Lebanese Oregano

Origanum syriacum

Herbs gallery - Lebanese Oregano

Common names

  • Bible Hyssop
  • Lebanese Oregano
  • Syrian Oregano
  • Zaatar

Lebanese oregano (scientific name Origanum syriacum) is also known as zaatar. This herb is a perennially growing bush having very aromatic foliage. Characteristically, the Lebanese oregano grows straight up to a height of 2.5 feet forming a mound-like structure. As its name suggests, this herb has its origin in the Middle East. As this herb is considered to be the hyssop of the Bible's Old Testament, occasionally it is also referred to as the Bible hyssop.

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The stems of Lebanese oregano are squarish and covered with hair, bearing dense ovate, grey-green hued leaves, which are extremely aromatic. The leaves usually grow up to a length of just 1 inch. The herb bears tubular, two-lipped flowers, which may come in white or light pink hue. Flowers of Lebanese oregano bloom in clusters atop their spikes between the middle of summer to the end of the season. Lebanese oregano flowers are very showy.

Noted Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist Carl Linnaeus was the first to describe Origanum syriacum in 1753.

Lebanese oregano is a woody perennial plant that smells as well as has the flavour akin to that of oregano. In fact, this herb forms the basis of the spice having the same name and is often used by people in the Middle East. The dried herb is pulverized into a powdered form and used along with other ingredients like salt, garlic, crushed sumac seeds, olive oil and others and used as bread-topping. This herb is not only very flavourful, but consuming it regularly is also beneficial for our overall health.

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It is worth mentioning here that zaatar or Lebanese oregano is one source of the essential oil called carvacrol. This essential oil possesses antiseptic properties and together with other terpenoids like thymol is effective in inhibiting various types of harmful bacteria, for instance, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This oil works by corroding the cell wall of bacteria. Lebanese oregano has a preference for full sun and likes a sandy soil that drains very fast. During its first growing season, this herb produces an abundance of leaves.

Among all varieties of oreganos, the Lebanese oregano or Origanum syriacum is considered to be a giant plant. Apart from growing tall when it blooms, this plant also has a great flavour, which is akin to that of the well accepted Greek oregano. However, unlike the more well known Greek oregano, Origanum syriacum is a more compliant plant in gardens. It is also different from the Greek oregano as it not only grows tall, especially when it is in bloom, but this herb also does not sprawl or creep all over the garden. The mature leaves of Lebanese oregano appear darker, dusty green, while the stems of the plant become woody and their color changes to brown. Although the mature leaves are not as flavourful as the young leaves, they can be dried and powdered for later use.

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Parts used

Leaves, essential oil.

Uses

For long people have been using the Lebanese oregano in the form of a therapeutic and flavoring herb. This herb contains high levels of thymol, which is believed to be responsible for its therapeutic effects, especially for treating gum infections, tooth decay and even coughs. Many people also drink a tea prepared from Lebanese oregano leaves after meals with a view to facilitate digestion.

Apart from being an accommodative garden plant, Lebanese oregano is also appropriate for growing in balconies and on terraces.

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Culinary uses

The leaves as well as the flowering tops of Lebanese oregano are used for adding essence to foods. The flavour of this herb reminds one of a mixture of oregano, thyme and marjoram. Occasionally, people add blend dried Lebanese oregano with sumac (obtained from Rhus species) to prepare a blended spice called zatar. This blended spice is used together with olive oil in the form of a bread topping. For instance, the Bedouins use the dried Lebanese oregano leaves with salt and eat this dry blend with bread. Usually, the leaves as well as the flowering tops of this herb are dried and sold commercially as "oregano". However, the term "oregano" should actually be used to denote the species O. vulgare.

Nevertheless, the Lebanese oregano is also a very popular herb, whether used fresh or dried, and is often employed to season salads, sauces, soups, stews, stuffings, roasts, vegetables as well as meat. You may also use the dried leaves of this herb in potpourris. Often, people bake the Lebanese oregano into the outer layer of pita bread and then brushed with olive oil before eating. In addition, dried out herb is also sprinkled on various other foods for seasoning them.

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Habitat and cultivation

Origanum syriacum or Lebanese oregano grows well in a wide range of soils, including normal, arid and medium that have proper drainage and are located in full sun. This herb has a preference for alkaline soils and it thrives well even in coarse sandy loams. However, the key to growing Lebanese oregano successfully is cultivating the species in extremely well-drained soils. This plant possesses the aptitude to endure heat as well as drought conditions. In order to propagate Lebanese oregano, sow the seeds indoors roughly six to eight weeks before the last expected date of frost in spring. Alternatively, you may also sow the seeds directly outdoors approximately a fortnight before the last expected date of spring frost in your area.

In order to promote a bushy growth of the plants, it is essential to trim their stems before the appearance of their flowers. If you are growing Lebanese oregano in containers, you may bring them indoors during fall prior to frost. However, these plants do not survive through the winter properly. Lebanese oregano is a very accommodating plant, requiring very little after care or maintenance. However, you need to trim the flowering shoots during spring with a view to encourage dense growth.

Lebanese oregano can be propagated from their seeds, division as well as basal cuttings. If you wish to propagate the species from its seeds, preferably sow them in early spring in a greenhouse where the temperature ranges between 10°C and 13°C. Usually, the seeds germinate in just two weeks. Once the seedlings have grown large enough to be handled, prick them individually and plant in separate pots. You may transplant the young plants into their permanent locations outdoors during the beginning of summer.

The plants may be propagated by division either in March or during October. It is quite easy to propagate Lebanese oregano using this method. While you can directly plant the larger divisions into their permanent positions outdoors, it is always better to plant the smaller divisions in individual containers and keep growing them in a cold frame in semi-shaded areas till they establish properly. Once the plants are established, you can plant them outdoors either in spring or in the beginning of summer.

You can also propagate Lebanese oregano from basal cuttings. Ideally, the basal cuttings should be made from the young leafless shoots and undertaken in June. It is very easy to propagate Lebanese oregano using this method. The shoots should be harvested with lots of underground stem when they have already grown to a height of 8 cm to 10 cm over the ground. Plant the cuttings in separate pots and place those in a greenhouse or cold frame in light shade till they have rooted properly. You can move the young plants to their permanent positions outdoors during summer.

The leaves of Lebanese oregano are very vulnerable to aphid infestation. If you notice distorted leaves, honeydew or galls on the plants, you should be sure that they have been infested by aphids. It is advisable that you use biological means such as predators like Aphidoletes aphidimyza or parasitic wasps to keep aphids in control.

On the other hand, presence of delicate web-like structures on the plants is an indication that they are enduring red spider mite infestations. Red spider mites have sucking mouthparts and they draw out the sap from the plants, damaging them severely. These pests usually appear under glass and you can control these by using chemical insecticides or biological means like parasitic mites.

Lebanese oregano has a tendency to bear flowers throughout the year and you can also harvest them all through the year. This plant is a favourite of butterflies and bees. Hence, if you wish to draw them to your garden, it is advisable you grow Lebanese oregano.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of oregano leaves and flowering tops has shown that they enclose an essential oil, which contains various compounds like thymol, p-cymene and gamma-terpinene. Among these three, thymol is the main constituent of the essential oil of Origanum syriacum or Lebanese oregano.

Collection and harvesting

You can harvest Lebanese oregano almost throughout the year, especially when their branches have grown to a length of no less than three inches. You can also use the flowers of this herb for culinary purposes.

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