Newly sprouted Greek oregano is always a welcome spring sight.
Realization of the Day:
It's time to move this sun loving herb out of the greenhouse and back onto its cement pedestal in the garden where it lives most of the year.
Even before I was much of an herb eater, I grew my own—and dreamed of planting a gorgeous, formal herb garden (a dream that still sort of lives but will probably never see the sun). I don't know why, but there's just something about the words herb garden. Romantic, maybe? I do know that the first thing many beginning gardeners grow is herbs.
All beauty and romance aside, there's a very practical reason to include herbs in your garden—they taste great. And they're also a bargain, because even if you can find top quality fresh herbs for sale, they'll probably cost you a pretty penny. The few times I succumbed to those expensive, tiny plastic packages of so called 'fresh' herbs at the supermarket, the experience almost killed me—especially when I was buying something I often have growing in profusion, like dill.
When you grow perennial herbs such as oregano, rosemary, thyme, and chives, your initial plant or seed purchase will often reward you for years to come. I don't usually have much luck growing herbs in pots (you can read about my rosemary growing adventures here, though sadly that big bush in the greenhouse I wrote about died this past winter), but this beloved pot of Greek oregano has been going strong for at least five years (and probably more like ten—my memory and garden records are terrible). Although I keep it trimmed back throughout the growing season each year, it's probably totally rootbound.
When another pot of oregano in the greenhouse sprouted up a few weeks earlier than this one, I was afraid I'd finally killed it, but fortunately it came back to life, and so far seems to be doing fine. The truth is, I'm half afraid to transplant it, for fear that I will end up killing it. Maybe I should just try digging up and transplanting part of it and see what happens.
One advantage to growing herbs in containers is that you can move them to a warmer and/or protected spot for the winter. My pots of oregano spend the coldest months in the unheated greenhouse, covered with old sheets and blankets when it's really cold, and then are brought back out into full sun for the summer and fall. As long as they're well watered, they thrive in the heat and humidity.
If you've only used dried oregano in cooking, I urge you to get yourself some of the fresh stuff, and fast. There's no comparison when it comes to flavor, and when using fresh herbs that are stemmy like oregano and thyme, you can use just the leaves in your cooking. You can see in the photo above just how much of the oregano plant is stem, and because dried herbs are usually made from the entire plant, you're often paying for—and eating—a lot of stems.
I love using chopped fresh oregano along with basil in fresh tomato pizza sauce, in summer salads like this Greek Style Panzanella, and in homemade Italian sausage (the recipe for which I've been meaning to post for ages). One of my favorite ways to use it lately, though, has been in this Slow Roasted Greek Style Leg of Lamb with Lemon, Oregano, Potatoes, and Swiss Chard, which is also one of my favorite ways to eat our grass-fed lamb. It takes a while to cook, but the prep work is minimal, and the leftovers are fantastic.
Drying your own oregano for the winter months is simply a matter of harvesting it in early morning when the flavorful oils are high and putting the leaves in a warm, dark place until they're dry. I put mine in a brown paper bag, clipped shut with a clothespin. Sometimes I quickly dry herbs in my handy dandy food dehydrator, a wonderful investment, especially if you like dried tomatoes.
There are many strains of oregano available, and while purists claim that 'true' Greek oregano is the only one worth growing, it's really a matter of personal taste. Last year (or was it the year before?) during a garden center clearance sale, I bought a gallon size pot of two types of oregano, including one with beautiful variegated leaves.
I tasted them side by side and couldn't tell much difference, and I love the way those leaves look. Unfortunately the variegated one didn't seem to make it through the winter, but I suppose that just gives me an excuse to hunt down some new oregano varieties to take its place!
Do you have oregano growing in your garden? Any stories, tips, or favorite ways you enjoy it?
Other herb posts:
11/27/05: Growing and Using Mint
6/6/06: What To Do with Lemon Thyme (see the comments section)
6/20/09: Harvesting the First Green and Purple Basil of the Season—and the Best Ways to Store Your Fresh Basil (includes links at the bottom to more basil growing posts)
Farmgirl Fare recipes using fresh herbs:
Herbed Yogurt Cheese (and all about growing chives)
My Favorite Basil Pesto (made with fresh tomatoes and less oil)
Garlic Lover's White Bean Soup (fat free, vegan, and delicious!)
Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Basil, and Sun Dried Tomato and Artichoke Pesto (I love this stuff)
Beyond Easy Beer Bread (the herb combinations are endless!)
Carrot Herb Rolls (and a beautiful bread book for beginners)
Slow Roasted Dutch Oven Lamb Shoulder Roasts or Lamb Shanks with Romateos, Onions, Garlic, and Rosemary