What is oregano?
Aromatic, fresh oregano leaves scattered on a slice of pizza elevate the flavours of tomato and cheese and give it that distinctive taste of Italy. To create a simple, fragrant Sunday roast, press oregano sprigs and crushed garlic into a leg of lamb and drizzle with olive oil before roasting.
Oregano is a herb native to Europe and the Mediterranean region. Oregano means ‘joy of the mountain’ in Greek, and that explains why it is found growing wild on the hillsides of Greece, Italy and France. It has been used over the centuries for cooking and medicinal purposes. The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates, used oregano as an antiseptic and to treat stomach problems.
Italian and Greek immigrants made this herb popular in Australia and use it liberally in spaghetti sauce, grilled and roasted meats and vegetable dishes. Oregano is also used in Turkish, Lebanese, Egyptian, Portuguese, Spanish and Latin American cuisines. Nowadays, oregano is a popular herb and it is grown extensively in Australian gardens.
In Australia, oregano is not sold by variety. Fresh oregano has small (1–4 cm long), light-green leaves. Sometimes there are varieties available that have dark-red to purple leaves.
Oregano is also sold in a dried form that has a stronger flavour than the fresh herb.
Oregano is often confused with marjoram, but oregano has larger leaves. The flavour of oregano is spicier and it is not as sweet as marjoram. Oregano has purple flowers that grow at the tip of the stalk whereas marjoram has tiny white flowers.
The leaves and flowers of oregano can be used fresh (strip off the leaves from the stalks) or dried (hang bunches upside down until completely dried) in recipes.
Why oregano is good to eat
Oregano contains vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system), C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- It also contains minerals such as manganese (involved in the regulation of brain and nerve function) and magnesium and calcium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong) and iron (involved in red blood cell production).
- Oregano contains dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of fresh oregano supplies 1,255 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Oregano plants grow best in a sunny position and require regular watering. Seeds germinate between eight and 14 days after planting and eventually form a small shrub that reaches about 45 cm high. The oregano plant has stalks with small, oval-shaped green, leaves and purple flowers.
Oregano leaves can be harvested around eight to 10 weeks after planting the seeds. The leaves are at their best just after the flower buds form but before they flower. As they get older, oregano plants become woody. To stop this from happening, snip back the old, woody stalks to allow the plant to produce new stalks and leaves.
Choose fresh oregano that has light-green leaves. Avoid oregano with leaves that are yellow and discoloured.
How to store and keep oregano
Store fresh oregano wrapped in a paper towel and in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. It will keep for up to a week if stored this way.
Store dried oregano in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. It will keep for up to six months if stored this way.
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Better Health Channel
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