Oregano is a wonderful herb, with many uses – culinary, medicinal, ornamental, and aesthetic. And it grows well in the Southwest.
From the arid mountains of the eastern Mediterranean, including present day Greece and Turkey, oregano grows well here in the Southwest forming a lovely low mounding landscape plant with a little added water. It is planted outside the fence in my landscape and the javelina, rabbits and other critters all leave it alone.
Like many herbs, the best time to harvest oregano is just before it blooms. Many herbs increase their production of essential oils as they go into bloom since it is a time when they really need to protect themselves from pests. When you first start growing oregano, harvest may mean pinching a few stalks back with your fingers. Once your patch gets larger, trim it with strong kitchen scissors to about two inches high, so it forms a low mat of leaves. Don’t worry, it will get tall again.
Dry Your Oregano
You can use oregano fresh, or you can dry it. I spread the cut stems on top of folded paper bags placed on top of the bookshelves. A ceiling fan running during the day helps dry them quickly. The quicker the drying, the less breakdown of the chemical compounds inside the leaves, and thus the sweeter the oregano flavor and less bitter the background notes. Dry all herbs out of direct sunlight.
Uses of Oregano
Besides its culinary uses, oregano is used medicinally as an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic. The oil of oregano is reported to destroy organisms that contribute to skin infections and digestive problems, strengthen the immune system, increase joint and muscle flexibility, and improve respiratory health. The medicinal properties or oregano appear to be from high concentrations of thymol and carvacrol. Caution is needed since carvacrol appears to reduce the body’s ability to absorb iron. Moderation is, as always, important.
Oregano for the Homestead
If you keep chickens, like Savorist Monica King does, then you can place cut oregano in the nesting boxes. It is said to help deter feather lice.
More About This Handy Herb
I am working on a YouTube video about harvesting and drying oregano and other herbs. Be sure to sign up for the newsletter and I will let you know when it goes up. Or better yet – subscribe to our Youtube channel.
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More cooking and using Southwestern luscious herbs in Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today (Tierra del Sol Institute Press). This link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there the Horticulture Therapy non-profit Tierra del Sol Institute will get a few pennies at no additional cost to you.
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