Many different varieties of oregano find uses in cuisines from around the world. Some of these varieties have quite different flavors from the familiar oregano found in Italian herb blends. Trying different kinds of oregano is a great way to add interest to your garden and your cooking.
Common Types of Oregano
True oregano plant varieties are members of the Origanum genus within the mint family. There are several other plants known as “oregano” that are used in international cooking but are not members of this genus. Since oregano can be grown indoors, outdoors in containers, or in the ground and since different kinds of oregano are suited for different climates, you can enjoy homegrown oregano no matter where you live. Origanum vulgare: This is the species most commonly known as oregano. Its best known variety is Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum). Sometimes known as true oregano or Italian oregano, this is the familiar herb used on pizzas and in tomato sauces. Outdoors, it does best in zones 5 to 10 and should be planted in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Golden oregano: (Origanum vulgare var. aureum) is an edible variety with gold colored foliage. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is commonly used in southern European and Middle Eastern recipes. Its flavor is similar to that of Greek oregano, but milder and less spicy. Syrian oregano (Origanum syriacum or Origanum maru) is often used in za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice mixture, along with ground sumac and sesame seeds. It is a perennial plant usually harvested in the wild, but it can be grown in a container or outdoors in warm, dry climates. There are also ornamental oreganos like Origanum “Kent Beauty” and Hopley’s Purple Oregano. Hopley’s Purple Oregano is a variety of Origanum laevigatum used both as a fragrant ornamental plant and for its edible leaves, which have a milder flavor than Greek oregano. It is well-suited for hot and dry climates. Then there are those “oreganos” that are not true oregano plant varieties, because they are not members of the Origanum genus, but have similar culinary uses to true oreganos.
Other “Oregano” Plant Varieties
Mexican oregano or Puerto Rican oregano (Lippia graveolens) is a perennial shrub native to Mexico and the southwestern United States. It is a member of the verbena family and has a bold flavor reminiscent of a stronger version of Greek oregano. Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus), also known as Spanish thyme, is a member of the mint family. It is used in Caribbean, African, and Indian cuisine. Mexican bush oregano (Poliomintha longiflora), also in the mint family, is also known as Mexican sage, or rosemary mint. It is a very aromatic edible plant with tube-shaped purple flowers.
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Ilana Goldowitz Jimenez is a scientific and agricultural writer with a B.S. in Plant Sciences from Cornell University and a PhD in Chemical Biology and Infectious Disease from Harvard University.
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