I thought I had a basic understanding of oregano: I like a healthy dash on my pizza, and always in my feta-laden Greek salads.

But I was wrong. I didn't know that I'm probably using O. heracleoticum, which has a pungent oregano-like taste. Unless O. viride, a seedless cousin, is what's living in my store-bought jar of dried oregano. Or maybe it's Origanum x majoricum, an Italian oregano-marjoram hybrid that the Herb Society of America likes best for culinary use.

Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden learned her oregano lesson the hard way. She wanted to grow a supply of the versatile herb to cook with but didn't end up with what she was expecting:

The plant marked as “Oregano” at the garden center grew lush with little care, a low, green mound with a pleasant aroma if touched. But come harvest time, the oregano leaves tasted like peppery dirt, if that good, and the plant had spread in every direction I did not intend for it. Not exactly what I had in mind for a seasoning with my homegrown tomatoes.

Turns out the world's herb-namers were shockingly promiscuous with the term oreganothey gave the name to a multitude of plants, many of them totally useless in the kitchen. To further complicate matters, Mexican oregano is closely related to lemon verbena, but not at all to Mediterranean oregano. Cuban oregano makes a nice houseplant, Margaret says.

Do you cook with oregano? Which kind? Think you even know which kind now?


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