Origanum vulgare, commonly known as oregano, is a bushy, rhizomatous, woody-branched perennial which typically grows to 1-3’ tall and to 2’ wide on square stems clad with aromatic, glandular-spotted, rounded to ovate leaves (to 1 1/2” long) which are usually entire but sometimes have slightly toothed margins. Tiny, two-lipped, pinkish-purple or white flowers (typical mint family), each with 4 protruding stamens and leafy purple-toned bracts, bloom in axillary or terminal corymb-like spikelets which rise above the foliage in summer. Plants are native from Europe to central Asia, but have escaped gardens and naturalized in parts of the eastern and far western U.S. and Canada.
Origanum vulgare plants are primarily sold in commerce today under a number of different cultivar, subspecies or varietal names, each geared toward a specific culinary and/or ornamental usage. Some plants produce leaves with great flavor/aroma (e.g., O. vulgare subsp. hirtum known as Greek oregano is the standard culinary spice rack oregano) but have little ornamental value. Other plants have great ornamental value in regard to having golden, variegated or curly leaves (e.g., O. vulgare ‘Aureum’ features golden yellow foliage) but little or no culinary value. The straight species is a robust but relatively common plant that is, as a general rule, seldom sold for a specific ornamental or culinary use.
Flavorful leaves from certain O. vulgare cultivars, subspecies or varietal plants are commonly used, either fresh or dried, as culinary herbs for a variety of food dishes, particularly in tomato sauces used in Italian cuisine and pizza, but also in a number of additional applications including rice, soups, stews, dressings, vegetable dishes, egg dishes, dips and herbal vinegars. Leaf flavor can vary considerable depending on climate and growing conditions.
The genus Origanum contains 45 species, 6 subspecies and 3 varieties. The common name of oregano describes a flavor as opposed to a specific botanical genus or species.
Subsp. gracile, commonly known as Russian oregano, is a hardy perennial grown primarily in herb gardens for culinary use, but is sometimes also grown for ornamental purposes. It is native to Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and India. It typically grows to 18” tall and features dark green leaves and pink or white flowers with green to purplish bracts. Spicy and pungent leaf flavor is much stronger than that found on straight species plants.
Subsp. name comes from the Latin word gracilis meaning slender and graceful.
Genus name probably comes from the Greek words oros meaning mountain and gamos meaning beauty in reference to the physical appearance of this plant which is sometimes native of mountain areas where it is appropriately referred to as “beauty of the mountain”.
Specific epithet is from the Latin vulgaris meaning common.
No serious insect or disease problems. Root rot may occur in wet, poorly drained soils. Watch for fungal diseases. Aphids, leaf miners and spider mites may appear.
Group or mass in herb gardens, border fronts, cottage gardens or rock gardens. Also effective as an edger or groundcover. Pots, window boxes, and containers. Cultivars with attractive foliage are used as ornamentals.