As an avid gardener and home cook, herbs will always have a place in my garden. Origanum vulgare, otherwise known as oregano, has been in my garden for over 20 years and that spot is well deserved. In fact, it planted just a few feet from the patio so it is at arm’s reach when inspiration from the kitchen strikes.
For starters, nothing else compares to oregano in flavor. While it can be bitter (if too much is used), there is a slight sweetness. I consider it a subtle flavor, though if omitted from a recipe, it will be noticed. It seasons many of our Mexican inspired meals as well as Greek themed dishes. It is one of the few herbs that I prefer dried rather than fresh. The bitterness is more pronounced when used fresh in meals.
It grows well in warm climates, USDA hardiness zones 5 -10 and is considered a perennial in these zones. It can be grown in more northern regions, but at that point, it should be treated as an annual. Here in Colorado… specifically my backyard, I planted it once and it has thrived ever since, preferring drier conditions compared to other herbs such as basil.
At the end of summer and into early fall, I gather oregano before a frost. I cut the branches and place them into a paper bag. I then place this bag in the warmest room in the house to dry. (You can also tie the branches into bundles and hang them to dry.) But I prefer using a paper bag. The paper is breathable, but keeps out dust and insects. Within 10 days, the oregano has dried to the point that the leaves are brittle.
Once the leaves are brittle, I pick the leaves off of the stems and place them into a large bowl. The stems (branches) can be used as fire starter if you have a wood burning fireplace or they can be composted. (An easy way to strip the leaves from the stem is to place two fingers on either side of the stem and just pull your hand down the stem. The leaves should easily snap off.
Next, crush the oregano leaves. NOTE: you don’t need to grind them into a powder, but just break the leaves into smaller pieces. I typically use my fingers or a muddler (for making mojitos) works quite well. It will take several minutes to break them up. If you like, remove any small bits of stem that you may find as you crush the leaves.
After the leaves are crushed, transfer to a container with a lid that fits securely. Store your freshly crushed oregano in a cool, dry location, such as a pantry.
This oregano is ready to use immediately, it does not have to be aged. Dried oregano will still have plenty of flavor for at least six months. If you are uncertain how old your dried oregano is, place a small amount in your hand and rub with a finger. If it is still aromatic, it should flavor your meals nicely.
So gardeners and cooks, consider planting oregano in your garden. It is a versatile herb, lending its flavor to many dishes. And if you want to enjoy this herb during the fall and winter, harvest it fresh then allow it to dry. You will be enjoying it for months!