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Oregano (US // or UK //, scientific name Origanum vulgare) 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 acidic) 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 known as sweet marjoram.
Oregano is related to the herb marjoram, sometimes being referred to as wild marjoram. Oregano has purple flowers and spade-shaped, olive-green leaves. It is a perennial, although it is grown as an annual in colder climates, as it often does not survive the winter months. Oregano is planted in early spring, the plants being spaced 30 cm (12 in) apart in fairly dry soil, with full sun. It prefers a hot, relatively dry climate, but will do well in other environments.
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 quality.
The related species, Origanum onites (Greece, Turkey) and O. syriacum (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.
Notable subspecies are:
Example cultivars are:
Cultivars traded as Italian, Sicilian, etc. are usually hardy sweet marjoram (O. ×majoricum), a hybrid between the southern Adriatic O. v. hirtum and sweet marjoram (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 and sauces.
Oregano is an important culinary herb, used for the flavour of its leaves, which can 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 almost to 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 plants. Among the chemical compounds contributing to the flavour are carvacrol, thymol, limonene, pinene, ocimene, and caryophyllene.
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.
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 pepper.
The dried and ground 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 water buffalo when boiling it, while simultaneously imparting flavor.
|This section requires expansion with: Additional medicinal uses with WP:MEDRS citations. (November 2010)|
Oregano is high in antioxidant activity, due to a high content of phenolic acids and flavonoids. In test-tube studies, it also has shown antimicrobial activity against strains of the food-borne pathogen Listeria monocytogenes.
In the traditional Austrian medicine Origanum vulgare herb has been used internally (as tea) or externally (as ointment) for treatment of disorders of the gastrointestinal tract, respiratory tract, and nervous system.
In 2005, the US Federal Trade Commission brought legal action against a firm that had claimed oil of oregano treated colds and flus, and that oil of oregano taken orally treated and relieved bacterial and viral infections and their symptoms, saying the representations were false or were not substantiated at the time the representations were made, and that they were therefore a deceptive practice and false advertisements. The final stipulation on the matter said no representation as to any health benefit could be made without "…competent and reliable scientific evidence…".
The essential oil of oregano is composed primarily of monoterpenoids and monoterpenes, however the concentrations of the specific compounds vary widely depending on geographic location and other varying factors. Over 60 different compounds have been identified with the primarily ones being carvacrol and thymol ranging from 0 over 80% while lesser abundant compounds include p-cymene, γ-terpinene, caryophyllene, spathulenol, germacrene-D, β-fenchyl alcohol and δ-terpineol.
Drying of the plant material effects both quantity and distribution of volatile compounds, with methods using higher heat and longer drying times having greater negative impact. A sample of fresh whole plant material found to contain 33g/kg dry weight (3.1g/kg wet) decreased to below a third after warm air convection drying. Much higher concentrations of volatile compounds are found to be towards the end of the growing season.
Oregano is the anglicised form of the Italian word origano, or possibly of the medieval Latin organum; this latter is used in at least one Old English work. Both were drawn from the Classical Latin term origanum, which probably referred specifically to sweet marjoram, and was itself a derivation from the Greek ὀρίγανον (origanon), which simply referred to "an acrid herb". The etymology of the Greek term is often given as oros ὄρος "mountain" + the verb ganousthai γανοῦσθαι "delight in", but the Oxford English Dictionary notes it is quite likely a loanword from an unknown North African language.
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