While oregano may be a common ingredient in some of the world’s most famous culinary dishes—namely pizza and pasta—it actually has multiple functions, both as an herb and in medicine. It’s a relatively easy to grow herb that is a great addition to your herb garden.
Oregano has been proven in some preliminary studies to effectively treat respiratory tract infections, such as croup, bronchitis and asthma. The essential oil of oregano has been used to treat intestinal parasites, allergies, sinus pain and arthritis, according to WebMD. It is also a significant source of potassium, calcium, iron protein, fiber, and vitamins A, E, and K. Learn more about the health benefits of oregano.
According to the Royal Horticultural Society, oregano is used most frequently in Greek, Italian, and Mexican dishes, mainly because oregano thrives in arid climates. Chefs may choose between several varieties of the oregano plant based on their preferences of palate. Greek oregano (origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum) is the most commonly used culinary variety. The University of California Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County suggests planting Turkish oregano (origanum onites) for a stronger aroma and sharper flavor.
Growing Conditions for Oregano
Oregano is a perennial plant that is fairly easy to grow and maintain—even for beginners. The University of Illinois Extension suggests buying the cuttings rather than planting by seed for a truer plant and more flavorful harvest.
The ideal season to plant oregano is between February and May, or after the final frost. The seeds and cuttings need direct sunlight for best growth. Oregano prefers well-drained soil and doesn’t require frequent watering. However, if you are planning to cook with fresh oregano you will want to water the plant more for plumper sprigs. If choosing to plant during the winter, oregano prefers less direct sunlight and covered, dry areas because if the roots get too moist, they will rot.
How to Plant Oregano
Oregano seedlings should be planted eight to 10 inches apart and in direct sunlight. Oregano plants need sunlight to germinate, so the seeds should be planted uncovered in shallow divots. Each plant typically grows to be anywhere between four to five feet wide and three feet tall. Cuttings should be planted 18 inches apart because they will branch out and produce more stems.
Oregano can also be planted indoors during the winter and treated as a tender perennial plant. Seeds should be planted in a small pot of compost and then covered with a layer of sieved compost. Once watered, add a propagator until the plant germinates. Then the seedlings can be transferred to a three-inch pot until they either need a bigger pot or are ready to be transplanted in a garden outdoors.
Care of Oregano
This plant needs constant conditioning as the plant reaches maturity. Once oregano begins to flower, the buds will need to be snipped before they open. The flavor of oregano is significantly impacted once its flowers have bloomed; the taste is weaker and less evident. Typically, plants begin to flower five to six weeks after planting.
Branches will need to be pruned frequently as the plant gets bigger. The plant stems tend to get woody and the leaves leathery—so they are no longer suitable for culinary purposes. However, if you just want to attract beneficial insects or improve the aesthetics of your garden, allowing oregano to grow naturally requires little maintenance. Woody stems can be trimmed in the winter or early spring.
Remove older patches of oregano after three to four years to ensure that your harvest maintains its quality each year.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Oregano
Oregano has few issues with pests and diseases. However, if left unnoticed, certain pests can cause irreversible damage. The two most common pests of this plant are aphids and two-spotted spider mites.
Aphids can be removed simply by squashing their colonies or washing them off with a hose set to high water pressure. These pests build colonies on the shoot tips of tender plants. Two-spotted mites cause the leaves to turn pale and mottled but are easy to spot due to their webbing. Frequent watering should keep these pests at bay if you plant in a dry, hot climate.
Mold is typically a concern in the winter and during wet seasons when plants are overwatered or grown in locations that receive little sunlight. To prevent this issue, cover the soil in straw or mulch. This step will help keep the ground dry during the winter when the plants are exposed the most to moisture.
To harvest oregano simply snap off each sprig at the shoot, or where four to six pairs of leaves branch out. These leaves will sprout into new stems as they grow.
Check out this video to see a demonstration:
Oregano is the ideal herb to plant in a garden due to its hardiness and low required maintenance. Though it does need frequent pruning, the plant will continue to produce sprigs for harvest for several years. A culinary tip: oregano has a stronger flavor when dried than fresh. In recipes that call for dried oregano, twice the amount of fresh oregano is needed to have the same effect.
Emily Nickles is a freelance writer and recent honors alumna of Texas Woman’s University. She was Editor-in-Chief of the student newspaper, The Lasso, for a year and was a page editor and reporter for three. Her senior year, Emily won the Sarah McIntire Award for Outstanding Capstone for her project titled The Lasso: A brief history 1914-2017.