Wild Oregano: The Mediterranean Spice

Cultivate the sunny flavor of a Mediterranean hillside with this essential herb

| April/May 2008

  • Greek oregano is the classic culinary oregano, famed for pizza; use for any tomato dish, eggs, olives, soups or stuffing dishes.
    Steven Foster
  • Greek oregano is the classic culinary oregano, famed for pizza; use for any tomato dish, eggs, olives, soups or stuffing dishes.
  • Sharp oregano and sweet onions add rich flavor to this classic chicken dish.
    StockFood/Schmitz

Recipe: Mediterranean Chicken 

Legend has it, the Greek goddess Aphrodite created aromatic oregano as a symbol of joy and grew it in her garden on Mount Olympus. Perhaps we should not be surprised that oregano was believed to bring happiness. After all, it seems to cure most everything. (One of the ancient Greek names for oregano was panakes or "all heal".)

Oregano (Origanum spp.) has played a significant role in medicine, cookery and cosmetics for thousands of years. Today, our love for this powerful herb continues, though primarily for its role in cooking; more than 300,000 tons of oregano are consumed each year in the United States alone. Yet, despite oregano’s popularity, most of us really know very little about the plant itself or its true flavor potential.

Knowing how to select and grow your own oregano brings rich rewards: When grown in the right conditions, oregano yields luxurious flavor—the essence of Mediterranean sun and sea—that is infinitely better than any you can buy in a jar.



Origins of Oregano

The word "oregano" derives from the Greek oros (mountain or hill) and ganos (brightness or joy), probably alluding to the plants’ bright beauty in its hillside habitat. In addition to oregano’s association with Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty, the herb is linked to the goddess Artemis, protector of childbirth. Artemis often was depicted wearing a crown of dittany of Crete (Origanum dictamnus) and ancient Greek women also wore the wreaths during labor.

But the plant’s medicinal value is more than an ancient fable. Studies show that oregano is highly antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, antifungal and antiviral. In The Green Pharmacy (Rodale, 1997), ethnobotanist James Duke, Ph.D., says oregano also contains at least seven compounds that can lower blood pressure.






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