Member of the family Lamiaceae
The name oregano originates from the Greek words oros and ganos. Oros means mountain and ganos means joy – so oregano is the “mountain of joy”.
Oregano is a warm and aromatic, yet slightly bitter herb. It is closely related to sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana), which lacks oregano’s essential oil and has a different, gentler taste.
The best quality oregano is grown in a warm, dry climate. It is native to warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and the Mediterranean region. Sunlight encourages the concentration of the essential oils that give oregano its flavor.
Oregano is a perennial herb, which grows 20–80 cm tall. The flowers are purple.
Many subspecies and strains of oregano have been developed by humans over centuries for their unique flavors or other characteristics.
The Greeks used the leaves as a poultice for aching muscles, and the Romans, which called oregano cunila, used it for scorpion and spider bites.
Oregano leaves and flowering stems are strongly antiseptic due to the high thymol content. It is known that the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates (Hippocrates of Cos, ca. 460 BC – ca. 370 BC) used oregano as an antiseptic.
Oregano can also be used as a dye and colors e.g. yarn in a beautiful purple hue. The Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus wrote about oregano :
” With this – wool is colored red or purple-like.”
Today oregano is most commonly used as a flavor and spice in culinary dishes, and it is the dried leaves that are best for this purpose.
Oregano is an important culinary herb, used for the flavor of its leaves, which, as said earlier, can often be more flavorful when dried than fresh. Oregano is often called the “pizza herb” and it is usually seen as a typical Italian herb, although it is also a common ingredient in many other culinary traditions. Only think of a Greek salad. it wouldn’t be the same without oregano.