Syrian Oregano is a giant among
oreganos. Not only does it get tall when it blooms (about 4 feet), but it is
also big on flavor. Similar in taste to the popular
Greek Oregano, Syrian Oregano is a
much more accommodating plant in the garden. While it is tall when in
bloom, it does not creep and sprawl over the garden like Greek Oregano. In
the picture to the left, the new spring growth has shot forth from the
ground and grows rapidly. This early growth is quite attractive with soft,
bright green leaves and reddish stems. The leaves can be harvested at this
stage and right on up until the bloom has been on the branch for a while. As
the leaves age, they will become a dark, dusty green and the stems will
become a woody brown. These older leaves are not quite as good for fresh use but can be
dried and powdered.
flower buds (pictured top left) can also be used fresh or dried. Their flavor
is very concentrated and is the perfect flourish for a grilled cheese
sandwich or a bowl of creamy tomato soup. Once the flower buds have
elongated (picture top right) though it is best to pass them by. At this
point, usually in early fall, the bush can be cut back to the ground to rest
for the winter. Or, the flowers can be left on until brown so that
beneficial wasps and other beneficial insects can feast on them. This does
not hurt the plant and, as the flowers become totally brown, the insects no
longer find them attractive. At this point the stems can also be cut back to
the ground for winter.
The plant below
was not cut back in winter and has already started to emerge in spring. It
would have been much tidier had it been cut back to about an inch with a
SYRIAN OREGANO (Origanum maru): “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Psalms 51:7.
Because common Hyssop (Hyssopus
officinalis) is not native to the Mediterranean area, much debate has ensued over which plant was referred to
in the Bible as Hyssop. It may have even been several different plants used for different and varied purposes.
Origanum syriacum is thought to be
the true Hyssop of
the Bible. A very frost tender plant, true O. syriacum is not
offered for sale in this country, so we settle for a subspecies of it, O. maru--or what we
refer to in the garden as Syrian
Oregano. Oregano was often gathered in bunches and used as a brush or sprinkler for purification rituals. It was surely
enjoyed then, as it is today, for its excellent flavor.
In the Middle East, Origanum maru is often used,
along with Conehead Thyme and Pink
Savory, as an ingredient in the spice blend Zatar. While it is tempting
to label a single herb Zatar and while, like the recipe below, a single herb may
be mixed with other ingredients, Zatar is an herb and spice blend. The herbs in
the mix vary from region to region, similar to curry. Zatar is often spread on bread
or pita with a little olive oil and baked something like an herbal pizza.
In Carol Saville's excellent book Exotic Herbs,
she gives this simple recipe for Zatar:
1/2 cup dried Syrian Oregano
1/4 cup imported edible ground sumac
(make sure to get the edible kind from a Middle Eastern market)
2 tablespoons roasted Sesame Seeds
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Black Pepper to taste
2/3 Cup Olive oil
In a small bowl add the first five ingredients and stir
together to combine. Seal in a glass jar and store out of the light. Makes
about 2/3 cup.
Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
Brush pita with olive oil and sprinkle with Zatar and
warm in the oven. Or mix equal parts Zatar and Olive Oil and spread over bread and then
Since Syrian Oregano is one of our most
flavorful oreganos, we developed a special recipe for it and the delightfully tasty
Italian Oregano Thyme.
Maru and Italian Oregano Thyme Honeyed Pork Chops.
Yet another reason to grow Syrian Oregano
is for its long, vibrant green flower stems. These are perfect for use in
making fresh herbal wreaths or
arrangements. Wreaths take a lot of stems and having a plant that produces
in abundance is a definite advantage.
Syrian Oregano would make a great addition to our Gourmet Herb
Garden Six Pack.