greece, where oregano covers the hillsides and scents the warm summer air, would emphatically agree. Vugare means "vulgar" or "common."

Native to Europe, oregano is a member of the mint family, a relative of basil and marjoram. It is a branching perennial growing about two feet tall and bearing pink or purple flowers. This herb has highly aromatic small leaves and young shoots that can be used fresh or dried for later use.

Oregano has a rich history in folklore and legend. According to Greek folklore, the goddess Aphrodite was so touched by oregano that she bestowed upon it its inviting sweet scent. Through the ages, oregano was known as a symbol of happiness and eternal bliss, and it was woven into garlands for brides and bridegrooms. If this herb grew on a tomb, folks believed that meant the dearly departed was happy in the afterlife. It was also used as a magic charm to ward off the perceived evils of witchcraft during the Middle Ages; oregano's aromatic influences do increase one's feeling of security.

Oreganos vary in flavor, from the mild common oregano to the more strongly flavored Greek and Spanish oreganos, all the way to Mexican oregano (also known as Mexican marjoram or Mexican wild sage), which is the strongest of all, strong enough to be used in chili powders and dishes flavored with chili peppers.

Although it's preferable to use oregano in its fresh form, in the U.S. it is most commonly used as a dried herb. It has a hot, peppery flavor. (Note: As with all herbs, drying concentrates the flavor, so if you are using the fresh herb in a recipe calling for the dried herb, use up to three times the amount of the fresh herb and taste to be sure it's enough.) Oregano is extremely popular in Mediterranean cooking and is best known as a seasoning for tomato sauces and "Greek chicken." Oregano is also an excellent seasoning for mushroom, eggplant and zucchini dishes, salads, pasta sauces, cabbage, broccoli and onions. In the U.S. its known as the "pizza herb." It's flavor also combines well with garlic, thyme, parsley and olive oil.

Source: "Whole Foods Companion," Dianne Onstad, 2004.

Storage

Store fresh oregano in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and use as soon as possible.

Oregano may also be dried for longer-term storage. Hang the stalks upside down in a dry, warm and well-ventilated room for at least one week or until completely dry. Separate any flowers from the leaves and discard them, then strip the leaves from the stalk. Discard the stalk and store the dried leaves in an airtight container in a cool, dark location. Use within six months.

Preparation Tips

Add fresh oregano leaves to any green salad or use the herb to flavor a homemade vinaigrette.

Sprinkle fresh oregano on top of pizza.

Add oregano leaves to sandwiches or mix it into your favorite sandwich spread.

Use as an edible garnish with most Italian or Greek dishes.

Stir fresh oregano leaves into soups and stews just before serving.

Use as a seasoning for a mushroom omelet, or any other egg dish.

Make an oregano herb butter by mixing finely chopped leaves into softened butter. The butter can be frozen for later use. It makes a great topping for fish or chicken, potatoes, pasta or rice.

 Add to sauces and casseroles.

Mix oregano leaves with grated Parmesan, bread crumbs and cracked black pepper. Top tomato halves with the mixture and then bake or broil the tomatoes until the topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Serve as a side dish with meats, poultry or fish.

 Sprinkle fresh oregano leaves and lemon juice over fish or chicken either before or after cooking.

 Nutrition Facts

(1 teaspoon ground, dried oregano)

Calories  5
Total Fat  0.1g
Cholesterol  0mg
Sodium  0mg
Total Carbohydrate  1.2g
Dietary Fiber  0.8g
Sugars  0.1g
Protein  0.2g
Vitamin A  0% RDA
Vitamin B6  0% RDA
Vitamin C  0% RDA
Calcium  2% RDA
Iron  3% RDA
Magnesium  1% RDA

Source: USDA