Oregano scientifically named Origanum vulgare by Carolus Linnaeus –
is a common species of Origanum, a genus of the mint family (Lamiaceae).
It is native to warm-temperate western and southwestern Eurasia and
the Mediterranean region.
Oregano is a perennial herb, growing from 20–80 cm tall, with
opposite leaves 1–4 cm long. Oregano will grow in a pH range between
6.0 (mildly acid) and 9.0 (strongly alkaline) with a preferred range
between 6.0 and 8.0. The flowers are purple, 3–4 mm long, produced
in erect spikes. It is sometimes called wild marjoram, and its close
relative O. majorana is then known as sweet marjoram.
Closely related to the herb marjoram, oregano is also known as
wild marjoram. Oregano is a perennial, although it is grown as an
annual in colder climates, as it often does not survive the winter
The main chemical constituents include carvacrol, thymol,
limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene. The leaves and
flowering stems are strongly antiseptic, antispasmodic, carminative,
cholagogue, diaphoretic, emmenagogue, expectorant, stimulant,
stomachic and mildly tonic.
Many subspecies and strains of oregano have been developed by
humans over centuries for their unique flavors or other
characteristics. Tastes range from spicy or astringent to more
complicated and sweet. Simple oregano sold in garden stores as
Origanum vulgare may have a bland taste and larger, less dense
leaves, and is not considered the best for culinary uses, with a
taste less remarkable and pungent. It can pollinate other more
sophisticated strains, but the offspring are rarely better in
The related species, Origanum onites (Greece, Turkey) and O.
heracleoticum (Italy, Balkan peninsula, West Asia), have similar
flavors. A closely related plant is marjoram from Turkey, which,
however, differs significantly in taste, because phenolic compounds
are missing from its essential oil. Some varieties show a flavor
intermediate between oregano and marjoram.
Syrian oregano (Origanum vulgare syriacum)
Notable subspecies are:
Origanum vulgare gracile (= O. tyttanthum) is originally from
Khirgizstan, and has glossy green leaves and pink flowers. It grows
well in pots or containers, and is more often grown for added
ornamental value than other oregano. The flavor is pungent and
Origanum vulgare hirtum (Italian oregano, Greek oregano) is a common
source of cultivars with a different aroma from those of O. v.
gracile. Growth is vigorous and very hardy, with darker green,
slightly hairy foliage. Generally, it is considered the best
all-purpose culinary subspecies.
Origanum vulgare onites (Cretan oregano, Turkish oregano, rigani,
pot marjoram) is a tender perennial growing to 18 inches tall, with
pale green to gray-green woolly rounded foliage. It has a strong,
intensely spicy flavor.
Origanum vulgare syriacum, Syrian oregano, Lebanese oregano, za'atar)
has larger leaves that vary in colors ranging from pale green to
grayish. Their taste is pungent and similar to Greek oregano.
Example cultivars are:
Aureum – Golden foliage (greener if grown in shade), mild taste
Greek Kaliteri – O. v. hirtum strains/landraces, small, hardy, dark,
compact, thick, silvery-haired leaves, usually with purple
undersides, excellent reputation for flavor and pungency, as well as
medicinal uses, strong, archetypal oregano flavor (Greek kaliteri:
Hot & Spicy – O. v. hirtum strain
Nana – dwarf cultivar
Cultivars traded as Italian, Sicilian, etc. are usually hardy
sweet marjoram (O. ×majoricum), a hybrid between the southern
Adriatic O. v. hirtum and sweet majoram (O. majorana). They have a
reputation for sweet and spicy tones, with little bitterness, and
are prized for their flavor and compatibility with various recipes
Oregano is an important culinary herb, used for the flavor of its
leaves, which can often be more flavourful when dried than fresh. It
has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste, which can vary in
intensity. Good quality oregano may be strong enough to almost numb
the tongue, but the cultivars adapted to colder climates often have
a lesser flavor. Factors such as climate, seasons and soil
composition may affect the aromatic oils present, and this effect
may be greater than the differences between the various species of
Oregano's most prominent modern use is as the staple herb of
Italian-American cuisine. Its popularity in the US began when
soldiers returning from World War II brought back with them a taste
for the “pizza herb”, which had probably been eaten in southern
Italy for centuries. There, it is most frequently used with roasted,
fried or grilled vegetables, meat and fish. Unlike most Italian
herbs, oregano combines well with spicy foods,
which are popular in southern Italy. It is less commonly used in the
north of the country, as marjoram generally is preferred.
The herb is also widely used in Turkish, Palestinian, Syrian,
Greek, Portuguese, Spanish, Philippine and Latin American cuisines.
In Turkish cuisine, oregano is mostly used for flavoring meat,
especially for mutton and lamb. In barbecue and kebab restaurants,
it can be usually found on table, together with paprika, salt and
The leaves are most often used in Greece to add flavor to Greek
salad, and is usually added to the lemon-olive oil sauce that
accompanies many fish or meat barbecues and some casseroles.
Oregano is also used by chefs in the southern Philippines to
eliminate the odor of carabao or cow meat when boiling it, while
simultaneously imparting flavor.
Hippocrates used oregano as an antiseptic, as well as a cure for
stomach and respiratory ailments. A Cretan oregano (O. dictamnus) is
still used today in Greece as a palliative for sore throat.
Oregano is high in antioxidant activity, due to a high content of
phenolic acids and flavonoids. It also has shown antimicrobial
activity against strains of the food-borne pathogen Listeria