Thursday, 10 July 2014

When seeds are not as described...

Just recently one of my Facebook friends posted a beautiful photo of some Oregano flowers that were a very deep purple colour, and this led to a general discussion about types of Oregano. I commented that the photo in question showed a flower that was a lot darker in colour than the Oregano that I grow, and I published a photo of my own.


This variety that I grow is allegedly "Greek Oregano". At least that is what it was sold as:


I'm not going to name the seed merchant, because that packet of seeds is several years old and it wouldn't be appropriate for me to make a complaint this long after my purchase, but I'm sure many of you will recognise the logo, which belongs to a very well-known company.

The seeds were supposed to be those of the true Greek Oregano - with its "...tongue-biting pungency".


Well, I have never noticed any super-strong flavour and aroma. In fact I have always felt that the herb is rather insipid as a culinary ingredient. My learned FB friend advised me that Greek Oregano (Origanum hirtum or Origanum heracleoticum ) has white flowers, not pink or purple ones. He sent me links to some websites that confirm this, for instance Mountain Valley Growers, based in California. My Oregano definitely has pale pink flowers:




All the evidence suggests that the seeds I purchased are those of Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare), a variety common in the UK, but completely different to the Greek type, and an unexciting culinary ingredient. I have seen this herb described as having "all the flavour of lawn-clippings"! (Well, maybe if the lawn had been treated with clopyralid weedkiller then the clippings would taste odd!).

If I had purchased these seeds recently, I would have been in touch with the supplier straight away, but I think I will just leave things as they are, because the plant looks nice anyway, and the bees love the flowers. I'll just keep my eyes open for a real Greek Oregano plant. Now that I am more aware of its characteristics I'm sure I woud be able to identify one if I could smell or taste it.

As an afterthough, go back and read the words on the packet, shown in my third photo... If this herb were indeed to have the properties attributed to it, I believe that it would be very much in demand for growers of brassicas!

11 comments:

  1. I grow Greek oregano and for the life of me I can't remember what color the flowers are. They don't look much like your flower though as they are held closer to the leaves.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I can't comment on color of flowers as I never paid attention, but my Greek Oregano is VERY spicy indeed. There is nothing bland about it at all. And I regularly dry it with plain oregano and use it in my tomato sauces all the time. Can't imagine not having it or not using it in my house.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I always thought that oregano was one of the herbs that should be purchased as a transplant for some reason. And then I figured out why - I have an old herb book from 1986, "The Harrowsmith Illustrated Book of Herbs", which gives quite the pre-amble on growing oregano from seed:

    "One catalogue lists Greek, wild Greek, Italian, golden showy....Another assures the reader that theirs is the 'true oregano collected wild in the mountains of Greece.' Few plants, herbs or otherwise, suffer such a confusion of Latin and common names...oregano grown from seed labelled Origanum vulgare, wild oregano, is likely to be a sprawling, scentless disappointment...better to pick up plants in person. Here is a herb, like lemon thyme, that ought to be pinched, sniffed and nibbled if possible, so that you can be sure of potency."

    I re-organized my herbs into their own bed this year & purchased a small oregano plant for $3 from the nursery - not a big outlay for an herb that will keep producing year after year. And what's funny is that, even though I hadn't read that book in years, it's words still stuck in my head so I did the old pinch and sniff before I purchased :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. If I were you, I would post the review about the product on the company site. I have the problem with the runner beans 'Dolico del Metro' purchased at the same company. The seed NEVER germinated. Maybe I should contact them too.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Haha - "I'm not going to name the seed merchant" *shows logo in photo*. Ooh, naughty! Are the leaves grey/green and hairy? If not, then your plant is not Greek Oregano. I grow the golden oregano which has pink/purple flowers and bright green to yellow flowers (as in the background of your second photo). I tend to grow it for decorative purposes as I prefer basil/thyme/mint/sage in cooking.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I learned something today about oregano and marjoram...they are from the same family "origanum". I was reading in an herb book, "Some have had doubts that plants grown from packets of "oregano" seed were the true wild marjoram of Mediterranean areas. You might prefer getting divisions or cuttings when possible from well-informed herb growers." from Kitchen Gardens by Mary Mason Campbell. Sorry your seeds were not true Greek Oregano!!

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've got 3 or 4 varieties of origanum that I planted both from starts and seed, and then there's the volunteers many of which are obvious crosses. It's interesting just how varied the flavors are, but my two favorites are the very strong Syrian oregano and the very mild but flavorful Sweet Marjoram. I don't know that any of them repel cabbage butterflies, but they certainly do attract bees when they are in bloom.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Mark, that's awful. How frustrating. I think you will be happier with the white flowered REAL oregano.

    ReplyDelete
  9. You'll have to test in on white butterflies.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Sue, I have grown this type of Oregano / Marjoram for several years now, and I can state categorically that it does NOT repel white butterflies!

    ReplyDelete
  11. i was trying to locate seeds of true greek- i have grown the one from the same well known supplier several years ago, which WAS the fantastically pungent stuff with white flowers, but it does not come true from its own seedlings which seem progressively more 'grassy'. I tried somebody else's 'greek oregano' (no true in it this time) which were sadly disappointing, larger leaves and not the same punch. the 'large company' no longer lists it (nov 14) and now i dont know whose packet to trust- will have to try cuttings from my last remaining straggly bits of the original.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for taking time to leave me a comment! Please note that Comment Moderation is enabled for older posts.