An Oregano By Any Other Name…

For years, I thought oregano was oregano. An co-worker once told me oregano was for pizza, not sauce. That was the extent of my knowledge.

A few years ago, I went to the Regional (i.e. Farmer’s) Market, looking for herbs to grow myself. I overheard a woman asking for Greek Oregano, as opposed to the Italian Oregano that seemed to be offered at every booth. She finally found some (the vendor called it ‘hot’ oregano). I bought both varieties, curious about the difference.

Every summer I make Mediterranean-style wraps to keep in the fridge for on-the-go eating. The spread calls for fresh oregano. The summer I grew both, I learned we prefer the Greek because of its stronger flavor.

The next season, it appeared the Italian variety hadn’t survived the winter, and the Greek didn’t look very healthy. I went back to the market and made the rounds to dozens of vendors before I found Greek Oregano again. The original Greek plant eventually perked right up, and the newer one, well a season later, and it is thriving.

All was well in my world.

Until a few weeks ago, another author included a recipe for Mango Salsa in her newsletter and one of the ingredients was Mexican Oregano.

What? I’ve seasoned Mexican-style food with oregano-from-a-jar for years. Naturally, I had to look up this new twist.

Come to find out, the two herbs come from entirely different plants. European (Greek, Italian, Turkish–yes, Turkish–oreganos are part of the mint family, whereas Mexican Oregano is part of the verbena family. That’s right. If you’ve read Gone With the Wind as many times as I have, you may remember that Scarlet O’Hara’s mother Ellen used lemon verbena sachet.

Naturally, I had to buy a jar of Mexican Oregano if for no other reason than to make Kait Nolan’s Mango Salsa.

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