Also called ORIGANUM, flavourful dried leaves and flowering tops of any of various perennial herbs of the mint family (Lamiaceae, or Labiatae), particularly Origanum vulgare, called wild marjoram in northern and central Europe, widely used to season many foods. The name is derived from the Greek oros, "mountain," and ganos, "joy." Oregano has long been an essential ingredient of Mediterranean cooking. Pliny the Elder thought it a remedy for bad digestion. The Greeks used it as a poultice for wounds, and Pliny recommended it for scorpion and spider bites. The aroma, strong and aromatic, and the taste, warm, pungent, and bitter, are prominent in Italian cooking and in robust dishes of certain other cuisines, such as the Mexican chili con carne. In the United States the use of oregano rose sharply in the late 20th century, owing largely to the popularity of pizza. Italians call it the mushroom herb but use it with many other foods as well. Oregano that comes from Mexico has a different flavor from oregano that comes from the Mediterranean area. The Mexican plant (Lippia) is the more potent and is used primarily in chili powder and Mexican cooking. The Mediterranean form (Origanum) is sourced primarily in Turkey and Greece and has a slightly bitter, minty taste. The Spanish word orégano means marjoram, and the herbs are sometimes used interchangeably.
Native to the hills of the Mediterranean countries and western Asia, the herbs were brought to the Western Hemisphere in early times and are naturalized in parts of Mexico and the United States. The colonists brought it to America, where it escaped into the wild
Oregano is used in bath oils and sachets to help relieve aches and stiff joints. Fresh or dried leaves flavor tomato sauce, vinegar, butter, omelets, quiche, bread, marinated vegetables, beef, poultry, game, onions, black beans, and zucchini. Dried flowers are used in decorative arrangements and for fragrance in potpourris. Fresh sprigs are used to make wreaths. Oregano also is used to make red dye. It has attractive flowers and can be grown in containers. It is said to have some medicinal qualities.
All varieties contain essential oil. In some, the principal component of the oil is thymol, in others carvacrol.
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