A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Oregano Indoors
Growing oregano indoors is a great idea if you love Mediterranean food and enjoy cooking authentic Greek and Italian dishes.
You’ll also find oregano in many Mexican recipes as the Spanish introduced oregano to Mexico many years ago.
Most cooks seem to prefer the convenience of cooking with dried oregano as the strong, pungent flavor and aroma of oregano is certainly maintained when dried.
In fact, dried oregano has about twice the intensity of flavor as fresh oregano, so if the recipe says to add a teaspoon of dried oregano, I add a tablespoon of fresh, and visa-versa.
However, I personally like to cook with fresh oregano and its close relative marjoram, because of the many health benefits associated with fresh herbs.
This article will talk in more detail about the many benefits of oregano, as well as provide you with some classic dishes to cook that feature this amazing herb.
The main purpose of this article of course, is to give you all the information you’ll need, to successfully grow oregano indoors, even if you are a complete beginner.
How to Grow Oregano
Being a native of the Mediterranean, oregano loves lots of direct sunlight and needs at least 5 – 6- hours of it each day.
Wild oregano grows like wild fire in the mountains of Greece.
Being such a prolific mountain climber, it can withstand very cold temperatures, down to 4F (or -20C).
So, when it comes to growing oregano indoors, temperature won’t really be an issue as it won’t experience extreme cold, and heat shouldn’t worry it either.
Watering Oregano Indoors
Being Mediterranean in origin, oregano is quite a hardy, drought resilient plant.
When potted however, it’s important not to let your plant dry out, especially in the warmer, summer months.
Just water enough to keep the soil moist. When the top 1.5 inches of soil feels dry to the touch (using your thumb) you’ll know that your plant needs a drink.
Never over water oregano as its roots are susceptible to diseases such as root rot and downey mildew.
Oregano likes a loose, well-draining soil mix. The addition of perlite to a soil can help improve drainage.
Sprinkling perlite or small gravel on the top of the soil can help maintain moisture during hot weather and prevent leaves from damage after watering.
When the plant finishes flowering in summer, it’s a good idea to cut the plant back and then fertilize with a balanced liquid fertilizer.
Being a prolific grower, oregano enjoys a good pruning back in summer, especially if it getting leggy.
Keep the leaves for drying or freezing so you’ll have plenty on hand during the winter months.
In winter, prune any dead stems back to the stem base with sharp, clean needle-nose pruning shears.
I personally prefer to buy fully grown herbs such as oregano, because you can harvest the leaves faster and get a larger plant quicker.
However, you can propagate oregano from stem tip cuttings, and from seed.
Propagating oregano is best done in spring when the weather gets warmer.
Propagating Oregano from Cuttings
Cut three inches off the end of a shoot, dip the end in rooting hormone and then plant into sand or vermiculite until roots form in about 6 weeks.
Then transfer to a pot with soil mix and the root ball will fully form, at which time you can carefully transplant your oregano plant into a larger pot.
Propagating Oregano by Seed
You can grow oregano from seed between February and May in the northern hemisphere.
Begin by scattering a few seeds on the surface of a small pot.
Cover the seeds with a thin layer of sieved compost or vermiculite and gently water.
Place in a in a warm window sill or in a heated propagator to germinate.
Once the seedlings are big enough to handle safely, pick out two to three seedlings per 3-inch (8cm) container.
Water regularly, but make sure that you don’t over water as the roots can rot.
When the seedlings mature, carefully transfer them into their own pot of at least 6 inches (16cm) in width.
How To Harvest Oregano
Snip leaves as needed when plants are in full growth.
Oregano is easily dried by hanging stems or placing them on drying screens.
Like most herbs, the best time for when to harvest oregano is during the warmer months between May and September.
You can also infuse oregano using vinegar or olive oil to extend your usage time and situation.
Types of Oregano
When talking about types of oregano, things can get a little confusing.
This is because not all varieties called “oregano” are really oregano and some true types of oregano are not called oregano.
True oregano comes from the genus “Origanum” which comes from the Greek words “joy of the mountains”, due to the beautiful aromas they bring to the mountains of the Mediterranean when blooming.
Greek oregano (Origanum vulgar hirtum) is an example of a “true” oregano, as is marjoram (Origanum majorana).
On the other hand, Mexican oregano (Poliomintha maderensis) and Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) are not true oreganos, even though they display the same lovely taste and aroma.
This is because many plants other than the true oreganos, can also contain the same essential oil that gives oregano its unique flavor and aroma.
The following types of oregano are most preferred for culinary use.
Greek Oregano Origanum vulgar hirtum
Greek oregano is a very pungent and hardy variety of oregano, with white flowers and fuzzy green leaves.
It can reach between 12 and 18 inches in height when grown indoors.
When you chew Greek oregano leaves on their own, you’ll experience a tingly sensation on your tongue.
Most culinary experts believe that this type of oregano has the best biting, pungent flavor for use in the kitchen.
Be careful when using dried Greek oregano as it may overpower your dish. Add a little at first and ten increase to taste.
Mexican Oregano Poliomintha maderensis
Although not officially member of the Origanum family, Mexican oregano is used in Mexican cooking as is Lippia graveolens, which confusingly, is also referred to as Mexican oregano.
Italian Oregano Origanum x majoricum
Italian oregano is a hybrid of sweet marjoram and common oregano.
It displays delicate, light green leaves and off white flowers.
This herb combines the pungency of Greek oregano with the mild flavor of sweet marjoram, making it a very popular cooking ingredient.
Interestingly, this hybrid is sterile so it can only bee grown from cuttings or division.
Oregano Health Benefits
The health benefits of oregano come from the fact that oregano contains high levels of antioxidants that fight cell damage caused by free radicals.
In particular, oregano possesses high levels of carvacrol and thymol.
Research is being undertaken to assess the ability of these compounds to fight various diseases, including cancer.
Early tests are encouraging and it’s hoped that further research will continue to show how carvacrol and thymol may be used to fight various forms of cancer.
Oregano oil is also showing signs of usefulness as an antibacterial agent with early studies suggesting that it can treat 23 commonly found forms of bacteria.
More research is indicating that oregano has antiviral properties as well. This comes from tests showing positive results in fighting the notorious norovirus and the herpes simplex virus.
Oregano Benefits for Beauty
With its high levels of antioxidants, oregano has a great range of skin benefits.
Its antiseptic and anti-fungal properties, oregano is widely used in medicated skin care products and is very good at treating spots and acne.
You can treat fungal infections with oregano oil or mix oregano oil with a neutral, organic base cream.
Typical examples of fungal infections that respond well to oregano oil include athlete’s foot and toenail fungus. It’s also used to ease eczema and psoriasis.
Keep applying oregano every day for two weeks and you should see positive results.
Oregano helps to reduce the visible signs of ageing such as fine facial lines.
Mix the essential oregano oil into a face cream or mask, or make a poultice out of fresh oregano leaves.
This will help tighten and firm your skin and well as reduce spots, acne and blocked pores.
Fresh oregano versus oregano oil?
This choice is up to you but either way, oregano can be a great addition to your beauty regime and will help keep your skin looking fresher and healthier.
How to Make Oregano Oil
If you would like to make your own oregano oil at home and enjoy the benefits of oregano, then here’s a simple recipe I use.
- Carrier oil
- Crushed oregano leaves
- Sealed jar
- Sunny space
- Using a saucepan, boil up some water
- Fill the jar with the carrier oil* and crushed oregano leaves and seal tightly
- Turn off the heat and add the jar to the saucepan, leaving it to sit for ten minutes
- Carefully remove the jar without burning your hands and place in a sunny spot like a south facing window sill, for one to two weeks.
- Every few days give the jar a good shake
- When the two weeks of sun are up, strain the leaves from the oil
- Place the refined oil back into the jar
- Store the jar in a cool dark place
*Note for people not yet into essential oils: A “carrier oil” is an oil, usually all natural (eg coconut oil), that is mixed with an essential oil such as the pure oil from oregano leaves, to dilute it and make it more suitable as a topical skin preparation.
Trouble Shooting- Common Oregano Plant Care Issues
Growing oregano indoors reduces the susceptibility of your plants to the usual pests and diseases plants face when grown outdoors.
The most common disease related issues such as mold and root rot resulting from over watering.
Pests such as mealy bugs, aphids and spider mites may get inside through open windows and doors, or when attached to store bought or gifted plants.
Here are some of the most common issues faced when growing oregano indoors;
Problem: Black sooty appearance on leaves
Cause: Mealy bugs
Problem: Dark, limp stems
Cause: Root rot from excess water
Solution: There is no solution for root rot
Problem: Looking dry and colorless
Cause: Not enough water
Solution: Keep up your watering, especially in summer
Roast Oregano Chicken
This is one of my favorite recipes where oregano makes all the difference.
- 6 skinless and boneless chicken breasts (cut into strips)
- 1 ¾ oz/ 50g butter (melted)
- 4 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic granules
- Preheat your oven to 375F / 190C
- Using a small bowl, mix all the ingredients, except the chicken, until thoroughly combined
- Place the chicken breasts in a high sided baking dish
- Pour the oregano mixture over the chicken, making sure it’s well covered
- Bake for 15 minutes then baste and bake for a further 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through
- Serve immediately or let cool and slice to serve with a salad
Oregano tea is not only a deliciously refreshing herbal tea, it’s packed with anti-oxidants for a healthy alternative to coffee and handy ally during the winter cold and flu season.
The good news is that making oregano tea is very easy. You can use either fresh or dried oregano.
I prefer to use dried oregano for my tea as it has a stronger flavor than fresh oregano leaves…and I do like my tea strong!
Simply steep a hand full of fresh oregano leaves or 2 teaspoons of dried oregano, into a pot with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water. A couple of minutes should do, depending on how strong you like your oregano tea.
If you have a tea ball infuser, you can chop the fresh leaves before steeping.
Oregano tea tastes delicious on its own but you can try infusing with some sliced fruit such as lemon, peach or apple.
How to Grow Herbs Indoors – The Series
Mint: how-to grow-mint-indoors
Rosemary: how-to grow-rosemary-indoors