Oregano –the humble herb!
There are some herbs that everyone knows and loves. Basil, Coriander Garlic are just a few that have passionate followers. Any discussion on these will get the juices flowing and everyone will have their favorite recipes. Then there are the lesser discussed herbs like Rosemary, Sage and Thyme that are popular in most cuisines but people don't talk too much about them. We can all picture the taste and aroma of all these popular herbs. Oregano is widely used across the world but most of us can't even imagine the flavour, don't know that there are numerous cultivars and can't even agree on how to pronounce it; or E gano or ore gAno.
Oregano is a member of the Mint Family; Lamiaceae and has the Latin name of Origanum vulgare. It is a semi-hardy perennial from southern Europe with soft green ovate foliage and attractive pink mauve flowers. It has been part of Italian/Greek and French cooking for hundreds of years and came into Australian food with the big influx of Southern European immigrants after World War 2. It is closely related to Sweet Marjoram Origanum marjorana and has several subspecies the main one being know as Greek Oregano, Origanum vulgare hortum.
Like so many fresh herbs it is full of antioxidants and essential oils that are very good for health. These oils have strong antibacterial properties and is the base of many of the ancient medicinal uses. It is also a rich source of Vitamin K which promotes strong bones and also helps fight blood clots. It contains several key minerals; iron, calcium and manganese and plenty of fibre and fatty acids. By itself Oregano won't cure your ails and give you a long life but it helps and should be part of a diet rich in good food. According US health department 20gm of Oregano will give you your daily allowance of Vitamin K and 40% of your Manganese, iron and Vitamin A allowance.
As a wild herb of the Mediterranean region, Oregano has been part of human usage since the Ancient Greeks. This of course means a strong presence in folklore and mythology. Even the origin of the word is lost in time. The common belief is that it comes from Ancient Greek meaning Mountain Joy (oros = mountain and ganousthai = delight) however there is a strong argument that it is an anglicised form of the Latin name Origanum which in turn comes from Greek. There is Mexican Oregano which is a popular herb from southern US and central America. Although it has a similar flavour it is not related and its Latin name is Lippia graveolens..
Basically the folklore tells us that this aromatic herb was given to the Ancient Greeks by Aphrodite to make life more enjoyable and healthier. As she is the God of Love and Beauty Oregano is assumed to be greatly beneficial in improving love life and relationships. This has connection has gone right through most of European history. There is also a litany of articles and beliefs of its use in natural medicine. Although primarily anecdotal the chemical composition of the herb lends us to believe that many of these uses have some factual base. There have been many research programs looking at clinical uses of extracted oils and all show positive results.
All this information is great but really we want it to taste nice. Most of us encounter Oregano through pizza and pasta sauces but it has many other uses. It is a soft aromatic flavour that is best added late in cooking and works best used fresh and in hot food. Add to omelettes, quiche and scrambled eggs for a different taste. Mix with butter and toss in some small button mushrooms or fresh scallops. Mix with fresh Rosemary and Sage then add to salad dressings and soups. It is one of the herbs that can be used dried as it will retain its flavour. Dried Oregano can be added earlier in the cooking than fresh.
At Renaissance Herbs we grow several varieties of Oregano:. Hot n Spicy is an Israeli selection that has a delightful peppery flavour and gives some heat without the burn associated with chilli. Golden Oregano and Country Cream are two forms with gold and variegated leaves and a mild flavour. Greek Oregano has a strong slightly more spicy taste that works well with Lamb and lemon.
Oregano works well with olive oil, salt and pepper. Try this recipe for a different slant on Cos lettuce:
Baked Cos with Oregano and olive oil.
1 large Cos Lettuce cut in half
1 cup of fresh Oregano
2 tablespoons of olive oil
Coarse ground salt and pepper.
Cut cos lettuce in half lengthways
Preheat oven to 200C.
Put half in fridge for future use
Mix olive oil and Oregano then brush on cut side of remaining half.
Season with salt and pepper
Reduce oven temperature to 180 and place in oven cut side up for about 20 minutes depending on size of lettuce. Basting with oil mix several times. When top leaves start to brown lightly grill for another 2-3 minutes then serve.
Try a sprinkle of lemon or lime juice for a slightly different flavour.