Did you know that oregano has the highest antioxidant potency of any herb? But when it comes to the kitchen, not all plants belonging to the Origanum family have that classic oregano flavor. If you want tasty results in the kitchen, always begin with the plant.
Flavor varies greatly–and is sometimes nonexistent–when oregano is grown by seed, so use only plants that have been propagated from cuttings, division or layering. Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare spp. hirtum) is overall best for most culinary uses, with flavorful cultivars from mild to wild that include ‘Golden’, ‘Kaliteri’ and ‘Hot & Spicy’.
Harvest begins once plants reach about 8 inches tall, though the flavor is most intense just before the plant blooms. You’ll get more harvests if you prune plants back to about 6 inches at least twice during the growing season.
Both fresh and dried leaves as well as the flowers can be used, though dried is preferred by many for its richer and less bitter flavor. Sprigs can be dried in bundled bunches hung upside-down, in a food dehydrator, or laid on screens in a warm, airy and dry location. Simply strip whole leaves from the stem once dried.
Oregano highlights savory dishes when used in small doses, as overuse may make a dish taste bitter. Here are a few tasty ways to try it out:
• In a spinach and cheese frittata
• Sprinkled on roasted cauliflower
• Tossed in a Tuscan bean salad with heirloom tomatoes
• Baked into muffins or biscuits with chopped olives and mozzarella cheese
• Added to a butternut squash and lentil soup
• Sprinkled on a Greek-style pizza with feta cheese
• On a grilled chicken, eggplant and vine-ripened tomato sandwich
• In a white bean dip with fresh veggies on the side for dipping
• Baked into a whole-grain tomato focaccia with pecorino cheese
• Added with lemon and melted butter when basting grille vegetables, chicken or fish
Contributing Editor Kris Wetherbee tends her herbs in western Oregon.