Syrian Oregano Plants: Learn How To Grow Syrian Oregano Herbs
By: Mary Ellen Ellis
Growing Syrian oregano (Origanum syriacum) will add height and visual appeal to your garden, but will also give you a new and tasty herb to try. With a similar flavor to the more common Greek oregano, this variety of the herb is much bigger and more intense in taste.
What is Syrian Oregano?
Syrian oregano is a perennial herb, but not a hardy one. It grows well in zones 9 and 10 and won’t tolerate winter temperatures that are too cold. In colder climates, you can grow it as an annual. Other names for this herb include Lebanese oregano and Bible hyssop. What is most distinctive about Syrian oregano plants in the garden is that they are giants. They can grow up to four feet (1 meter) tall when in bloom.
Syrian oregano uses include any recipe in which you would use Greek oregano. It can also be used to make the Middle Eastern herb blend called Za’atar. Syrian oregano grows quickly, and early in the season it will begin to produce soft, silver-green leaves that can be harvested right away and throughout the summer. The leaves can even be used after the plant blooms, but once it gets darker and woody, the leaves will not have the best flavor. If you let the herb bloom, it will attract pollinators.
How to Grow Syrian Oregano
Unlike Greek oregano, this type of oregano plant will grow straight up and will not creep and spread throughout a bed. This makes it a little easier to grow. Soil for Syrian oregano should be neutral or alkaline, very well drained and sandy or gritty.
This herb will tolerate high temperatures and also drought. If you have the right conditions for it, growing Syrian oregano is easy.
To grow Syrian oregano, begin with seeds or transplants. With seeds, start them indoors six to eight weeks before the last expected frost. Transplants can be put in the ground after the last frost.
Trim back your oregano early to encourage more growth. You can try to grow this herb in containers that can be taken indoors for the winter, but they most often do not do well inside.
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Oregano Is For So Much More Than Pizza
Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Pearl Jones
Maybe you've only encountered oregano as the fish food-y flakes you sprinkle on pizza. And while it is, indeed, an important slice shop staple, it can—and should—be used for so much more. The dried stuff certainly has its place (pizza, yes, and also dry rubs, vinaigrettes, and sauces, too), but fresh oregano is even more powerful and versatile. (BTW, we’re talking about Mediterranean oregano here, be it Italian, Turkish, or Greek. Mexican oregano shares similar flavors but belongs to a different family.)
While oregano is largely considered a “hardy herb” (akin to rosemary and thyme), it actually straddles the line between hardy and tender. It doesn’t just belong to one camp. The stems are thick enough that branches will hold together when cooked, even through long braises or simmers. Where cilantro, dill, or basil will turn brown and wilt away to virtually nothing when introduced to heat, oregano holds its form. Yet the leaves, while more substantial than silky, are still delicate enough that eating them doesn’t feel like an unpleasant jaw exercise. This is unlike rosemary or sage, which are pretty unpleasant without some heat from the oven or the stove or a really, really fine chop.
This white pesto gets its kick from finely chopped fresh oregano.
Photo by Chelsie Craig, Food Styling by Kate Buckens
The taste of oregano also plays both sides. The fresh leaves are peppery and assertive—sometimes even bitter or astringent. They enliven whatever they're scattered over, be it a savory melon salad, or a piece of fish—and a little goes a long way. But when cooked, its flavor mellows so that it's earthy but not aggressively woodsy. It’s powerful enough to hold its own in dishes with bold flavors, like smoky grilled chicken or slow-roasted bell peppers.
These One-Pan Chicken Thighs with Burst Tomatoes, Harissa, and Feta take advantage of its two sides. You throw a whole sprig of oregano into a cast-iron skillet with chicken thighs so that the piney flavor can seep into the chicken fat, infusing the meat and the bursting cherry tomatoes. Then you discard the limp remains, plate the chicken, and scatter some fresh leaves on top for fresher, sharper flavor.
You can even play around with using both, a practice endorsed by senior food editor Molly Baz. “If you see a recipe that calls for dried oregano, try cutting it with some fresh leaves, too” she says. “In a Greek salad? Delicious! Chopped up with the parsley garnish on Pork Marbella? Why not!” Mixed into this classic Italian dressing? Have at it!” Just remember that the fresh leaves are way more potent than the dried stuff, so tread lightly.
Next up: Sprinkling fresh and dried oregano on a slice of pizza. Now that’s fine-dining.
Wild Zaatar Oregano: An Update
I still remember the day I sowed my wild zaatar oregano seeds. I even wrote about them (third post ever on the blog!).
They took a while to germinate and an even longer while to grow into dainty little seedlings, but three years later, those seedlings have thrived into a shrub (more like a few shrubs) that’s surprisingly low-maintenance. The perennial herb doesn’t seem bothered by pests, tolerates infrequent watering, and stays a silvery green year-round in my zone 10b climate.
I’m a slacker in the pruning department, so my wild zaatar seems to be in a constant state of flowering — though that hasn’t affected its growth habit or bold flavor. When I do remember to give the shrub its annual trim (by hacking off the top third of its stems), it grows back bushier and healthier within weeks.
Wild zaatar oregano (Origanum syriacum) is also called Lebanese oregano, Syrian oregano, Bible hyssop, holy hyssop and, simply, zaatar or za’atar, though it’s not to be confused with the Middle Eastern seasoning of the same name. (The spice blend known as zaatar is made from dried zaatar leaves, sesame seeds, sumac, and salt, as well as other spices specific to the region where it’s produced.)
Origanum syriacum grows wild in the mountains of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Israel, but has only recently entered cultivation due to increasing demand. While wild zaatar has been used for centuries in labneh (strained yogurt), manaeesh (flatbread), and herbal teas in Middle Eastern cultures, Westerners have begun to take notice of this exotic herb now, you’ll find it on pizza, popcorn, and baked potato!
The leaves hint of oregano, marjoram and thyme, and have a strong, spicy flavor. Where would you use wild zaatar? Anywhere you’d use one of the aforementioned herbs — it’s similar yet distinctive, and gives great fragrance to a roast or rub. I’ve sprinkled a few spoonfuls of fresh zaatar with carrots and potatoes and tossed a small handful into soups and stews.
If you want to make your own zaatar spice, start with dried zaatar from your own garden for the most flavorful blend. The heady aroma also makes it a good herb for an oil infusion.
If you want wild zaatar in your kitchen garden by next summer, start seeds indoors over winter and wait (patiently!) for them to grow. Transplant sturdy seedlings in the spring, and watch them take off just as your roots and tubers get going in the garden.
Everything will be ready for harvest at the same time, so you can plan a few recipes around them, such as this carrot top salsa! (And once you make the salsa, save the carrot roots for a hearty vegetable soup where you can throw in more herbs.)About Author
I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is. Read more »
What other ingredients can you use with Oregano?
Here are some ingredients that combine well with oregano.
- olive oil
- other herbs such as thyme, rosemary, savory
- ground beef
Uses of Oregano Oil :
Oregano oil is known to be a potent antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, and antiparasitic oil that can reduce pain and inflammation and effectively fight off several types of infections.
However, it is recommended that one has consult an herbal or medical practitioner before taking oregano oil, to be sure of dosage, duration, and potential side effects. Oregano oil is available in liquid, capsules and tablets.
While buying Oregano oil, make sure that the oil is derived from Origanum Vulgare, and that the carvacrol concentration is at least 70%.