With winter well and truly here, casseroles stews and soups are a staple in our kitchen. To add freshness to these somewhat heavy meals, I love to use fresh winter herbs like oregano. I treat oregano in winter like I treat basil in summer – throwing it in with all things tomato based.
Oregano is a perennial (it lasts longer than two years). And, if regularly trimmed and cut back in early spring by one third, it will return and produce for years. It is a pungent and spicy herb and I’m a fan of its slightly bitter taste. However, the potency of its leaves can reduce after three to four years, so at home I replant every few years.
Planting oregano is easy. Plant in compost rich soil or in pots close to the kitchen. Remember to use potting mix if you’re planting in pots or containers. Short on space? Consider vertical planters to keep a variety of herbs easily accessible. Just make sure to hang them in a sunny spot.
When growing oregano consider companion planting it next to your cabbages or cauliflower. Companion planting involves planting two plants in close proximity to mutually benefit each other through attracting certain insects or keeping other insect pests away. This method of planting is particularly popular with gardeners wanting to avoid the use of sprays or chemicals.
Once you’ve planted your oregano give it a gentle watering in. You probably won’t need to water it much at the moment. But when the weather warms up, water two to three times per week – give a good soaking to encourage deep rooting. But don’t worry too much as oregano is a hardy herb and very forgiving if it gets neglected.
Once its growth is established try drying some sprigs. Simply tie bunches together and hang upside down on the porch, or indoors in a paper bag. Cut a few holes in the bag and hang upside down until dried through. This will take one to two weeks. Once dry, run your fingers up the stalks to easily remove the leaves and store in jars.
Oregano is one of the better herbs at retaining flavour potency when dried. To get maximum strength out of the leaves, harvest just before it flowers. Remember one dried teaspoon is equal to one fresh tablespoon of herbs.
We all know about adding mint to summer cocktails, but have you tried hot herb teas? Add a sprig of oregano to a cup of hot water for a refreshing winter change, especially if you’re trying to cut down on caffeine.
And, when the warmer weather approaches add oregano fresh to salads. The more you chop it up, the more flavoursome it will be. Oregano can be used in pasta and pizza sauces, Bolognese, and on top of herby bready rolls. So, whatever the season you can always find an occasion for oregano.