Originating from Greece’s hilly countryside, oregano was described as the “joy of the mountain” by the local Greeks. Today, this aromatic herb is cultivated worldwide and used abundantly in several cuisines. It is an almost inevitable ingredient in Greek, Italian, and South Asian dishes.
Oregano is closely related to sweet marjoram, which is another extremely popular herb. As a result, the plants also go by the name of wild marjoram. Currently, there are around 36 varieties of oregano that are grown all around the world. It is a perennial plant that blooms twice a year in summer and autumn.
Planting this herb in your garden will guarantee a continuous supply throughout the year. The herb adds a distinct flavor and aroma to some of our favorite dishes, including pasta, omelets, roast potatoes, tomato dishes, lentils, kebab, and pizza.
To enjoy an ongoing supply and encourage healthy growth, it is essential to harvest oregano properly. We’ve got all the tips you need to know about harvesting oregano. Scroll down to learn how to harvest and store oregano the right way!
When Should I Harvest Oregano?
If you have an established patch of well-growing oregano in your herb garden, or even if you have oregano in a container, late spring or early summer is a good time to pick leaves. But if your plant is not mature, you will have to wait a while before your plants grow and become ready for harvest. You may start harvesting your oregano plant once the stems grow at least 4 to 5 inches tall.
The best time to harvest oregano is right before it blooms. At that point, the plant has developed its highest concentration of essential oils. The flavor is strong, potent, and at its peak at that time.
But you don’t need to wait for it to prepare to burst into flower. Like all herbs, oregano can be harvested on a cut-and-come-again basis. Just take leaves from the plant as required for fresh use. And, as it starts to shift towards flowering, it’s an excellent time to harvest for later drying and long-term storage!
The time of day that you choose for harvesting also matters in terms of flavor. Generally, it is recommended to collect stems or leaves early in the morning. You don’t even have to wait for the dew to dry on the leaves.
Keep in mind that oregano plants take around 2 to 3 weeks to grow back their foliage. Avoid harvesting it all at once. The better approach is to harvest your plants regularly, taking small amounts when required. Doing so will give you the ability to enjoy fresh herbs whenever you want.
How To Harvest Oregano
Harvesting oregano is simple. How you harvest depends on how you plan on using it. There are two easy methods that you can try depending on whether you want to use your oregano immediately or store it for later use.
Whether you are harvesting for fresh use or for storage, avoid taking more than 1/3rd of the oregano plant at one time. If you cut back the plant too heavily while harvesting oregano, it may have problems creating new growth.
Choose a stem that is at least 6 to 8 inches tall. Grasp it with one hand around 2/3rd of the way down the stem to keep it steady. Using your other hand, slide your fingers upward along the length of the stem to pop the leaves off into your hand and leave the bare stem behind. Once you’ve harvested the leaves, trim off the bare stem just above a leaf node so the plant can regenerate.
If you want the stems too, you can cut them at about 2/3rds of the way down, harvesting both stems and green leaves. This is the better option if you plan to dry your herbs later, as it means you can tie the stems together for drying. Remember that oregano leaves lose some flavor for a short period once the plant flowers; for drying purposes, you want the plants to be full of essential oil, so harvest before flowers appear.
Use garden clippers or scissors to cut back right above the leaf node, also known as the growth node. The growth node is the point where the leaves start to grow. Cutting the stems just above the growth node will encourage the plant to get bushier, which is good if you’re going to be harvesting new growth later. It is best for drying purposes to choose longer stems as they are easier to hang to dry.
How To Store Fresh Oregano
Fresh herbs last longer in colder temperatures, which means refrigerating your bountiful harvest can help increase its lifespan. However, there are different ways to store oregano in the refrigerator. Let’s take a look at the top methods of storing fresh leaves.
Storing In Water
If you want to store your harvested oregano for just a day or two, your best bet is to store cut stems in a glass or jar filled with water. This simple trick will keep them from wilting and preserve their flavor until you need them to make food.
Harvest longer stems, cutting just above a leaf node. Place the cut ends in a glass or jar filled with 1 to 1.5 inches of water. Make sure the stem ends remain underwater. To keep the moisture levels up around the leaves, cover the oregano with a plastic bag. Change the water daily to ensure they stay good until used.
Washing the leaves prior to storage isn’t necessary. You can rinse them right before using them in your favorite dish.
Storing In Bags
The second method is just as simple as the first one. Herbs stored this way can last a little longer than the other method, sometimes up to a week.
Collect harvested stems into a bunch and wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel. Make sure the paper towel is only damp to the touch, not dripping wet. Place the wrapped bundle in a plastic bag, pressing out excess air, and keep your herbs in the crisper drawer in the fridge.
If you only plan on storing them for a day or so, putting the herbs in a paper bag and skipping the damp paper towel can work. Just remember that they won’t last for as long.
Make sure to check your herbs every couple days to ensure they’re not starting to wilt or developing any mold.
How To Dry Oregano
Drying oregano leaves is easily the best way to store your harvest for long-term use. The drying process is simple and easy to do in multiple methods, and dried oregano can last for up to one year. After then, it may lose a bit of flavor, but can still be used for a while longer.
There are several different ways to dry oregano. While you can certainly use a dehydrator or an oven to dry the leaves, using high heat in the process can lead to flavor loss. To get the most intense flavor when you make your food later, hang-drying is best. You can also use an air-only dehydrator, as long as it doesn’t have heat.
Wash harvested oregano stems and dry them thoroughly, blotting off moisture well with paper towels. Once they are fully dry, tie the stems in a bunch using a rubber band or twine. Hang the bunch upside down in a paper bag in a well-ventilated area. If you are drying multiple bunches at once, hang them at least 6 inches apart to allow for proper air circulation.
It generally takes around 4 to 6 weeks to dry oregano. You will know your dried oregano is ready once the leaves start crumbling at the touch. Open the bunch and separate the dried sprigs. Crush the leaves or place them whole in an airtight glass jar.
Don’t forget to cure your dried oregano before storing it for the long-term! To cure oregano, shake the jar to mix the dry leaves once a day. Place a moisture-absorbing packet in with the oregano if you can. The packet will absorb excess moisture and prevent mold development when storing your herb.
Other Methods Of Storing Oregano
If you don’t want to dry oregano, the other option is to freeze it. Frozen oregano is best used within a year.
To freeze whole oregano leaves, wash them and blot them dry using paper towels. Once the surface moisture is dry, let them air-dry until there isn’t any residual moisture. Lay them on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and freeze. Once fully frozen, place them in a freezer bag and remove excess air.
You can also make oregano cubes. Chop your leaves finely and put them in ice cube trays. Add just enough liquid (either H2O or a broth) to ensure the oregano stays packed together, then freeze overnight. Once frozen solid, move the cubes to a plastic freezer bag.