WHAT IS OREGANO?




Oregano is a popular herb botanically known as Origanum vulgare, which is Greek for 'joy of the mountains'. It can be found growing wild on mountainsides of Greece and other Mediterranean countries where it is an herb of choice.

Unlike many of the Mediterranean herbs you can grow in the garden today, oregano is perhaps the hardiest. So tough is its constitution that, after being introduced to Great Britain by the Romans, it became naturalised in the wild and has remained something of a wild flower - known as marjaram - ever since across large parts of the country.

Unfortunately, as the centuries have passed, the British environment has had its effect on its European cousin. With our reduced levels of light, combined with lower average day temperatures and far more rain, our naturalised Origanum vulgare has had to evolve to cope with whatever the weather here could throw at it.

Gone are the hairy leaves – one of the modifications that plants use to help them cope in hot, dry climates – and gone too are their highly scented leaves. The leaves of the English form are now reduced in essential oils by comparison and are now what you would just call ‘aromatic’.

Although still suitable for culinary use you will be better off with plants grown from seed that has been sourced from the Mediterranean region. Even so, when it comes to growing Mediterranean herbs here in the English garden, oregano is not only one of the easiest; it also has centuries of form.

How to grow oregano from seed

To grow oregano from seed is relatively simple, however there can be a problem working with the seed as it is very fine and difficult to handle. In order to get an even distribution of the seed you may wish to try adding it to some fine, dry sand, mixing the seed in well and then sowing the whole mix to achieve an even distribution.

Thinly sow the seed either indoors into plug trays from mid-April, or outdoors into a prepared and well drained, seed bed from the end of May onwards. When growing indoor, try to avoid standard seed trays as oregano has a long tap root system which is far better suited to the depth that a plug tray can provide. Secondly, experience has shown that oregano tend to be more prone to damping off when seed trays are used.

When sowing indoors, start about 6 weeks before the threat of late frosts are over. You may need to provide basal heat as oregano will need a roughly constant temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius.

Once the newly germinated seedlings have started emerging through the compost, reduce their watering - again, to help prevent fungal infections. After another week or two, thin out the weakest seedlings allowing just one strong plant per plug. Then, once the seedlings have produced at least two sets of ‘true’ leaves they will be ready for transplanting. Pot them on into a free draining compost such as John Innes ‘Seed’ or use a good quality multi-purpose compost mixed 50:50 with perlite or horticultural grit. Once they have been grown on for 3-4 weeks, they can then be planted out side in their permanent position.

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