A tough perennial plant, hardy to zone 5 with a pungent aroma. Growing to 18 inches (46 cm) in height it has bright pink/purple flowers from June to August. It is very drought tolerant once established and likes bright sunny areas but can take some morning or afternoon shade.. It can tolerate a wide pH range from 6.0 - 9.0. and likes a well drained soil. It is also fairly salt tolerant and will grow in gardens by the shore. It also makes a good container plant. Once established it takes very little care and can offer cheerful color with minimal maintenance.
Note: We sell three different kinds or Oregano. If intending for culinary use please choose the one that best fits your taste. Wild or Italian has a mild taste, Marjoram is stronger but still 'sweet' and Greek, which is very strong, and can sometimes be overpowering For medicinal use Italian (wild) Oregano is what herbalists use.
Description of Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare).
A hardy perennial that grows up to 18 inches (46 cm) tall and about 20 inches (50 cm) wide.. It has stiff woody stems that can be purplish in color. The stems are branched and erect. The leaves are grayish green in color roughly oval in shape and hairy on the undersides. They are arranged in opposite pairs on the stems and are about one inch long. The flowers are produced in corymbs - slightly rounded domes at the ends of the stems - these can be branched and often have smaller flower clusters just beneath. Flowers are usually pink but can be lilac, purple or white. Each flower is small fused together with three lobes at the base and one at the top. They usually bloom from early to mid June through August. The whole plant has a strong aroma. It is a creeping plant and will spread using rhizomes.
Growing Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare) from seed.
Easy to grow from seed. Seeds are very small so its best to start them indoors in small seed trays or cell trays. Usually germinates within 8-14 days. However once germinated they seedlings grow very slowly. Transplant to individual pots once the seedlings are large enough to handle and grow on until at least 3 inches (8 cm) tall before planting out. Transplant out after all danger of frost has passed. Space plants 14 - 18 inches (36- 46cm) apart.
For more information on growing seed see our general growing instructions
The seeds can be sown directly in the ground when the soil has warmed enough and all danger of frost has passed. However since the seeds are small and oregano grows very slowly and the area will need to be constantly weeded to ensure new seedlings have a good start. It is much easier to sow seeds indoors and plant out as large plant to avoid extra work.
Location and Care of Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare).
Wild Oregano needs lots of sunlight to flourish well, however it can tolerate some shade in the morning or afternoon. It is very happy in full sunlight and can tolerate fairly hot dry areas reasonably well but not harsh hot dry areas. It prefers a light soil with good drainage, with sandy soil being ideal. It cannot easily tolerate heavy clay soils. For ideal growth it prefers moderate fertile soil so adding some compost or good organic material is advised but only sparingly as too much fertilizer can weaken the plant and reduce the aroma and flavor. It can tolerate a wide pH range from 6.0 down to 9.0. but prefers to stay above 8.0. Once established it needs very little water and is very drought tolerant. It is hardy to zone 5.
Although not truly salt tolerant oregano will thrive in areas near the shore so it is an excellent plant for shore side gardens. In fact many state that the flavor of plants grown near the sea have a much stronger flavor than those grown inland.
The flavor of the plants tends to reduce with age so it is recommended that they be replaced every 4-5 years. Ideally replacing a few plants every year will ensure that there is always a supply of new fresh plants available. If intending to harvest pinch off the flower heads as they appear to ensure a long lasting supply of new fresh leaves.
Since its such a tough plant oregano makes an ideal container plant and makes an attractive deck or patio pot. An ideal size pot is about 10-12 inches across (25-30cm) and be filled with a mix of course sand with some organic material ideally compost. The pots will need regular watering but not saturated and a monthly feeding or use or sustained release fertilizer pellets will keep plants growing well. Keeping the plants pinched back or pruned by will make them more attractive and pruning can be taken straight to the kitchen for use.
Oregano can also be grown indoors but it will need a sunny south facing window to thrive. It makes a good house plant for those who often neglect their plants as long as it has good light. Use a plastic pot to stop the plant drying out too fast are reduce watering. Water well but do not saturate the plant. Oregano is fairly drought tolerant so can withstand a few missed waterings. Fertilize once a month or use sustained release granules. Pinch off some of the new shoots for use in the kitchen and to keep the plant bushy.
Harvesting Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare).
Leaves can be picked off the plant after it reaches at least six inches in height. Pinch or snip off the growing tops of the branches rather than picking individual leaves this encourages the plant to branch, become thicker and bushier and produce more leaves.
For the most flavor and fragrance the best time to harvest oregano is just as it begins to flower as the oils are at their highest at this point. If harvesting for drying cut whole stems to within 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm) from the ground. Do not cut down the whole plant but leave some stalks to allow the plant to regenerate. Stems can then be bunched and hung to dry then stored for later use. The flavor and intensity of dried leaves is much strong than the fresh ones and it usually preferred in cooking.
For continuous fresh leaf production pluck the fresh young shoot tops on a continuous basis once the plant has reached at least six inches high. Cut only a few stalks from each plant to ensure they have enough stems left to regenerate. The desired oils reduce once the plant has flowered so pinch off the flower stalks as they appear to ensure good quality leaf production.
Oregano can be susceptible to aphids and leaf miners. In hot dry situations spider mites can be a problem. Root rot can set in of the plant is too wet. Fungal diseases especially can be a problem in humid climates.
Culinary Uses of Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare).
As a culinary herb. Wild or Pot oregano provides a mild but pungent flavor to cooking. It is most commonly used in Mediterranean cookery where it is used in a variety of ways, flavouring vegetables, salad dressings, garlic onions, potatoes and added to chilies.
Medicinal Uses of Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare).
The leaves are strongly antiseptic and calmative and are used internally to treat colds, influenza, bronchitis, asthma and mild feverish illnesses. The calmative nature also makes it ideal for indigestion, stomach upsets and painful menstruation. Because of its sedative properties it should not be taken in large dosages but mild teas can help induce restful sleep and relieve arthritis and muscular pain. The essential oil distilled from oregano is strongly antiseptic and is often used as a disinfectant but should not be used internally as it is too strong and can cause digestive issues. Use the oil in air sprays and diffusers to help disinfect the air and remove bacteria and viruses.
Flowers on their strong woody stems can be dried and used in aromatic wreaths or as dried flowers in arrangements.
Common Marjoram, True Oregano, Turkish Oregano, Wild Marjoram, Winter Marjoram, pot marjoram, Italian Oregano.