Saturday, 4 April 2015

Oregano is a Common Species of Origanum, a Genus of the Mint Family

We’re always felt a bit confused to on the subject of oregano verses marjoram, but I don’t feel too badly, because so are the botanists. Wild oregano (Origanum Vulgare) is the available plant that most closely resembles the stuff they put on pizza, though I am told the jars of oregano you buy in the market are really a blend of several different “Italian” herbs. Sweet marjoram has a milder flavor, and its botanical name is O. majorana or Majorana hortensis, depending on whom you talk to. The difference between the two plants is quite clear, though. Wild oregano is a big, sprawling thing that will make it through the harshest winter; sweet marjoram is a flower, more trailing plant which, though perennial, is not hardy except in warm climates. It has oval leaves and knot like nodes along stems, which is why it is sometimes called “knotted marjoram.” I grow wild oregano in the garden, mainly because bees and butterflies love its lavish display of pinkish flowers. For kitchen seasonings I am more apt to use my sweet marjoram, which does better as a potted herb than oregano. Moreover Oregano will grow in a pH range about between 6.0 (mildly acidic) and 9.0 (strongly alkaline) with a preferred range in between 6.0 to 8.0. The flowers are purple, 3–4 mm long, produced in erect spikes. It is sometimes called wild marjoram, and its close relative O. majorana is known as sweet marjoram.

How to Grow Oregano

Both oregano and majoram prefer full sun and light, well drained, slightly alkaline soil. Both benefit by being cut back, especially wild oregano, which should also be divided every few years after it becomes very woody. In addition to division, you can propagate from stem cuttings or from seed, though germination is fairly slow. Both oregano and marjoram have better flavor if cut just before they bloom. They dry very well hung upside down in a paper bag or in a dark, airy place. Crumble the leaves off the stems when they are completely dry. 

How to Grow Parsley (Petroselinum)

Through history, parsley has had powerful symbolic connotations, death and fertility among them. What a come down to wind up in the 20th century as the world’s most boring garnish. I do remember that among my girlhood classmates, eating parsley was believed to increase the size of the breasts, and nary was a plate sent back to the kitchen at lunch hour with parsley still on it. And health conscious folk always extol parsley as a source of vitamins A and C as well as iron. Some of its aura has also returned with the recent resurgence of Italian broad leaved parsley. Which is actually cut up and used in food instead of merely sitting next to it? But gone are the days when you could just wave parsley in front of an advancing army and cause the soldiers to retreat in terror if you believe Plutarch. I would not be without it, nonetheless. A hardy biennial, parsley self-sows dependably in my garden, and new plants await me in early spring. In warm climates you can harvest it all year. I grow both the foot high curly parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and the slightly taller Italian (P. neapolitanum). Parsley is an important butterfly plant. Watch for some particularly gorgeous caterpillars on it, green and black striped with yellow spots. In return for a small share of your parsley crop they will turn into black swallowtail butterflies that will hover around the flowers of your other herbs, especially the pink and purple ones. 

How to Grow Parsley

Parsley likes full sun or light shade. Soil should be rich, well lightened with organic matter and moist but well drained. Sow early in the spring or in fall, soaking the seeds overnight to speed up germination, which can take up to three weeks. Or buy started plants for an earlier harvest Thin to about six to eight inches apart. The plants grow beautifully if cut back, even to the base. If you are just snipping, take the outer leaves. Plants can be dug up in fall and brought indoors at the same time so that you will have some fresh plants by the time the old ones start to go to seed.  The leaves are good fresh, frozen or dried. Well, dry hanging upside down or on screens in a shaded, well ventilated place.