Mexican Oregano

Lippia graveolens

Herbs gallery - Mexican Oregano

Common names

  • Desert Oregano
  • Mexican Oregano

Mexican oregano (botanical name Lippia graveolens) is a partially woody shrub, primarily used in culinary, especially in Mexcan and South-western cuisines. It brings a spicy essence to foods, something that does not happen with the ordinary oregano. Usually, this herb grows up to a height of about 24 to 36 inches. It has a fine mounding shape, extending to about 18 to 24 inches.

Mexican oregano is not genuine oregano. It is indigenous to Mexico, some regions of South America and Guatemala.

The species is grown as an evergreen during the winter in many regions, while it may shed its leaves when it is too cold and the plants are under stress. However, throughout the summer Mexican oregano plants are seen covered with white tubular blossoms. Similar to majority of other herbs, Mexican oregano plants need to be trimmed during the summer. These plants thrive well in humid regions, especially the coastal gulf regions, which make Mexican oregano an excellent landscape plant. Compared to other herbs, Mexican oregano prefers some additional moisture.

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This herb bears petite star-like blooms that appear sporadically all through the season. Mexican oregano responds excellently to pruning and, hence, you may think of altering their original forms, such as espaliers and topiaries. The foliage is aromatic and its flavour is sweet and intense, which is preferred by several gourmet chefs. When you place the whole branches of the plant over the hot charcoal, they impart an unbelievably pleasant essence to grilled foods.

Compared to the usual Italian as well as the Greek oregano, which are sold at the grocery stores, the flavour of Mexican oregano is more potent. In recent times, the flavour of this species is becoming increasingly and quickly popular with chefs, as it is not only potent, but also has a faint sweetness, which is exclusive to this variety of oregano native to Mexico.

In fact, the flavour of Mexican oregano is somewhat akin to that of the conventional oregano, which is a wonderful alternative for the usual Mediterranean oregano, especially when you add this species at nearly half the amount necessary for preparing a recipe. You may add Mexican oregano to the Mexican as well as South-western cuisines in required amounts necessary to add a strong oregano essence.

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Although the flavour of Mexican oregano is akin to that of the traditional oregano, the two species are entirely different. The aromatic leaves of this plant are employed in conventional Mexican culinary, wherein they pass on a potently earthy essence. Conventionally, the leaves of Mexican oregano were used to prepare an herbal tea for treating minor problems related to the respiratory system.

While the names of Mexican oregano and traditional oregano are quite similar, Mexican and common oregano are separate species. While Mexican oregano is a member of the Verbenaceae plant family, the common or traditional oregano is a member of the mint family. The botanical name of Mexican oregano is Lippia graveolens, while the botanical name of the common oregano is Origanum vulgare.

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The white flowers of Mexican oregano are delicate and aromatic and they bloom throughout the year when grown in places where there is no frost. Even plants grown in greenhouses produce flowers all the year around. The flowers are loaded with nectar and attract butterflies, in addition to other insects that help in pollination. Even birds visit this plant frequently to feed on its nutritious seeds. In addition, lots of wildlife have their nest in the large Mexican oregano shrubs. All these make this species a wonderful plant in any wildlife garden.

Parts used

Leaves.

Uses

Mexican oregano is indigenous to Mexico, Central America and the American Southwest. The leaves of this herb are used to prepare a conventional "country tea" or herbal tea that was once employed for treating infections of the respiratory tract and delayed or scanty menstrual flow.

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Consumption of Mexican oregano in the form of an herbal tea is believed to alleviate minor problems related to the respiratory tract. However, it is not necessary to become ill to take delight in the wonderfully pleasant flavour of this herbal tea. It is very easy to prepare this tea - you just require adding one tablespoon of fresh or dried out herb to boiling water, filter the solution and drink it.

The herbal tea prepared from the Mexican oregano leaves is employed for treating diarrhea, stomach pains, and colds. Findings of a number of studies involving the antioxidant flavonoids present in Mexican oregano have shown enough potential for use as remedies for various ailments.

All plants belonging to genus Lippia (Verbenaceae) are known to possess anti-inflammatory, anti-malarial, sedative, spasmolitic and hypotensive properties. Usually, the flavonoids (phenolic compounds) or the essential oils extracted from the herb are believed to be its active principles.

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Culinary uses

In Mexico, people use Mexican oregano leaves in their culinary as a substitute for common oregano. The aroma as well as flavour of Mexican oregano is almost the same as common oregano, but the former is sweeter as well as more intense compared to the species belonging to the genus Origanum.

The dry leaves of this herb are used in numerous traditional as well as typical cuisines, especially in marinades, sauces as well as spice rubs. Hence, it is not surprising to note that Mexican oregano has a great affinity for all indigenous ingredients, including chillies, tomatoes, beans and avocados. Similar to other dried herbs, heat brings out the best aroma and flavour of Mexican oregano. Therefore, if you are using this herb in any uncooked dish, for instance salsa, you need to warm it for some time in a drying pan or gently rub it between your palms to help release the essential oils enclosed by it.

In addition to being used in the form of a spice in cooking, Mexican oregano may also be used to prepare a delightful herbal tea. In fact, Belizeans add three teaspoons of the dried herb or half cup of the fresh Mexican oregano leaves to three cups of boiling water and steep it for about 15 minutes. Subsequently, the resultant solution is filtered and drank warm.

This herb is wonderful for adding essence to various dishes. You may either use the leaves fresh or dry out the leaves or store them in a sealed container for future use. The dried leaves can also be used to prepare tea.

Mexican oregano is excellent when used with dishes based on tomatoes or beans and meat preparations. It also goes well with cheesecake.

Habitat and cultivation

Hot summer days are excellent for growing Mexican oregano. It requires a sandy textured soil for optimal growth. In addition, it grows best in complete sunlight and soils that are well drained.

Basically, Mexican oregano is a close cousin of lemon verbena. Most of the commercially grown oregano that is used in the United States is Mexican oregano and not the common oregano. In places having cold climatic conditions, this plant should be cultivated in the form of a tender perennial. Mexican oregano is an ideal culinary herb for growing in containers and gardens.

Indigenous to Mexico, this herb is very sensitive to frosts. However, it is possible to grow Mexican oregano outdoors throughout the year in places where the temperature rarely drops under 20°F to 30°F (approximately -6°C to -1°C). On the other hand, if you are living in a place where the climatic condition is comparatively cold, you should grow this oregano species in containers and they need to be kept in a greenhouse or indoors throughout the winter months. When you are growing the plants indoors during the winter months, ensure that the temperature remains around 50°F (approximately 10°C).

Irrespective of whether you grow Mexican oregano outdoors in your garden or indoors in a container, plants of this species grow best when they receive sunlight for about six hours or more daily. This plant does not require much routine care, such as watering or fertilizers. When the herb is grown in containers, you need to allow the soil to become dry somewhat between watering. On the other hand, when growing Mexican oregano in your garden, you should know that this species can endure drought and you only need to water the plants when the weather becomes dry and very hot for a prolonged period.

Mexican oregano grows into huge shrubs when grown in fertile soils and the moisture level is somewhat constant. Nevertheless, the species is indigenous to arid, sandy/ rocky regions. The plants grow very rapidly and easy indoors, especially when bright light is in abundance.

Constituents

Studies undertaken on Mexican oregano leaves have shown that they contain secoiridoid glucosides and their ester derivatives. Other chemicals found in small amounts include dimethylsecologanoside, caryoptoside, 8-epi-loganic acid, loganin, loganic acid, secologanin and secoxyloganin. The major constituents of Mexican oregano leaves include lippioside I and II as well as iridoids caryoptosidic acid.

The components of essential oil enclosed by Mexican oregano include 0-81% thymol, 3-30% para-cymene, 0-48% carvacrol, and 0-15% eucalyptol. It has been found that the plant's flavour, which is akin to that of common oregano, is owing to the presence of thymol and carvacrol. People in Central America and Mexico extensively use the leaves of this plant in the form of an herb.

Collection and harvesting

You can harvest the Mexican oregano leaves throughout the year and use them in most conventional Mexican cuisines as well as in any cooked foods when you desire the potently, earthy flavour of oregano. Adding Mexican oregano to your dishes, especially fish, meat and tomato sauce, enhances their flavour. It can also be used in all recipes which call for the flavour of another Mexican herb known as epazote. You may use the leaves of Mexican oregano fresh or dry and store them in sealed containers for use when necessary.

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