Oregano is a wonderful perennial culinary as well as medicinal herb.
It has long been recognized as one of the “functional foods” for its nutritional, anti-oxidants and disease preventing properties. The herb, whose name means “delight of the mountains” in Greek, is native to the Mediterranean region.
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Botanically, the herb belongs to the mint (Lamiaceae) family, of the genus; Origanum and is known scientifically as Origanum vulgare.
The plant is a small shrub, growing up to about 30 inches in height with multi-branched stems covered with small grayish-green oval leaves and small white or pink flowers.
Oregano is particularly used widely in Greek and Italian cuisines. Its leaves have a characteristic aromatic, warm, and slightly bitter taste. The intensity varies; however, good-quality oregano is so strong that it almost numbs the tongue.
There are many varieties of oregano cultivated across Europe but the influence of climate, season and soil on the composition of the essential oils is greater than the difference between various species.
Origanum heracleoticum is another Greek variety that is having characteristic sharp scent and flavor.
(Origanum majorana) is one of close related species of oregano.
Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) is a different from origanum species but related to the verbena family of herbs. It is used in place of oregano in many Central American regions.
The herb is rich in polyphenolic flavonoid anti-oxidants (vitamin A, carotenes, lutein, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin) and has been rated as one of the plant sources with highest anti-oxidant activities.
These compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
Oregano has become the “pizza herb.” Everyone uses it for their pizza’s or all types of Italian cooking. It goes well in pasta dishes and with cheese and tomatoes.
Fresh as well as dried oregano are readily available in stores all around the year. If permitted, try to buy fresh herb over the dried form since it is superior in flavor and rich in essential oils, vital vitamins and anti-oxidants like beta-carotene, vitamin C, and folates.
Fresh leaves should be stored in the refrigerator kept in a zip pouch or wrapped in a slightly damp paper towel. Dried leaves can be kept fresh for many months when stored in a tightly sealed glass container, and stored in a cool, dark and dry place.
Give your guests an “Oh what is that taste” by finely chopping a few leaves and adding it to your fruit salad.
Or do as I do and use chopped leaves in scrambled eggs or fried potatoes.
Donna Cook is the owner of Rabbit Creek Gourmet Foods in Louisburg, Kan. She is also a Master Gardener, Master Food Volunteer and on the board of directors of the Home Baking Association.