If you are a big fan of Italian (and overall Mediterranean) food, chances are, you are probably eating oregano rather often. Part of the mint family – together with some staple culinary herbs, such as mint, sage, basil, rosemary, thyme, and lavender – oregano is enriching our meals for many years now.
Originally used in Italy, US soldiers brought it back home with them, calling it “the pizza herb”: the rest is history. Oregano became part of not only Italian dishes, but also various meals from all around the world.
With its specific, pungent taste, dried oregano is used as a spice. However, the use of this herb is not only limited to your favorite pizzas – oregano is also used to produce oil, which is believed to help fight inflammations and to overall strengthen the immune system. Even though there are still debates around this, many people swear by the healing power of it.
Regardless if you want it as a spice or for an oil, let’s find out when to harvest oregano and how to grow oregano as well.
Basic Oregano Facts
Did you know that oregano origin from the mountains of Greece? In fact, the Greeks call it the “joy of the mountain.’ Sometimes referred to as “wild marjoram,” oregano is one of the most widely used herb in the world.
Oregano is a must-have in your garden for a number of reasons. It smells wonderful. It’s a culinary wonder. And it is very easy to grow, as easy as growing chives. It is a low-maintenance herb that yields much benefits. It can be grown either indoors or outdoors.
There are two main families of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. The primary difference between the two is the Mediterranean is from the mint family while the Mexican type is a family of the lemon verbena.
Oregano mostly thrives in warm climates. But it can survive in places that experience quite the hard winters, given the right care. Oregano plants are hardy perennials. They can survive even for a decade. Be warned, though, they might lose their flavor and potency after 3 or 4 years.
How to Grow Oregano
The good news is that oregano does not require a lot of maintenance. It can also be grown both indoors and in your garden, so even if you live in an apartment, you can still cultivate it on the balcony, the window, or simply inside your home.
Let’s go to the next part – the climate. As you have probably guessed from the fact that this herb is mainly used in the Mediterannean cuisine, oregano thrives in warmer, but not too hot climates. It is a very popular herb to grow in Italy, Greece and Mexico. This means, if you’re living far up north from these locations, you might want to keep your oregano plant indoors. It is also good to know that it is a perennial plant, which can last for many years with the proper upkeep.
You can plant it from seeds or by cutting a part from a healthy plant. Make sure the soil temperature is around 20 degrees Celsius, or 70 degrees Farhreheit, so the seed can start developing properly. The soil needs to be dried as well.
When planting from a seed, plant the seeds outside about six weeks before the last frost of spring. This will give the seeds sufficient time to germinate and mature so by the time summer is around, the plant has leaves to absorb the sunlight.
The taste of the oregano largely depends on the amount of sun it gets – it will definitely not dry out if it is not exposed to the sun throughout the entire day, however, having a long sun exposure definitely helps enhance the flavor.
Oregano does not need a lot of water – if you see that the soil is dry, you should water it. Otherwise, leave it alone.
Oregano can be considered a “garden anchor.” It looks beautiful when planted along a path or with other landscaping plants.
When to Harvest Oregano
As soon as the oregano stems reach 4 inches, or 10 centimeters in length, you can start with the harvesting. Of course, you can also leave the plant to grow even more before you start picking it.
You can leave the stem to grow until it reaches 20 cm (around 8 inches), and then cut half, or two thirds of the plant. Also note that if you trim the stem regularly (pruning), the oregano plant will grow taller and bigger – so you should make a habit to cut the stem every now and then as soon as it reaches those 4 inches length.
If you want to get the full oregano flavor, we suggest you have the biggest harvest in mid-summer. This is the period before the plant usually blooms, and if you dry the leaves harvested at this period, they will have the strongest and most pungent taste.
Remember, oregano gets its flavor from sun exposure. So the more exposed your plant is to the sun, the more flavorful it will be.
How to Dry Oregano
There are several methods to dry the oregano after harvesting. You can go with the traditional air harvesting – gather the oregano in several bundles, place them in paper bags, and leave them to dry. It is preferred that the room where they’re kept for drying is hot and dry. This is one of the slowest methods, but it’s a rather effortless one.
The best way is using a food dehydrator. This way, most of the oregano flavor is preserved. Wash and arrange the oregano leaves in the dehydrator and set it on the lowest and shortest settings. If the oregano is still not dry after the first round, continue with another one.
You can also dry oregano in the oven and the microwave.
As oregano doesn’t take too much space in your herb garden, you might want to bring in some other tasty and healthy friends. Oregano is basically a great companion to many other plants and herbs. Here are some similar herbs and their harvesting times.
When to Harvest Thyme
The best moment to harvest thyme is before their plants flower. Cut the top several inches. Make sure the rough, wood-like parts stay on the plant, so it can regrow. It is recommended to harvest this herb in the morning. Also, make sure not to wash the stem and leaves, as some of the essential oils contained in them will be washed away.
When to Harvest Basil
As soon as the basil plant grows around 6 inches (15 cm), you can start picking the leaves. Same as with thyme, it is recommended to harvest them during the morning, as their leaves contain the most flavor then.
Basil can be harvested throughout the entire summer. Also, even if you don’t need the spice, make sure to pick up the leaves, as this helps the plant grow.
When to Harvest Rosemary
As a plant, the rosemary grows the most during the summer and the winter. This makes spring the best time for harvesting, as the plant will start to rapidly grow and regenerate during the summer period.
If you want to further increase the growth of the plant, you should trim it on a weekly, or even daily basis.
Oregano is a great herb to include in your garden or balcony. It has great taste and can be added to so many various dishes, boosting their wonderful flavor and smell. It can also be used as an oil with healing properties.
The greatest thing is that, as many other herbs, oregano does not need a lot of maintenance. You just need a proper placement of the seeds, and with the help of sunshine and an occasional watering, your oregano will start growing in no time. But that’s not all – your oregano will not die out at the end of the season – as a perennial plant, it will start growing once again next year, and with proper maintenance, it will continue to grow for many years to come.
Wherever you decide to plant this wonderful herb, you will definitely make a wise decision and add an unforgettable flavor to your cuisine.