Oregano (The Spice of Happiness): What Are the Different Types?

Oregano is a well-known aromatic plant around the world. Since ancient times, it has been used as a spice and as a medicinal herb to heal wounds. There are a lot of stories in Greek mythology about Aphrodite, who is the goddess of love, who is said to have planted the first oregano as a symbol of happiness and gave it the scent that makes it smell so good today.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is an aromatic herb native to the Mediterranean and which, of course, is widely used throughout the cuisine of that area, but also in Argentina, Chile and Mexico. However, Mexican oregano does not belong to the same family.

In the best environmental conditions, it is a small shrub that reaches 45 cm in height, with relatively small leaves. However, its size and aroma depend a lot on the soil in which it is grown, as well as the irrigation and the sun it receives. Crops in gardens or orchards well-fertilized and with abundant irrigation will give us taller oregano with larger leaves and greener and more intense colors. In contrast, rainfed crops in less fertile land will provide us with plants with smaller leaves and darker greens.

Its properties have been extensively studied in traditional medicine, and various benefits are attributed to it, one of the most important being its antioxidant, antimicrobial activity. In some primary (undeveloped) studies, certain antiseptic qualities have been detected, and it is also considered tonic and digestive. In folk medicine, oregano infusion has been used to treat coughs.

The History of Oregano

Oregano is a plant used since ancient times for its different properties. Its fresh leaves were part of a 'very famous mixture' used to heal wounds. They called it "vulnerary alcohol." Dried oregano was one of the healing plants most often used in ancient times. They also used it in the form of an ointment as an antiseptic and for dermatitis and respiratory infections. The Romans used it commonly in their dishes.

One of the legends that revolve around this plant is that of the Goddess Aphrodite, who they say was the first to plant the first oregano as a symbol of happiness.

In fact, the word 'origanum' derives from the Greek 'oros' mount and 'genos' brightness, which means 'splendor of the mountain". Before, it was said that the smoke of oregano served to scare away witches and demons that lived in houses.

Romans also used the dried plants in their houses as 'protection.' Over the years, they added that it also served to 'strengthen' the love of newly married couples.

More than just tasty spice, if you believe the stories.

Characteristics of Oregano

Oregano is a herbaceous plant that can live for many years and is a member of the mint family. It reaches up to 1m (3') in height and grows in the form of a bush. One of the main characteristics of oregano is its strong aroma and great flavor. It is one of the most commonly used aromatic herbs globally, so we expect it to find it in most kitchens as a spice.

  • The oregano root is branched.
  • The oregano stem measures up to 80cm (31"), is quadrangular, reddish, and covered by villi and branches at its highest part.
  • The leaves of oregano are bright green to grayish-green. They can be smooth or with white hairs. Their shape is ovate, and their size depends on the variety of oregano that it is.
  • The oregano flower is edible. Its color can be white, lilac, or pink, and it is hermaphrodite.

The Different Types Oregano

Oregano is one of the most versatile herbs. There are many different types of oregano with diverse flavors and aromas, each with its own specific use and taste. A little oregano can turn an average meal into something special, whether you like Italian or Mexican food.

Which oregano do you reach for, you might ask. Let's talk about the different types of oregano to make sure you always have the right type on hand when you need these flavorful herbs!

Origanum Vulgare, also known as Common Oregano

Not your usual kitchen oregano, despite being the most common.

This type of oregano is actually a perennial evergreen shrub that produces pinkish-purple flowers. It is found in subtropical or temperate regions, mainly in Mediterranean countries. It is commonly used as a culinary herb. In fact, common oregano has a stronger flavor than Greek oregano and marjoram. However, it only retains its flavor when dried, so you should always dry it before using it for cooking.

Wild oregano is a plant from the mint family that grows naturally and 'wild' in certain regions. It is believed to be native to the Mediterranean, and its use in ancient times was as a food 'preservative' and as a medicinal herb to heal wounds.

Wild oregano is a plant that can last for many years and can grow to more than 80cm (31"). One of its main characteristics is a strong aroma. It has a straight stem with opposite leaves that are ovate and pointed. Its hermaphroditic flowers are small and grow in the form of spikes. It germinates very easily, which is why it is so easy to find it in the wild.

We will not find this type of oregano (origanum vulgare) in stores, markets, or nurseries since it is a completely wild plant. It is also known as 'bastard oregano' (origanum virens). The essential oil of wild oregano is one of the most powerful medicinal aroma herbs due to its properties. We know that the more natural the plant, the more powerful and pure its compounds will be.

Marjoram

Often found separately on the spice rack.

Marjoram is another fragrant herb that's also a type of oregano. It has a milder flavor than oregano, and it's often used mainly in Italian cuisine to complement basil, garlic, thyme, and other Italian flavors. In ancient times, it was used to produce perfumes and as a medicinal plant. Marjoram can be grown indoors during the winter or outdoors in the warmer months.

In ancient Egypt, they used marjoram to elaborate on their solid perfumes: 'sampsuchinon' and 'amarakinon"; it also appears in the Ebers Papyrus as a remedy to combat snoring and to promote sweating. For the Greeks, marjoram was a symbol of love and happiness. They associated it with the Goddess Aphrodite (just like oregano). The Greeks used marjoram oil to perfume their hair. The Romans used it in milk to keep its flavor from turning sour.

Syrian Oregano

A more potent variant.

Though Mediterranean and Syrian oreganos are a little spicier, they have very different uses. One is better in tomato-based sauces, while the other is better in fish dishes. If you're looking for a good all-around oregano, though, you can't go wrong with either type. However, Syrian oregano tends to be a little sweeter than its cousin.

Golden Oregano

Both is color and flavor is distinct.

Spiced up with cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, golden oregano is known for having a unique flavor. This is sometimes preferred by chefs who don't want their dishes to taste like typical Italian food. That distinct flavor also means it won't blend in very well with Italian food; instead, use it in cooking where you'd typically use a different type of oregano or add it to your chili con carne for a new flavor.

Italian Oregano

More common than its Common counterpart, as far as spices go.

Italian oregano is the type you would usually see in grocery stores and supermarkets. It has a pleasant flavor and aroma and is great for marinades and sauces. The plant looks like regular oregano, but it's much more fragrant than its cousin. If you're looking to add some pizzazz to your dishes, look no further than Italian oregano!

Cuban Oregano

For a sweeter touch.

Cuban oregano, known as "Jamaican thyme" in many Spanish-speaking countries, is a flavorful herb that tastes sweeter than it smells. It has a little less bite than Mexican oregano, with a taste reminiscent of thyme. To make salsa verde, add Cuban oregano and use it in place of regular oregano when making Cuban-style black beans.

Mexican Oregano

An iconic Mexican spice.

While there are many different types of oregano, one worth discussing, in particular, is Mexican oregano. This herb has a similar flavor to Italian and Greek oreganos but with its own unique taste and scent that's worth noting. Mexican oregano's aroma is not as spicy as other types, while its leaves are lighter in color than most others.

Mexican Bush Oregano

Not to be confused with regular Mexican oregano.

One of my favorite varieties is Mexican bush oregano. Also known as wild marjoram, it is an incredibly aromatic and robust variety with a slight hint of citrus. Mexican bush oregano looks like regular oregano in its dried form. Still, when you smell it, you can tell it's different. It has a strong aroma with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.

Ornamental Oregano

Best appreciated with your eyes rather than tastebuds.

Ornamental oregano is grown for its decorative leaves and stems. It is often used in flower arrangements, and it makes a pretty addition to herb gardens or other landscaping. You can grow ornamental oregano from seed if you are willing to wait until after frost for planting outdoors. The flavor is not particularly strong, so you won't want to use it for cooking but rather as a colorful addition to your yard or indoor houseplants.

What are the Health Benefits of Oregano?

The properties and benefits of oregano have been well known since ancient times, when it was used as one of the medicinal herbs.

Oregano can potentially help with respiratory problems, sore throats, prevent cancer, reduce anxiety, and improve memory. Due to its high anti-inflammatory properties, oregano helps us relieve gas, menstrual cramps, or any type of inflammation. It regulates blood glucose, lowers blood pressure, and controls cholesterol levels.

Its topical use relieves skin diseases such as acne and dandruff and helps insect bites. This herb can also help us get rid of toxins in our bodies, strengthen our bones, and ease rheumatic pain.

Gastronomic Uses of Oregano

In gastronomy, oregano leaves are used as a seasoning, both dry and fresh. When dry, they have much more flavor and aroma. They are generally added at the end of cooking sauces or just before plating since the heat releases essential oils containing scent. Still, oregano is also used in long-cooking sauces where their flavor has time to mature and develop, as in some tomato sauces.

Oregano is used in multiple dishes throughout the Mediterranean basin. Still, perhaps one of the best known is the Italian Bolognese sauce, since Italy is one of the countries where this spice is used the most. We can find it seasoning pasta dishes with tomato or cheese, like lasagna or pizza. In Argentina, for example, it is used in Creole soup. In Russia, it is used in stuffed buns called pirozhki or in the famous French fricando.

The ingredient that best combines with oregano is without a doubt the tomato, but it is perfect for adding it to dishes containing anchovies, capers, chicken, aubergines, strong-flavored fresh cheeses (such as feta), garlic, olives, lamb, pork, yellow pumpkin, stewed or baked potato, and courgettes.

Risks of Oregano

If you are allergic to mint or any plant part of the lamiaceae family, you shouldn't consume oregano because it can cause an allergy. If you do not know if you have an allergy, you can do a test before consuming a minimum amount. It is not recommended to consume it during pregnancy since it is an abortifacient plant. In high concentrations, it is very stimulating for the nervous system.

Oregano Essential Oil

Essential oils are said to have many benefits.

The essential oil of oregano is extracted mainly from its flowers, which generate small yellow drops. The leaves also have essential oil but in less quantity. The benefits of the essential oil are mainly due to two of its components: carvacrol and thymol.

Frequently Asked Questions about Oregano

What is oregano and what is it used for?

Oregano is an aromatic plant widely used throughout the world. It serves as a medicinal plant, and in fact, it is one of the most potent 'antibacterial' plants. It is also used as a spice to flavor different foods such as sauces, stews, dishes, pizzas, and more. One of its varieties works as an ornamental and aromatic plant. And it is used in the preparation of sweets and liqueurs.

What is oregano tea good for?

The infusion of oregano relieves different ailments of the body, eliminating toxins from the body, fighting respiratory diseases, relaxing the nervous system, and helping with varying ailments of the stomach.

How many times a day can I consume oregano?

If we consume oregano excessively, it can stimulate our nervous system. It must be consumed in a measured way. In the form of tea, you can consume up to 3 cups a day. It is better to have a balanced consumption of everything, not to consume in excess and in small amounts that we know are not enough for the plant, fruit, etc., to do its job.

How long does the oregano plant last?

The oregano plant is one of the strongest in terms of its cultivation and life cycle. It even survives low temperatures and different climatic and environmental conditions. It does not need much watering, and it reproduces easily. Due to these characteristics, the plant can last up to 6 to 8 years.

Are oregano and marjoram the same?

Oregano and marjoram are two of the most confused plants in many places. Although they are physically similar, they are not the same. Marjoram is a variety of oregano.

Conclusion

There are many different types of oregano. Other varieties exist for varying tastes and needs, such as culinary, medicinal, and even aesthetic purposes. The most common type is Mediterranean oregano, which is used in cooking and contains more essential oils than other varieties.

Another popular variety is Greek oregano, which is also used in cooking but has a milder flavor than Mediterranean oregano. If you're looking to grow your own herbs or simply want to add some flair to your garden, you might consider planting ornamental oreganos like Golden Oregano or Creeping Oregano.

Posted by Harry Winston

Harry is an expert when it comes to decorating the interior of your dream home - as well as the tabletop with all sorts of delicious dishes. Whether you need culinary tips or interior design guides, you can rely on his expertise. When not writing about food or furnishing, Harry looking into these topics to stay on the top of current trends and new innovations.