When spring starts hot and dry and some plants are struggling already, or — in the case of my apricot tree — still confused and bare to the bone, a class of plants is thriving.
Mediterranean herbs prefer hot and dry conditions and may taste the better for it as dry weather enhances the volatile oils.
Oregano in particular is a perennial plant that puts on new growth each spring. When in flower, it’s a bee favorite, bringing in pollinators close to the tomatoes and other vegetable garden produce.
And since one perennial plant can grow for years, gaining girth each season, a simple start of oregano can keep you in the herb for ages.
Oregano belongs to the mint family. It’s a semi-shrubby plant that grows low to the ground. In the cold season, you can cut it down to the crown and by spring, new fresh growth greens up the plant by March.
Just a few pinches of fresh-picked oregano equal a teaspoon or so of the dry alternative. The pungent herb is used to flavor Italian dishes including pizza, sauces and olive oils. It’s often added at the end of cooking so it won’t overpower other ingredients.
Oregano has anti-bacteria properties, too, and was used in concoctions that date back to the early days of medicine. According to Whole Foods, oregano is still used in Mexico to treat giardia infection.
Since oregano tolerates hot, dry conditions, the herb is a good choice for container gardens. Don’t even think about feeding these plants; they don’t need it. Oregano likes a lean soil. Fast drainage is the most important soil environment as oregano dislikes wet soils.
While oregano vulgare is a handsome plant with grey-green foliage, Kent Beauty provides soft pink blooms that resemble hops and is purely ornamental. Plant Kent Beauty where the flowers can spill over the sides of something — containers or raised planters will work.
The subtle pungent flavor of edible oregano taste delicious infused in olive oil. An easy recipe calls for infusing olive oil with strips of lemon peel and oregano:
In a small saucepan over low heat, warm 1 cup of olive oil with lemon zest strips from 1 lemon. After five minutes, remove the pot from the heat and stir in 1 to 2 tablespoons of fresh oregano. Let sit overnight to infuse. Strain the oil into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator.