Oregano is a very versatile herb and can be used in a number of different ways. It is a very easy to grow plant as long as you take good care of it. You need to a few simple steps to harvest oregano without damaging the plant, but done correctly it will keep your plant healthy and encourage new growth.
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Fresh oregano is a wonderful versatile Mediterranean herb that can be used in many types of dishes, from pasta and soups to pizza and salads. Oregano is a very aromatic herb, and its leaves add a lovely fresh flavor to any dish.
It is a very easy herb to grow at home, and one of the most useful culinary herbs to grow in your herb garden (in my humble opinion).
With homegrown herbs, the key is how to harvest oregano without killing the plant. Herbs have different growth patterns, and need to be harvested according to how they grow in order to promote growth and prevent damaging the plant.
Oregano is actually very easy to harvest in a way that promotes growth, keeps the plant healthy and discourages it from flowering with just a few quick tips.
Whether you are growing common oregano, Cuban oregano, Greek oregano, or one of the other many varieties of oregano, the method of harvesting is the same.
To harvest oregano and ensure that the plant remains healthy, do not remove more than ½ the plant at one time. Harvest the stems from the top down, leaving at least one leaf pair at the base of the stem. Give the plant time to recover and grow back after removing the leaves.
To harvest sprigs of oregano, use a clean sharp pair of scissors to make a clean cut in the stem. This will ensure that the cut stem remains healthy, and help to prevent damage or disease.
When to harvest oregano
Oregano plants can be harvested around 8 weeks after seeds germinate, though you will want to wait until the plant is mature and robust to ensure it isn’t damaged during harvesting (at least 5-6 inches tall).
The best time of day to harvest oregano is in the morning after the dew has dried, but before the day has started to heat up. This is when the flavor of oregano is at its strongest.
How to harvest oregano so it keeps growing
Oregano grows up from the tip of the stems (as opposed to growing outwards like parsley) and stems continue to grow and put out new leaves if they are harvested from the top.
There are two basic ways to harvest oregano:
- If you just want a few leaves to use in your cooking, then it is fine to pinch what you need off from the top of the plant. Pinch just above a leaf node (pair of leaves).
- If you want to harvest a larger amount or are cutting your oregano back, then the approach you take is important for the long-term health of the plant. You should harvest the stems from the top down. Always leave at least 1 leaf pair at the bottom of a stem when harvesting as this will allow the stem to keep growing after harvesting.
Cutting oregano back
Without regular pruning, oregano can grow tall and ‘leggy’. You will notice the space between the leaves on the branches increasing, and the plant gets too tall to support itself.
If this happens, then harvesting some of the leaves and part of the stems is an excellent way to encourage the plant to branch so it grows into a bushier plant.
When oregano flowers the leaves will start to lose their flavor, so it is a good time to cut the plant back before it flowers. This normally happens in mid-to-late summer.
Cut oregano back by cutting off up to a half of the total stem length. You should make a cut right above a growth node (leaf pair), do not leave a bare section of stem at the top.
This will prompt fresh growth, and keep the form of the plant more dense and compact with branching stems and leaves close together, rather than long leggy branches with few leaves.
As a bonus, regular harvesting of the tips of the stems discourages the oregano plant from flowering, which will stop the regrowth from occurring and can affect the flavor.
How to store fresh oregano
To keep fresh oregano sprigs, store in between damp paper towels in the refrigerator, or stand stems in a glass of fresh water. It will keep for a few weeks.
If you want to store oregano for a longer time, then it is a very easy herb to dry. The basic process is the same for drying most fresh herbs:
- Wash and dry oregano sprigs, remove as much of the surface moisture as you can with paper towels (a salad spinner works too!).
- Then dry oregano by hanging herb bunches in a warm dry place, or in a single layer between two sets of parchment.
- You can also use a food dehydrator to speed up the drying process.
You can also store oregano in the freezer. Pick the leaves and freeze whole in freezer bags or a freezer-safe airtight container. Use frozen oregano within a year.
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