Oregano is an aromatic herb closely associated with Italian cuisine, though it is popular throughout Mediterranean cultures. Often used to flavor sauces and roasted meats, it is a key ingredient in many tomato based sauces, especially for Pizza. Often sold and used in a dried form, it is a popular plant in home gardens. Strong in flavor, too much oregano can make a dish bitter and almost numbing to the tongue.
Oregano is a perennial herb, growing from 20–80 cm tall, with opposite leaves 1–4 cm long. The flowers are purple, 3–4 mm long, produced in erect spikes. It is sometimes called Wild Marjoram, and its close relative O. majoramum is then known as "Sweet Marjoram".
Selecting and Buying
Select an oregano plant that is bushy, has vigorous new growth and has bright green leaves.
Choose a pot that is one size larger that the pot in which you purchased the oregano plant. If bringing an oregano plant in from the garden, select a 6-inch pot. Make sure that any pot you choose has a drainage hole.
Pot oregano with a quality potting soil to which you've added sand or perlite. A pinch of garden lime mixed in might be a good idea too, but don't over do it. Place pebbles or marbles in the bottom of the pot to increase drainage.
Water the plant thoroughly after re-potting, making sure that the soil has been firmed into place to remove air bubbles that can destroy roots.
Select a location for your oregano plant that received at least six hours of bright but indirect light each day. If exposed to harsh sunlight, oregano will burn, but it still needs good light in order to thrive. Anything but a northern exposure will work.
Preparation and Use
Choose whether your recipe calls for whole leaves or minced oregano. This depends mainly on other ingredients or just the preference of the chef.
Add oregano as needed, and when appropriate, during the cooking. Over-cooking the herb will subdue its flavor. You can even eat oregano "green" with cold dishes.
Ask an Italian chef. The use of oregano can be explained by those who regularly make the dishes it complements. A little advice from an expert can give you a more nuanced understanding about how to use this popular herb.
Conserving and Storing
Refrigerate fresh oregano in a plastic bag up to 3 days. Store dried oregano in a cool, dark place up to 6 months.
How to harvest Oregano:
Pick individual oregano leaves to use fresh throughout the growing season.
Harvest larger amounts by cutting back the entire oregano plant three times during the season: first when the plant is about 6 inches tall, again just before it starts to flower, and a third time in late summer.
Store fresh oregano in plastic bags in the refrigerator.
Freeze oregano to retain the most flavor and aroma. Freeze entire branches on cookie sheets, then strip the leaves from the stems and put them back into the freezer in plastic containers. Or mix finely chopped oregano leaves with just enough olive oil or butter to bind them together, and freeze the mixture in ice cube trays.
Dry oregano by cutting entire stalks from the plant and hanging them in a warm, dry, well-ventilated spot. Store dried oregano leaves in an airtight jar.