The difference in taste between fresh oregano and the store-bought dried variety is like night and day. Fresh oregano adds a boost of flavor that just can't be beat. Commonly found in tomato-based dishes, it is a staple in Italian and Mediterranean cooking. Like many herbs, it is easy to grow either in your garden or indoors, from small plants or from seeds.
How to grow oregano:
- If you're planting seeds for growing herbs, you can start them indoors in small seed pots a few weeks before the last frost of winter. Just sprinkle the seeds over your soil without covering them and give them a good mist of water. Let them sit in a sunny window until they germinate, about five to seven days.
- Transplant the oregano plants you've started from seed, or those you purchase from a nursery, in the spring after the risk of frost has passed. These plants can be grown in outdoor containers or transplanted into your garden.
- Plant oregano in full sun and well-drained soil, about ten to twelve inches apart. These herbs don't mind a dry soil and will actually adapt to most planting conditions as long as they get lots of sunshine. Water your oregano plants only during very dry periods.
- When growing plants such as herbs, you don't need to add any fertilizer, compost or mulch. Fertilizer is actually detrimental to the flavor of the herb.
- As the plants begin to flower, pinch off the flower buds. This will allow the plants to grow a bit bushy and provide optimum flavor. The plants can grow quite wide as they creep along the ground, so scale the leaves and stems back as needed.
- When your plants reach about four inches tall and have at least a dozen leaves, you can begin harvesting the leaves to use in your cooking. You can cut back the entire plant when it is about six inches tall to use the leaves; the oregano plant will begin to grow again, flower, and produce more leaves.
- Pick your oregano leaves in the morning, just after the dew has dried on the leaves. Once the sun starts warming up the leaves, they begin to lose the oils that provide taste and aroma.
- After harvesting, finely chop the leaves for use in cooking, or store them whole in plastic bags in the refrigerator or freezer. Oregano leaves can also be dried for longer storage.
- At the end of the growing season, cut back your plants and cover the area with mulch. They should last anywhere from two to four years, at which time they will start to get woody and need to be replaced. Other than replacing the plants every few years, growing oregano could not be any easier!