Monday, April 25, 2011

The Secret Is Oregano

ANDY - That certainly is delicious spaghetti, Mrs. Sprague, especially that sauce of yours.

MRS. SPRAGUE - Oh, thank you, Andrew. It's something of a secret recipe handed down through five generations of the Sprague family.

ANDY - Oh, a secret. Oh, well, whatever it is in there it certainly is tantalizing.

MRS. SPRAGUE - I really shouldn't tell you, Andrew, but it's a Greek spice called oregano.

ANDY - Oh, well, who in the world would ever think of putting oregano in a sauce?

HOWARD - That's what makes it a secret recipe, Andy.

-The Andy Griffith Show, Dinner At Eight, Episode 206

With Aunt Bee and Opie out of town, Goober stops by Andy's house to keep him company and to fix a spaghetti dinner, seasoned with a secret ingredient: oregano. Half-way through dinner, Goober remembers that he forgot to give Andy two messages, but can't remember what they were. One was from Howard Sprague, the other from Helen Crump. Dimly recalling, he sends Andy to Howard's for another dinner. Surprised by his visit, the Spragues put dinner back on the table and Andy is served spaghetti again. But Goober got it wrong. Afterward, Andy gets an angry call from Helen that he's one hour late for dinner. Again, it's spaghetti with a secret ingredient: oregano.

Popular since ancient times, oregano is no secret. It's a perennial herb, native to the Mediterranean region, with various species and subspecies indigenous to Kyrgyzstan, Italy and Greece, Crete and Turkey, and Syria. The most popular is Origanum vulgare, pronounced or-RI-gan-um vul-GAIR-ee. Oregano is commonly used, not only in spaghetti sauces, but in cuisines typical of most Mediterranean countries. Flavors vary somewhat by species and quality. Generally, oregano is more flavorful when dried than fresh.

Hippocrates is quoted as saying, "Let your food be your medicine, and your medicine be your food." It shouldn't come as a suprise that oregano has been valued as a medicinal herb. Hippocrates, himself, valued it as an antiseptic. Perhaps this is the reason that oregano was originally used as a food additive. It combats Listeria monocytogenes, a food-borne pathogen associated with milk, cheese, raw meats and even raw vegetables. Hippocrates wouldn't have known about Listeria, but the ancients certainly observed that some herbs helped to preserve foods and made them safer to eat. It's no wonder that the tastes of foods and associated herbs should become so inextricably linked.

Oregano has also been used to treat sore throats, stomach ailments and bronchial problems. As a poultice, it is said to relieve muscle aches and sprains. It's also known to be a powerful antioxidant.

Oregano grows as a low, sometimes creeping herb. Mature height is 6 inches to 12 inches, and spreads up to 18 inches. Showy pinkish-purple flowers appear mid-summer to early fall. It grows quickly and thrives in sun, though it appreciates afternoon shade in hot climates. It is drought tolerant, deer and rabbit resistant and tolerates foot traffic. Oregano thrives in USDA climate zones 4 to 9. It tolerates a wide variety of soil types with pH ranging from 6.1 to 8.5.

Before planting, test your soil. Your nearby Cooperative Extension Service can help you for a nominal fee. Follow the recommendations from the test results. If your soil is not friable, cultivate it 8 inches to 10 inches deep. Add amendments. Space the plants from 12 inches to 18 inches apart.

Oregano is excellent for container gardens, fragrance gardens, kitchen gardens and medicinal gardens, and as a ground cover. Golden oregano is one of the most attractive. If you enjoy watching butterflies, oregano will attract them.

Here is a recipe for pasta sauce I think you'll enjoy. The secret, of course, is oregano.


    1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
    3 garlic cloves, minced
    5 green bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
    1 small onion, sliced into 1/4 inch rings
    8 ounces black olives, sliced
    1/2 teaspoon dried cayenne pepper flakes
    1 cup dry white wine
    32 ounces low-sodium (salt) tomato juice
    1 teaspoon dried basil
    1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    2 tablespoons honey
    1 teaspoon anchovy paste
    Salt and black pepper to taste
    1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley


    In a large skillet, heat the oil on medium-high, add the garlic, and cook, stirring, until the garlic begins to turn golden.  Add the peppers and onion and cook until they are soft and browning at the edges. Add the olives and crushed cayenne pepper. Pour in the wine, stir and cook for 1 minute.
    Add the tomato juice, basil, oregano, honey, salt and pepper. Stir in anchovy paste. Heat to boiling, then reduce heat to medium. Cook until the liquid is reduced and the sauce is thickened. Stir in fresh parsley. Serve with pasta.

Return to

1 comment:

Jean Campbell said...

I remember very well when my mother discovered oregano.