Whole oregano evokes images of scrubby herbs on Mediterranean cliffs, in the Northeast, oregano is a champion of the cold, one of the first perennial herbs to emerge from winter dormancy. In fact, it is so tolerant of winter that it rarely dies back entirely and can often be harvested year round, anytime the ground is not covered by snow. Use it as the ancients did, making wreaths in honor of Aphrodite to crown the heads of newly married couples. Or, harvest loads of it in mid- to late spring and dry in warm airy place. A small patch provides enough for a year’s worth of delicious soups and sauces.
Essential in a range of cuisines, from Middle Eastern to Mediterranean, oregano imparts a distinctive, rich, savory, hunger-inducing aroma to cooked dishes. This Greek strain is stronger flavored than others, and it forms a hardy, scrubby, spreading clump over the years. When treated as a perennial, it’s best to harvest as much oregano as possible in May or early June, before it begins to flower and develop an overpowering flavor. When grown from seed each year, the leaves remain more delicate and mildly flavored, perfect for greasy eating in salads and quick, fresh sauces.