It's a crime to complain about late summer abundances, but really, what do I do with all this oregano? My basil is gone as fast as I can grow it, my mint is destined to become one last (giant) batch of mojitos for an upcoming party, and I've already found the world's most brilliant use for rosemary. I never tire of the late-summer megacrop, zucchini (I could eat chocolate chip cookies flecked with zucchini any day). But oregano?
As a novice gardener, I didn't even really mean to grow oregano—I planted it as an afterthought—and I have no idea what to do with it. I asked my cooking-reference-on-speed-dial (my mom), what she uses oregano for. "Anything I'd use any other herb for" came her answer. This doesn't help the novice.
So I launched a two-pronged approach: First, I'd buy myself some time by drying the herb. Second, I'd figure out some good uses for both fresh and dried versions.
Photographs by Meredith Swinehart.
Above: When I finally harvested the oregano, I realized I had left it alone too long; it had already flowered. For the purest oregano flavor, cut the herb before it flowers. But the flowers are edible and flavorful themselves, so I kept them in.
Above: Younger sections of my plant hadn't flowered yet; here is the more traditional look of oregano as an herb, sans flowers.
Above: Tie the herbs in a bunch to hang dry, or lay them flat on an herb rack. Even a baking rack will do; just allow air to circulate on all sides.
Above: If you tie the herbs in a bunch, hang them in your kitchen to dry. (Time it so herbs are drying when guests come over, in lieu of flowers. They'll think your life is très charmant.)
Above: Leave the oregano alone until dry to the touch; in my case, this took three or four days.
Above: When it's dry, run your fingers down the stem and pull off the leaves and flowers; they'll come easily.
Above: After growing oregano for only two months in my window box, I am amply stocked for the winter. (So much, in fact, that I know what I'm bringing as hostess gifts for the next several months.)
But aside from giving it away, what am I going to do with all this oregano? I have several jars of the dried herb and still more fresh oregano to cut.
I asked our friends Stefanie Bittner and Leslie Bennett of Star Apple Edible Gardens what they like to do with the herb. Bittner uses fresh oregano in bouquets with garden roses and other flowers, both for the look and the fragrance. She also hangs oregano bundles (like the pictured one above) in her chicken coop; the hens appreciate the treat, and it freshens the smell of the coop.
Bennett grows oregano the same way I do—in a windowsill planter off her apartment—and uses it in fresh salad dressings. She chops the oregano and mixes it with olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, etc. She suggests trolling through recipes of Middle Eastern cooking; the herb features prominently in the cuisine. And Bennett also drops small bunches of flowered oregano into little bud vases on their own; another tip I'll be trying soon.
What do you use oregano for, fresh or dried? I'd love to hear your suggestions about what pairs well with the easy-growing herb. Let me know in the comments, below.
What to do with fresh herbs? See 101 suggestions in our Gallery of Herbs, Glorious Herbs.