Oregano Varieties

Types of Oregano and Marjoram

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In the kitchen oregano is a useful herb, but it is not a single plant, there are actually several plants that bear the moniker 'oregano' and some are not even related to the others. Mexican oregano for instance is not oregano per say, it is an entirely different genus of plant that bears similarities in taste. Marjoram is frequently mistaken for Oregano, and yes it is similar but generally milder and has a sweeter aroma , with a slight after taste of mint. Oregano is a stronger and has a very slight hint of a peppery taste. Oregano is sometimes referred to as wild marjoram and Pot Marjoram is referred to as Cretan oregano. Both plants are of the same genus, but are not the same. Italian Oregano is actually a hybrid of common oregano and sweet marjoram - talk about inbreeding.

True Oregano or common oregano (Origanum vulgare) is indigenous to Italy, Greece and the Mediterranean area. It is a perennial shrub that can grow up to about 2 feet high. In The US, it is hardy in zones 4-9. Popular variations include Greek Turkish and Italian Oregano. Some varieties are hardy as far North as zone 3 & 4. Most withstand a moderate freeze. In marginal areas, grow oregano as an annual or in containers that can overwinter indoors.

Both Greek and Italian oregano's have white blooms that appear in mid summer. They have similar flavors although Greek is more savory and robust, while Italian is milder.

Turkish Oregano aka Cretan Oregano is very pungent and aromatic as well as mildly sweet. Most commonly used form of Oregano in Italian dishes, sauces, pizza and so forth. Some Turkish Oregano is actually Pot Marjoram. [ 'Pot' referring to a container - what did you think ? ]

Milder versions of oregano are sometimes referred to as ornamental although they also have admirable culinary qualities as well. My personal favorite is Golden Oregano. Golden Oregano has a slightly different flavor than some other varieties, it is pleasant but not as pungent. It works well as a ground cover for landscaping purposes.

Hopflower oregano sometimes called cascading hopflower is primarily used as an ornamental. It produces light green foliage that daintily hang from bowed thin stems. At the end of each stem is minute pink blossom . In the culinary realm it can be used in any dish that calls for oregano, although its flavor is very mild.

Compact Oregano [Origanum vulgaris Compactum] serves as ground cover in many ornamental scenarios. It is a hybrid of marjoram and produces dark green aromatic foliage. It has tubular flowers with conspicuous green bracts from mid summer to early Autumn. Mild flavor.

Mexican Oregano is not as hardy as true oregano and only grows as a perennial in Mexico , the American Southwest and some hot dry southern regions [USDA zones 7b and 11.] it can be grown as an annual anywhere that has reasonably long warm summers. It is suitable for indoor gardens so long as the temperature is kept above 50 F and ample light is provided. It's flavor is similar to common oregano but has a citrus undertone.

Other plants that are also referred to as Mexican oregano include Lippia graveolens and Plectranthus amboinicus.

Plectranthus amboinicus aka Puerto Rican Oregano, Mexican Oregano, Spanish thyme, Cuban Oregano, Oregano Brujo, and Mexican mint. Zones 9-11. The leaves have a strong oregano like flavor and is commonly used for anything oregano is used for. Also has medicinal qualities and is used in bush medicine in various locales.

Lippia graveolens. Its essential oils contain many of he same compounds found in Oregano giving it a similar flavor. It is related to Mexican Oreagno but not to common oregano.