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Oregano: Joy of the Mountains

Love potion, talisman, magic spells, herbal cures, these are just a few of the many applications in which oregano has been used since ancient folklore times. In fact, people still use oregano much in the same way as they did hundreds of years ago. Did you know that just one tablespoon of oregano packs the same amount of antioxidants as a medium-size apple. Oregano contains thymol and carvacrol, which are strong antiseptics used in mouthwashes that inhibit growth of bacteria and fungi. Dont you just love that nature has always provided us with such a beautiful array of life-promoting herbs and plants?

Botanically known as Origanum vulgare, which in Greek means joy of the mountains, oregano is a small shrub with many stems covered in green oval-shaped leaves, and when in bloom, it is covered with small pale-purplish or pink flowers. Oregano is native to the Mediterranean region where it grows as a perennial plant, and in the intemperate climates of North America it grows as an annual plant. This hot flowery herb is a staple in Italian, Greek, and Mexican cuisines.

For many of us novice-type chefs, there is a little bit of confusion concerning the difference between oregano and marjoram.Even though they are similar in aroma and flavor, there are differences in the taste. Where oregano has a stronger slightly peppery taste with a hint of lemon, marjoram has a milder sweeter aroma with a slight minty taste. Both are members of the mint family and both are used in many renowned culinary blends, such as Herbes de Provence, fines herbes and the famous bouquet garni. And to add more confusion, there are a number of different varieties of oregano. For example, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens), is considered the strongest and actually comes from a different botanical family; it is less minty and best used in spicier dishes.

When oregano is dried, it is one of the few herbs that become stronger than when used fresh. Think pizza and immediately smell the aroma of oregano. In fact, oregano is commonly called the pizza herb, because of its pungent aroma.

Oregano also adds strong flavor to a variety of savory foods, like soups, stews, sauces meat and fish dishes; it also works well with eggs and vegetables. Oregano complements other seasonings such as,basil, garlic,onion, parsley, thyme;and it is a good partner with capers, mushrooms, olives and anchovies. Use oregano in making great meat rubs and marinade blends, try it in making dips for outdoor picnics, or sprinkle some chopped oregano onto homemade garlic bread.

Fortunately dried oregano is as good as using fresh oregano. The dried herbs are full of oils that maintain their potent flavor. You can harvest and use oregano all year long. When cooking with dried oregano, first crush it in the palm of your hand as this helps release the natural oils then add it to your recipe. Here's an easy ratio that I like to use when cooking with oregano: 3 tablespoons of fresh oregano = 1 teaspoon of dried oregano. Remember, oregano is a stronger tasting herb so its all in the preference of taste.

As a general rule in the kitchen, it is best to use fresh herbs at the end of the cooking process as they retain their flavor; and dried herbs tend to release their flavor when added earlier in the cooking process. However, some chefs prefer adding oregano toward the end of cooking to keep its strong flavor intact. Whichever way you choose to use oregano, we hope you will enjoy cooking with this joy of the mountain herb.

To help you along the path of oregano, here's an easy to make pasta recipe:

Linguini with Fresh Tomato Sauce - click link