Mexican Oregano

Mexican Oregano

By Michael Jenkins

Gardening is a great excuse to both decorate your space and indulge in a few culinary adventures. Growing your own herbs, spices, and produce can really expand your taste pallette and make you aware of other cuisines, cultures, and flavors. We share recipes from time to time in this blog, and today we’d like to share a new ingredient. Mexican oregano is an herb growing in popularity but still unfamiliar to many chefs and home cooks. However, it’s an interesting plant, offers a beautiful and tasty addition to any garden space, and is easy to grow for many of us. So, what is Mexican oregano and how can you bring it into your garden? Let’s dig in and find out!

What is Mexican Oregano?

Let’s start with a really obvious and basic question: what is this plant? Despite its name, Mexican oregano is only distantly related to the classic Mediterranean herb we all know and love (especially in tomato sauce). A native of North America, Mexican oregano is known scientifically as Lippia graveolens, and it’s a member of the vervain family, Verbenaceae, and thus more closely related to lemon verbena and similar plants.

Mexican oregano grows best in dry, rocky conditions, which may make it an ideal plant for some of our readers in arid climates. If left unchecked, it can grow to a height of 9 feet/3 meters, making it useful as a decorative shrub or hedge in the right location. Mexican oregano flowers throughout the year, and its white or yellow blooms are quite fragrant. Graveolans means “strong smelling” so be aware of that before bringing a large plant into your indoor garden.

Growing Mexican Oregano

This plant is relatively easy to grow, at least as an annual. Mexican oregano is only cold-hardy down to about freezing (32F/0C), and thus really only survives as a perennial in Zone 9 and warmer. As an annual or container plant, it can be grown in a wider variety of climates. A little pruning may be necessary to keep it from reaching full size, but as you harvest the leaves for your kitchen you’ll likely do that anyway.

Mexican oregano can be propagated by seeds, division, or cuttings, depending on what you have available. It does best in well drained loam or sandy soil with a relatively neutral pH. As you might have guessed by its arid origins, Mexican Oregano prefers full sun but can tolerate some shade if necessary. This plant doesn’t seem to have too  many natural pests, and the only real issues we’ve ever had with it stemmed from either over-watering or over-fertilizing. Mexican oregano is a hardy desert plant that doesn’t need too much of either, so go slowly with both water and compost/fertilizer and let the plant tell you what it requires.

Uses for Mexican Oregano

Among the native peoples of North America and the current residents of the region in which it grows, Mexican oregano has a wide variety of uses—not all of them culinary. As a medicinal herb, it has been used traditionally as an expectorant and a stimulant; we’re told that Mexican oregano tea is an old fashioned cold remedy in some parts of the Americas. While we’re not qualified to speak to its medicinal qualities and we don’t recommend using this herb as a medicinal without consulting a physician, we can speak to its culinary qualities.

As a culinary herb, Mexican oregano has many uses in the kitchen. It has a flavor similar to oregano, but with brighter, more citrus-y notes that make it a perfect compliment to many dishes and cuisines. It pairs especially well, we find, with the bold flavors of Tex-Mex or Northern Mexican recipes, but as with all herbs you’re limited only by your imagination. When you grow or buy some, you’ll quickly learn how it fits with your tastes and where you can use it. We like to add it to scrambled eggs or an omelet for a burst of herbal flavor, but that’s just a starting point for many potential applications.

Give Mexican Oregano a Try

This once-obscure herb is growing in popularity, popping up in seed catalogs and nurseries all around the country. While it’s not likely to replace your “regular” oregano, it’s worth a try if you have some space and want to add a new decorative, fragrant, or culinary touch to your space. If you’ve had Mexican oregano in your garden space, let us know about your experiences and how you cared for it!

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