As part of the Lamiaceae family, you can expect oregano leaves to give your dishes a minty twist.
What’s great about this herb is that you can use it fresh or dried, depending on your preferences.
For this reason, it is right at the top of the list of a home gardener’s favorite herbs to grow.
When to harvest oregano? For the most intense flavor, harvest oregano before it forms flowers. Oregano leaves harvested at this time make the best-dried herbs. You can pick the leaves at any time if you want fresh oregano.
How Do You Know When Your Oregano Is Ready to Harvest?
Oregano plants will thrive if you grow them in moderately fertile, well-draining soil with partial to full sun.
You can also try growing them indoors, but you will have to make sure you give the plants enough heat and light.
As for water, wait for the soil to dry out completely before watering. Roughly speaking, your plants will only need an inch of water every week.
Given the right conditions, you will only need to wait 80 to 90 days for your oregano to grow fully.
However, we recommend harvesting sprigs or leaves when the plants are at least 45 days old.
Regularly pruning your oregano plants will encourage them to thrive and grow more stems and even more leaves.
If you are unsure how old your plants are, you can refer to their height instead.
You will know it’s time to harvest oregano when the plant is about four inches tall.
Around this time, you can cut a third of the plant and then wait for it to grow back before pruning again.
What Happens If You Leave Oregano in the Ground Too Long?
Although you will find many uses for oregano, there’s a big chance that you end up with too much of these herbs that you don’t what to do with them anymore.
You can follow a couple of storage practices and dry them, and you can give away a bunch to friends and family.
Even so, you will most probably still end up with too much.
What will happen if you leave it in the ground for longer than it should?
If you missed harvesting oregano before it flowers, you should expect a less intense flavor.
Leave them in the ground longer, and the plants will start producing buds. These buds will then bloom and turn into flowers.
Even if you reach this stage, don’t lose hope. Oregano flowers have a mild flavor that pairs well with garden salads.
After they flower, your oregano plants are ready to seed at around mid to late summer.
You can then allow Mother Nature to do its magic and take care of the reseeding for you.
If that’s not preferable, you can take matters into your own hands and harvest the seed heads once they dry.
Then, keep them safe in a cool, dark spot until the next growing season comes.
How To Harvest Oregano?
The best time to harvest oregano is in the mid-morning before the sun gets too high up and causes the leaves to wilt.
Make sure the morning dew has evaporated from the leaves, leaving only the essential oils where oregano’s strong flavor comes from.
To start harvesting the leaves, follow these simple steps:
Step 1: Harvesting oregano for fresh use.
Do you prefer that intense flavor perfect for pizzas and a whole host of Mediterranean dishes? If so, you can harvest the green leaves and use them immediately.
For this, you’ll need to look for a stem that is about six to eight inches tall and secure it with one hand.
Then, slowly but surely, slide your fingers up the stem using your other hand to remove the leaves.
Again, you can do this at any time, making sure you cut only at least a third of the leaves on each of the stems.
If you find this step challenging to do, one simple trick is to use a clean and sharp pair of garden shears instead.
Cut the stems you wish to harvest, and then simply strip off the leaves later.
Like the first method, you can do this by hand or by using an herb prepper.
You can add fresh oregano leaves to stuffings, marinades, vegetable dishes, salad, and baked goods.
Keep in mind that a teaspoon of dried oregano calls for a tablespoon of fresh leaves.
Step 2: Harvesting oregano to dry.
You can always buy dried herbs from the supermarket, but nothing beats the experience of making your own.
Fortunately, there’s not much work involved in drying oregano leaves.
Home gardeners just love them, and we get why. They are not only easy to grow but also almost effortless to preserve.
To harvest oregano to dry, pick about two to three times more leaves than you usually would pick.
Use garden clippers for this to ensure you leave a clean cut and avoid stressing out and damaging the plant.
Similar to the first step, you should make sure you leave about two-thirds of the leaves on the steam to encourage more growth.
With your clippers, locate a node and cut the stem just above it.
In doing this, your oregano plants will branch out from the node, and you’ll have a bushier and more luscious plant.
After cutting a handful of stems, place them all in a bowl for drying later.
Should You Wash Oregano After Harvesting?
If you will be consuming the leaves right after harvesting, you will want to rinse them off with water first.
You can do this by swishing the stems in a bowl of water, checking to see if the dirt has come off.
At this point, we also recommend picking out yellowing or bruised leaves. These won’t have much flavor anyway, so it would be best just to remove them.
After washing, you can go ahead and add the leaves to your dish for that fresh twist.
Otherwise, use a salad spinner to get rid of excess water and then dry the leaves using paper towels in preparation for drying.
Can You Eat Oregano Immediately After Harvesting?
Yes, definitely. As mentioned, you will find many uses for fresh oregano leaves.
Among the most common is using it with tomato-focused recipes, such as pasta sauce and pizza.
Oregano also pairs well with oil-based dishes, including marinades and salad dressings.
Keep in mind that some find raw oregano too intensely flavored.
For the best result, add it to your cooked dishes in the final 15 minutes of cooking.
In case you don’t know, this herb is also believed to help with cough and indigestion.
Toss a handful in a pot of boiling water and brew for a few minutes for a therapeutic tea.
How To Preserve Oregano Leaves
Oregano leaves are small, so you won’t have to wait long for them to dry fully.
Although it can take a few weeks, you can rest assured that you’ll have good-quality dried oregano leaves for long-term use.
There are two methods of drying oregano: air drying or using a food dehydrator.
Method #1: Air Drying
As mentioned, you should wash the leaves first to get rid of dirt before preparing them to air dry.
After washing, lay them out on top of a clean paper towel for about an hour or two until all moisture has evaporated.
Once dry, grab four to eight stems and tie them into a bundle using any kind of string available to you.
Then, attach a longer piece of the string to each bundle to make it easier to hang them.
Find a dry, dark, and warm spot with good air circulation and hang the bundles there.
The leaves should have dried completely in about two to three weeks and are now crumbly and crispy.
Method #2: Using a Food Dehydrator
If you can’t wait that long for your dried oregano leaves, you can always use a food dehydrator to speed up the process.
What’s more, this method of drying also retains most of the leaves’ intense flavor.
As such, it might be the more preferable drying method for many.
Again, you will need to wash the oregano beforehand and leave them to dry on top of a paper towel.
After one to two hours, you can go ahead and lay them out on your dehydrator tray, making sure they don’t overlap.
Then, set your machine to the lowest temperature setting but do not go higher than 95 degrees Fahrenheit.
Leave the dehydrator to do its work, checking the leaves from time to time to make sure they don’t get burned or too crispy.
You’ll know it’s done when the leaves have become crumbly.
Like other dried herbs, we recommend using them up within six months for the best flavor and quality.
Make sure you keep them in an airtight container, a canning jar, or a Ziplock bag to keep them safe from the elements.
Also, store them whole; crush them only when you’re ready to add them to your dishes.
The Greeks tagged it as the “joy of the mountain,” and it’s easy to see why.
While it’s often confused with wild marjoram, oregano is a whole other member of the mint family.
You will often find it in Italian-American dishes, as well as in a number of medicinal recipes.
With their interesting flavor profile, oregano plants are indeed worth growing.