Herbs such as oregano have a variety of uses. They can be used to add flavor to a range of dishes, mixed to create an effective herbal remedy or essential oil or simply grown for their ornamental appearance. For many keen gardeners, as well as a range of pollinators, a herb garden containing one or many types of oregano is one of the most attractive and useful parts of the garden.
While this is a popular herb, not many people realize that there are many different types of oregano. Each type has its own unique benefits and uses. While some are edible, others have medicinal benefits and others are purely ornamental. This guide to the different types of oregano will explain the differences between some of the main types of oregano. We will also explain how they are best used and share some care tips.
Despite the many different cultivars, this is a popular part of the herb garden.
What is Oregano?
Part of the Origanum genus, which belongs to the wider Mint family, this is a Mediterranean herb. It is commonly found in parts of western Asia and North Africa as well as many parts of the Mediterranean. One of the longest used herbs, Origanum plants have been cultivated since ancient times. In fact the plant is said to have been cultivated by the goddess Aphrodite.
The Benefits of Oregano
There are almost as many types of oregano as there are benefits. This useful little herb is able to kill up to 23 different strains of bacteria, helping our bodies to fight infections. It can also help to reduce cholesterol and inflammation.
The antioxidants contained in the foliage of these plants can be used to help treat people with heart conditions, diabetes and asthma. In addition to antioxidants, these plants are also rich in vitamins, irons, folates, calcium, fiber and magnesium.
Origanum is also an essential oil. You can add certain types of oregano to your drink or turn it into a cream that is rubbed onto the skin. When used as an essential oil, it can ease muscle pain or reduce the effects of various infections. Additionally some types of oregano can be used as an essential oil to boost the immune system, ease digestive problems or relieve sinus congestion.
As well as many potential health benefits, experimenting with different types of oregano is a great way to add new flavors to your cooking. For many people the herb is an essential kitchen spice.
The following are some of the most commonly grown or interesting types of oregano currently available.
Different Types of Oregano
The following are some of the most commonly grown types of oregano. Interestingly, some plants known as oregano are not actually members of the genus.
1 Common Oregano
The most commonly grown variety, also known as Origanum Vulgare or Wild Marjoram, there are several Common cultivars, including Greek and True varieties. These plants are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10. In cooler climates you can also grow Origanum Vulgare undercover, either in a greenhouse or on a windowsill. Best planted in a sunny position, like many Mediterranean plants, Origanum Vulgare favors well draining soil.
Thanks to its popularity in the herb garden and its easy going nature, Origanum Vulgare is a popular ingredient in tomato sauces. It can also be used to flavor lasagnas, pizzas and numerous pasta dishes.
Hardy in Zones 5 to 9, the Greek variety (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum) looks much like all the other types of oregano. The foliage is dark green and hairy. If allowed to, small white flowers can emerge. Rich in flavor, its spiciness is complemented by its strong aroma. Ideal for sauces and soups, Greek varieties are used in a range of different culinary styles. The foliage also has herbal and medicinal properties.
Greek cultivars produce dark green, hairy leaves.
Syrian plants, Origanum Syriacum, are a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern cuisine. Here the herb is often mixed with the other spices to create a blend known as Za-atar.
Syrian is a perennial variety, thriving in warm, dry climates. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 10, in cooler climates it is best grown undercover or as an annual. Also known as Bible Hyssop, this is one of the tallest types of oregano. Flowering specimens can reach up to 4 ft in height. The foliage is also larger, and more rich in flavor than other varieties.
The foliage of the Syrian variety is soft and silver-green in color when young. After flowering the foliage turns darker and woodier. The flavor also lessens in intensity as the leaves age. Like other varieties this is a popular plant amongst pollinators.
Golden (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’) is named for its golden yellow foliage. When in bloom the plant is covered in pink or purple flowers. These can last throughout the summer months. It is also a fragrant cultivar, emitting the classic oregano scent. An edible variety, its contained growth habit makes the Golden variety ideal for small spaces and containers.
Happiest in full sun, these plants are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 9. In warmer zones they can remain evergreen throughout the year. In cooler climates the plants die back during the winter months. Despite a slow growth habit, mature specimens can reach a height of 3 ft and spread up to 12 ft wide.
Italian types of oregano are a popular ingredient in many dishes, particularly Sicilian or Italian cuisine. It is also ideal for use in soups and sauces.
A hybrid variety, the Italian plant is the result of crossing Sweet and Greek cultivars to produce a flavorsome specimen. The foliage of the Italian cultivar is typically larger than that of the Greek plant. This makes it easier to dry and store.
A fragrant herb, the plants are hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 10 making it one of the more resilient types of oregano. The plants can achieve a mature height and spread of 12 to 18 inches. While it is commonly grown for culinary purposes, if the stems are left to grow longer, tiny pink flowers emerge in late summer.
The Italian variety has a range of culinary uses.
The Mexican plant is from a different genus to other types of oregano. Hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11 these are sensitive plants that won’t survive if the temperature falls below 30 ℉. Popular with pollinators, if the small white flowers are allowed to go to seed birds also visit the plants. In addition to floral interest, the fuzzy foliage also emits a pleasing, sweet scent.
The flavor of the foliage is another reason why this cultivar is growing in popularity. A common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, it is known for its strong flavor. Best planted in warm climates, Mexican varieties are not as sturdy as other varieties and should, therefore, be handled with care.
7 Mexican Bush
Native to Mexico, Mexican Bush (Poliomintha longiflora) is a resilient specimen. Also known as Mexican Sage or Rosemary Mint, this plant thrives in hot, dry conditions. It is particularly happy growing in the arid conditions that are common in Texas and Arizona.
Mexican Sage is hardy in USDA zones 7b to 11. In zones lower than 9 the plants do require some protection to help them survive the winter months. During the spring and summer, fragrant, purple flowers add ornamental interest. Deer dislike Mexican Bush plants, making it a good choice if you want to deter the animals from visiting your garden.
Marjoram (Origanum Majorana) is a spicier herb than many other types of oregano. While not strictly a variety of oregano, the two plants do look alike. As a result, the two plants are often grouped together.
There are 3 main varieties of Marjoram: Sweet Marjoram, Pot Marjoram and Wild Marjoram. All three are commonly used to season various dishes. Best treated as a tender perennial, the plants are hardy in USDA Zones 4 to 8, in cooler climates Marjoram can be grown as an annual or undercover. If allowed to flower the plants attract scores of butterflies and beneficial insects to the garden.
The different plants look similar.
The Cuban cultivar, also known as Spanish Thyme (Plectranthus amboinicus) is a member of the mint or Lamiaceae family. A succulent, the scent is reminiscent of true types of oregano.
Ideal for sunny corners of the garden as well as planters, hanging baskets and living walls, when in flower Spanish Thyme draws scores of pollinators to the garden. Typically reaching 12 to 18 inches in height, the plants are hardy in USDA Zones 9 to 11.
Spanish Thyme can be used in African, Caribbean or Indian cuisine.
10 Ornamental Varieties
Ornamental types of oregano, Origanum Kirigami, are attractive to look at, adding interest to herb gardens and windowsill boxes. However, unlike other varieties, they can’t be used for culinary or medicinal purposes. Hardy in USDA Zones 5 to 8 during the summer months pink, hop like bracts with small pink flowers develop.
The flowers of ornamental varieties attract butterflies and pollinators to the garden.
Some of the most attractive ornamental types include:
- Pilgrim, an attractive specimen displaying a pleasing upright growth habit. During the summer months Pilgrim produces bright, rosy blooms.
- Aureum is a distinctive choice which is easily identified by its yellow foliage. It is also a popular choice for providing attractive groundcover to dry, sunny areas.
- Compactum is a good groundcover choice. Once established the plant produces lots of rich, dark green foliage.
- Amethyst Falls is a cascading cultivar, identified by its purple bracts and pink flowers.
- Hop Flower produces lavender bracts that, as the name suggests, resemble hop flowers.
- Kent Beauty is popular for its large, beautiful bracts which overlap each other adding interest and patternation. The bracts of Kent Beauty provide the primary interest, the flowers are small and often considered insignificant.
How to Grow and Care for all Types of Oregano
All types of oregano can be grown outside in a herb garden or inside on a windowsill. In the right conditions these plants are pleasingly easy to care for.
Whether the plants are growing indoors or outside they do best in hot, almost arid conditions. When planted outside these are good companion plants. When planted in the vegetable garden the herb repels insects that target both bean and broccoli plants.
In cooler climates sensitive herbs can be grown in a planter in a light position.
Sourcing Your Plants
Common types are sold in garden stores and also grocery stores or organic markets. When selecting a plant, try to pick a healthy, compact specimen. Avoid any that are overly leggy and are showing signs of disease or infestation.
You can also grow a new plant from seed or cuttings.
Seeds should be sown undercover in the spring. Fill a tray with fresh potting soil and scatter the seeds on the top. Place the tray in a propagator in a light position. A windowsill is ideal. Moisten the soil before sowing. You may need to further mist the soil if it shows signs of drying out.
Germination usually takes 7 to 10 days. Following germination, allow the seedlings to grow on until they are about 6 inches tall.
At this stage, thin out the seedlings, discarding any that are too weak or underdeveloped. Replant the healthy seedlings into small, individual pots. Continue to keep the soil moist. Once all risk of frost has passed, harden off the plants before transplanting outside. More sensitive types of oregano should be kept inside.
You can also grow a new plant from a cutting. To do this, use a sterilized pair of garden scissors to take a 4 to 6 inch long cutting from a healthy plant. The cut should be angled at about 45 degrees. Remove the foliage from the bottom 2 inches of the plant. Dip the cut end in Garden Safe Rooting Hormone and plant in a 3 inch pot filled with moist, fresh potting soil. You can also root the cuttings in water before transfering into a pot.
Cutting and seedlings can be delicate. Take your time and remember to harden them off before transplanting outside.
All types of oregano thrive in well draining soil and full sun positions. Avoid planting in wet soil, this can cause root rot to develop. If you are unsure, a soil moisture sensor tells you how wet or dry your soil is.
If you are planting outside, weed the soil and work in organic matter before planting. Make a hole in the soil large enough to hold the pot currently holding the plant. Remove your specimen from the pot and place in the hole. Backfill and water well.
Specimens growing in pots, either outside or undercover, should be planted in containers filled with fresh potting soil. Make sure your chosen container has lots of drainage holes in the bottom. Origanum plants hate sitting in wet soil. Plant as described above and water well.
Once established even the most sensitive types of oregano are low maintenance plants that do not require much regular attention. There is no need to fertilize them and they are also pleasingly drought tolerant. This means that you may only need to water your plants during prolonged dry spells or if they show signs of wilting.
If you are growing your plants for culinary purposes, pinch out the flower buds as they start to form.
Finally, to overwinter sensitive specimens, cut the plants back to the ground and cover with a layer of mulch. Plants growing in pots can simply be moved inside.
This is one of the easiest herbs to cultivate. It is also one of the most useful.
To learn more about growing the origanum plant, why not check out our growing guide?
How to Harvest
Wait until the plants are at least 4 to 6 inch tall before harvesting.
Leaves harvested as the buds start to form are often more rich in flavor than other leaves.
Plants growing undercover can be harvested at any time of the day. Specimens growing outside are best harvested in the morning once the early morning dew has dried. While the leaves can simply be cut from the plant, our guide to harvesting the origanum plant will help to teach you the correct technique.
While the leaves are best used fresh they can also be stored in a dark, well ventilated area until you are ready to use them. This keeps the leaves fresh for a few days. For longer storage either dry or place in an airtight container or in a freezer bag and freeze.
Full of flavor and easy to grow, the many different types of oregano each have their own benefits. From ornamental attraction, to easing pain or even flavoring food, this is one of the most versatile herbs that you can add to your collection.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.