Oregano is one of those herbs that give Mediterranean, Mexican and Caribbean cuisine its distinctive flavor – but there are different types of oregano and they are not all the same family of plants.
So if you are planning on growing oregano you need to know the difference between Greek, Lebanese, Mexican, and Cuban oregano in order to grow the one best suited to your area, and to your taste.
Table of Contents
Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum)
Greek or what is sometimes called Italian oregano originated in the rocky hillsides of the Mediterranean, where it has adapted to become quite drought tolerant and is easy to grow.
It belongs to the mint family and has a savory earthy taste, that we have become so used to that pizza would just not taste the same without the addition of oregano. Oregano is also used in Mediterranean style tomato based sauces to give them their unique flavor.
Bees love oregano, so even if you don’t use a lot in your cooking it is worth planting to attract bees to your garden for all their useful work in pollinating other plants. Oregano is a relative of marjoram but the texture of the leaves is coarser and the flavor stronger.
Mexican / Puertorican / Jamaican oregano (Lippia micromera verbenacae)
This plant is not a true member of the mint family, belonging instead to the verbena family, but the flavor is similar to that of strong Greek oregano, and in fact the majority of the oregano dried and sold in the US actually comes from this plant.
Unlike the low creeping habit of Greek oregano this plant grows into a bush that is 3 to 5 feet tall and is native to the Southern USA and Mexico.
Lebanese oregano (Origanum syriacum)
Also known as Syrian oregano and Bible hyssop, this is also a tall growing plant reaching up to 4 feet in height. It is easier to maintain in the garden, as it doesn’t have the creeping and spreading habit of Greek oregano.
In your cuisine and for other uses anywhere you are called to use Greek oregano, the Lebanese variety can be substituted. The plant grows quickly and the leaves are a silvery green rather than the intense green of Greek oregano. Trim your plant regularly to encourage a bushier growth.
Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus lamiaceae)
Although this plant is not part of the oreganum family with its rather fuzzy looking and juicy leaves reminiscent of a succulent, it certainly has its place in Caribbean cuisine and has a flavor reminiscent of oregano, although a bit milder. It grows 2 to 3 feet across.
Because the leaves are thicker it is difficult to dry out and mold can be a problem, so it is best used fresh. You can also freeze the chopped leaves. It grows in warm climates and is easy to propagate so you always have new plants ready to provide their harvest of leaves.
Greek oregano likes a well-drained neutral to slightly alkaline soil with a pH varying from 6.0 to 8.0. It does best in USDA Zones 5 to 10 and likes full sun.
Lebanese oregano also likes a sandy well-drained soil that is slightly alkaline. It can deal with high temperatures and drought, but it can’t tolerate cold winters and grows best in Zones 9 to 10. In colder areas you will have to grow it as an annual.
Lebanese oregano seed can be started 1 ½ to 2 months before the last frost and transplanted outside after danger of frost is past.
Mexican oregano actually has a better flavor if planted in soil that is sandy and not too fertile. It also likes to dry out a bit between watering and is suited to warm climates.
Cuban oregano likes full sun and also needs a well-drained soil with a chance to dry out between watering.
When to Plant
Plant after the last frost is past. In frost free zones oregano will last for up to five years, but places that get frost means either plants need to be overwintered indoors, or new seed planted in spring. This goes for all the types of oregano.
The Greek oregano seed needs light to germinate so don’t cover the newly sown seed with soil – simply scatter and press them gently into the top of the soil.
Mist spray the area to keep it moist as a heavy spray from a hosepipe may wash out the seeds.
They will take about 14 days to germinate and can be transplanted into their permanent positions when they are around 3 inches high.
However, if you have an oregano plant that is particularly flavorful then it is better to take root cuttings, as plants grown from seed are not always true to type especially if it is hybrid seed.
If you can, buy heirloom seed instead like these.
Cuban oregano, also known as Mexican mint, Indian borage or Spanish thyme can be obtained here.
Mexican/Puerto Rican/Jamaican oregano plants that are already 7 inches tall can be obtained here.
Propagating From Rooted Cuttings
If you have an established Greek oregano plant or have bought one from a nursery it is easy to take root cuttings – look along the sides of the plant and gently pull off shoots that have some roots attached to them. Plant these ½ inch deep and keep the soil moist until the cutting is well established.
Oregano is a perennial that will last many years. Each year propagate a couple of new plants so you always gave this aromatic herb on hand for cooking.
Also after a couple of years the oregano plants tend to get woody and lose flavor, which is another reason for taking new cuttings. If your plant doesn’t have rooted stems to take, then you can make 3-inch cuttings from the plant.
Choose stems that are not too woody and place them in a 50/50 mix of sand and compost and wait for them to develop roots – keeping moist until you see new shoots.
The easiest way to root a cutting from a Mexican oregano plant is to wait until a stem gets long and starts dropping towards the ground, then bury part of the stem in the soil and weight it down with a small stone then wait for it to make roots.
You can then cut off the rooted cutting from the parent plant and put it elsewhere in the garden. Take cutting of around 4 inches long from Mexican oregano, and dip into a semi-hardwood hormone rooting powder before planting in potting soil, or a 50/50 mix of sand and compost.
It is important to keep them moist for the next two months, as this is roughly how long the roots will take to develop.
Cuban oregano can be propagated by taking a 3 inch slip and placing it in a jar of water then waiting for roots to form – you will need to change the water every few days. Once it has its roots it can be planted into a container or into the garden.
How to Plant
Space your Italian/Greek oregano plants 12 inches apart as they have a creeping habit and will grow to 18 inches across. Lebanese and Mexican oregano grows large so plant bushes 3 feet apart to give them room to develop a good shape.
When planting Mexican oregano simply take the dried flowers with their seeds and place them in containers filled with potting soil. Within 14 to 28 days the seeds will have germinated. When plants are 6 to 8 inches tall they can be transferred outdoors or planted out into individual large containers – remember they grow to 4 feet tall!
Cuban oregano has a spreading habit and grows around 2 to 3 feet across so plant it around 2 feet from the next plant. Cuban oregano makes a good container plant.
Benefits of Growing in Containers
Because of the creeping nature of Greek oregano it will send out runners and put down roots resulting in a rather untidy growth so it is best grown in containers outdoors in full sun.
You can also keep the pots close to your kitchen door so you have leaves ready to use in your cooking. Lebanese and Mexican oregano do not take to growing in containers well and should be placed outdoors. Cuban oregano makes an attractive container plant.
Once your Greek oregano cuttings are established only water when dry to the touch. With their origins in the Mediterranean region they are adapted to fairly harsh dry conditions. All the other types also do not require too much water.
Diseases and Pests
Root rot will occur if you plants are over watered or the soil gets waterlogged from too much rain.
Spider mites can be kept under control with a strong blast from a hosepipe every second day. You may need Neem oil spray if the infestation is really severe.
Neem oil is extracted from the Neem tree seed and contains azadirachtin, which has an effect on hundreds of small insect pests, fungi, nematodes, and viruses yet it is safe for honeybees, other pollinators, birds, livestock and human beings. It has a smell like garlic.
Aphids can be a pest if you don’t have enough ladybugs to take care of them. Give the plants a blast of water from the hosepipe, getting to the undersides of the leaves to dislodge them.
Leaf Miners are small flies that lay their eggs on the leaves. Once hatched the larvae bore mine through the through the leaf, leaving trails indicating their activity within the leaf. The most effective and natural method is to use the parasitic wasps (Diglyphus isaea) that you can order here https://www.planetnatural.com/product/leafminer-parasite-miglyphus/
These small black non-stinging wasps do not harm humans or your plants, but are deadly to the leaf miners as the females lay their eggs in the leaf miner, killing it, and the wasp larvae feed on the dead leaf miner larvae.
Research has shown that plants at risk with leaf miner emit a chemical that will attract the wasps … talk about 911 for plants! Hopefully the wasps procreate and you never have leaf miner problems again. Spraying with insecticide will however kill off these beneficial wasps.
Harvesting, Drying and Storing Oregan
Early in the season you can take leaves and small cuttings about 2 inches long from your plant once it has reached around 6 inches. The flavor is however most intense just before the oregano plant comes into flower.
Once the plant flowers it sets seed so try to delay the flowering by pinching off the blooming stalks. The flowers have a delicate flavor and can be used in salads and added to various dishes.
When you are harvesting for drying cut oregano twigs that are 4 to 6 inches long, leaving a few pairs of leaves still on each stem on the plant. To dry oregano hang the stems upside down in bunches in a well ventilated spot that is cool and dry.
After a couple of weeks, the leaves should be crumbly, ready to be removed from the stems and stored in airtight containers.
Fresh oregano can be stored in small containers in the freezer ready to be added to sauces, pizza and various other dishes. Some people freeze the chopped oregano in ice cube trays.
Once frozen, the oregano cubes are transferred to a Ziploc bag in the freezer ready to pop a cube or two into a dish when needed.
Uses for Oregano
Oregano is mostly used in Mediterranean, Lebanese and Mexican cooking but the leaves can also be added to bath salts. A fresh sprig placed in a bottle of oil or vinegar and left in a sunny position for a few days will infuse the flavor into the liquid.
Leaves can be chopped up and mixed with softened butter for tasty herb butter. Either served soft or place your oregano butter into a plastic Ziploc bag and roll into a long sausage shape.
Place in the refrigerator to harden and when ready to use take out and slice into ‘coins’ of herb butter to place on the top of grilled steaks or other dishes that would benefit from the flavor bomb.
The dried flowers can be added to potpourri bowls, and fresh sprigs are useful in making wreaths and flower crowns.
11 Delicious Recipes using Oregano
- Garlic and oregano pesto
- Lemon roasted potatoes with oregano
- Pizza with tomato and oregano
- Orange, radicchio and oregano salad for summer days
- Chicken redolent with the taste of oregano
- A side dish of baked tomatoes – a pizza taste without the gluten of a crust.
- Roast lamb with garlic oregano and lemon, Greek style
- Fish fillets with a sophisticated taste of oregano and olive
- Mexican oregano lifts this tasty lean beef dish
- Bacon, pork loin and a bunch of various herbs and spices, including Mexican oregano, give this dish a kick.
- Red Pepper Strips in Olive Oil
As a child I wanted to grow up and marry a farmer… simply because it was so different from my life right on the shores of the ocean. Well, I didn’t marry a farmer but a surfer instead. The urge, however, to grow stuff and make great food for a big family never left. We are on acreage with a sea view and easy access to fresh caught crayfish and other seafood – the best of both worlds. As an artist and writer I enjoy creating new recipes, tweaking traditional ones, and sharing the results not only with family and friends, but online.