Oregano is among the most popular herbs home gardeners can grow. From pizza and salads to pasta and soups, this flavorful herb is used in many dishes and recipes. Purchasing dried and crushed oregano leaves from the grocery store is surprisingly expensive, especially given how easy the plant is to grow and harvest. This article shares information about how to harvest oregano for both fresh use and for drying, along with tips for growing it successfully.
Get to know oregano
Like thyme – another popular Mediterranean native herb – oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial plant that is very easy to cultivate. It is winter hardy down to -20°F and even beyond with a layer of insulating mulch. Unlike tender annual herbs such as basil, oregano returns to the garden year after year, often growing larger with each passing season. There are a handful of different varieties of oregano, including Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare var. hirtum), golden oregano (Origanum vulgare var. aureum), and a close cousin, sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana). Unlike regular oregano, however, sweet marjoram is not winter hardy in cold climates. The taste of oregano is very distinctive, making it almost impossible to substitute for in recipes.
The part of an oregano plant we typically eat are the leaves, though the stems and flower buds are sometimes eaten as well. Oregano is primarily eaten dried, but fresh oregano leaves have a wonderful flavor, too.
How to harvest oregano at the right time
For the most flavorful experience, you need to know both how to harvest oregano and when to do it. The best time of day for harvesting oregano is in the morning, after the dew has dried but while the leaves are still full of moisture. Harvesting on a hot, dry, sunny afternoon can translate to a more intense (and sometimes slightly bitter) flavor. Even if you plan to dry the leaves, harvest the stems while they are upright and firm, not while wilting or water-stressed.
Oregano is best harvested in the spring and early summer before the blooms have formed. After flowering, the flavor changes, and I find it isn’t quite as good. You can make multiple harvests from the same plant using one or both of the methods outlined below, depending on whether you plan to enjoy your oregano fresh or dry it for future use.
The plant should be healthy and green, with plump leaves and growth nodes. There should be multiple sets of leaves on each stem but no fully developed flower buds at the stem tips. Tender shoots have the best flavor. Plus, the plant regrows easily after cutting if harvests are made earlier in the season.
The best tools for harvesting oregano
Since the stems you’re harvesting are soft and herbaceous, you really don’t need any fancy tools for the job. I use a pair of herb scissors, but a pair of garden shears or even a kitchen scissors or knife would work fine. If you have a very large amount of oregano to harvest, a pair of long-bladed hedge loppers gets the job done a lot faster.
How to harvest oregano for fresh use
How to harvest oregano for fresh use is not that different from how to harvest oregano for drying. The new growth of oregano plants is surprisingly prolific, especially on an established plant, and the primary difference comes in the amount of the herb you cut from the plant. For fresh use, you’ll want tender oregano sprig tips that are high in essential oils and offer the most intense flavor. When the leaves are dried, the flavor concentrates, so using oregano fresh means the flavor is a lot more subtle. The young, fresh tips are what you want to harvest for fresh use.
Harvested fresh oregano doesn’t last very long, so only cut as much as you need for that day’s recipe. Use your cutting tool or even your thumb and forefinger to pinch or cut off the fresh stem tips. The top two to three inches of each stem offer the best flavor for fresh use.
Rinse the oregano stems off after bringing them indoors and then remove as much moisture as possible by using a salad spinner. While it’s best to enjoy fresh oregano immediately after harvest, if you must keep it for a day or two, store it in the refrigerator in a plastic bag with a slightly damp paper towel in it. It will develop mold pretty quickly, so don’t wait too long to use it.
How to harvest oregano for drying
If you plan to dry your oregano harvest, you can be a lot more aggressive in the amount of foliage you remove from each plant. Don’t be shy. The bigger the harvest, the more oregano you’ll have for recipes year-round. Oregano plants are resilient. Even if you remove every single stem from the plant, it will readily regrow without any issues.
Here’s how to harvest oregano for drying: Grab a bundle of 12 to 15 oregano stems and hold them in one hand while using the cutting tool to sever them from the plant. Don’t go quite all the way down to the base of the plant. Leave a few inches of stubble behind (it will regrow quickly, I promise). After you have a bunch of cut stems, you can either wrap their base in a rubber band if you plan to hang dry them, or lay them loose on a tray or in a harvest basket or bowl if you’ll be drying in an oven or food dehydrator.
Repeat this process as many times as necessary, removing bundles of springs of oregano until you’ve harvested as much as you’d like. As mentioned before, you can harvest the entire plant this way for drying, or you can harvest just a small portion of the plant. Either way, your plant will not suffer.
How to harvest oregano for multiple harvests
I make multiple harvests from my oregano plants. The first takes place about 4 to 6 weeks after our last frost in the spring. The second takes place about 6 weeks after that. Sometimes I harvest the entire plant the first time and then only harvest a portion of the stems with the second harvest. Other years, I do the opposite. Truthfully, it doesn’t really matter. As long as the plant is sited in direct sunlight, it will easily regrow and carry on with business as usual for the rest of the growing season.
Will my oregano plant regrow after harvest?
One of the fears many gardeners have when it comes to knowing how to harvest oregano is the worry that they are cutting too much of the plant off at one time. Regardless of how much you take, I promise this is nothing to worry about. Oregano plants are extremely prolific and resilient, and even if you cut the whole plant down to the ground in the spring (as I do each and every year), it will rebound in a few weeks and be just as gorgeous and prolific as ever.
The only negative of harvesting is a delay in flowering. Since you’re removing the initial set of developing flower buds when you’re harvesting the shoots, the plant will need to develop another set when it regrows. This does not stop the plant from flowering, but it does delay it. If you are a beekeeper who needs an earlier nectar source for your bees, then harvesting the entire plant may not be the best practice. But if you’re a regular gardener without beehives to worry about, this should not be a concern when thinking about how to harvest oregano.
Caring for an oregano plant after it has been harvested
After you’ve made your harvest, you can give the plant a light fertilization and mulch it with compost if you feel the need to baby it a bit. This is not something I do for my plants, but there’s no harm in it. Use an organic granular fertilizer at half of the rate noted on the bag. Don’t overdo it. The last thing you want to do is promote a lot of tender, succulent growth that is inviting to pests. Again, this is a tough plant. It doesn’t need a lot of love. Oregano is great for companion planting as it lures in a lot of small native bees and other beneficial insects like soldier beetles, parasitic wasps, lacewings, and ladybugs.
Make sure the plant receives enough water, but don’t overdo that either. Oregano is a native of the Mediterranean region. It prefers well-draining soils on the dry side.
Tips for drying harvested oregano
After you’ve learned how to harvest oregano for drying, you’ll have lots of oregano stems to process. Don’t wash oregano that you plan to dry. Simply start the drying process after giving the stems a quick shake to dislodge any insects hiding in them.
- If you plan to hang dry your oregano and you didn’t already do this in the garden, bundle the oregano sprigs into small bunches of 10 to 12 stems using twine or rubber bands. This article features the step-by-step method I use for hang drying my oregano. Make sure you choose a room with good air circulation.
- If you plan to dry oregano in an oven, spread the stems out in a single layer on baking trays. Place the trays in a 200°F oven for about 40 minutes to 1 hour. Check it every 20 minutes or so. The oregano is fully dried when the leaves crumble easily.
- For drying in food dehydrators, a temperature of 100°F for 2 to 4 hours gets the job done. The oregano is fully dried on the dehydrator trays when it crumbles easily between your thumb and forefinger.
- Regardless of which drying method you use, when the herb is dry, remove the woody stems and store the leaves in a sealed jar in a dark pantry. I toss in a packet of anti desiccant to keep any moisture out.
Knowing how to harvest oregano, as well as the best time to do it, isn’t difficult, but it is a key to successfully growing and enjoying this flavorful herb.
Looking to grow more fresh herbs? Here’s where you can find more info to do just that:
- 10 Herbs that tolerate shade
- Growing cilantro from seed
- Starting basil plants from seed
- Growing wasabi and horseradish
- How to harvest chives