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Mexican oregano is a flowering, leafy herb that grows like a shrub, reaching almost four feet in height and width. Mexican oregano leaves are arrow-shaped and grow sparingly along thin, stiff stems. In the summer, white flowers bloom at the ends of the long stems. The leaves and flowers of Mexican oregano are pungent, with the traditional scent and flavor of Mediterranean oregano with notes of citrus and mild licorice. The flavor is a bit more intense than the Mediterranean variety, and contains different phytochemical compounds, giving it a different flavor profile.
Mexican oregano is available year-round.
Mexican oregano is an aromatic herb botanically classified Lippia graveolens. It is not related to Mediterranean oregano, which is in a different genus and family altogether. Mexican oregano is related to lemon verbena and is in the Verbenaceae family of flowering tropical plants. The herb is also known as Oregano Cimarrón and Hierba Dulce.
Mexican oregano contains volatile compounds like thymol and eucalyptol, bringing the scents of thyme and eucalyptus, along with carvacrol, which gives the herb the warm aroma of oregano. These compounds are beneficial to overall health, and also have antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties. Mexican oregano also contains antioxidant flavonoids.
Mexican oregano is used widely in Mexican and Central American cuisine and can be used both fresh and dry. The flavor is intense enough to hold up to the strong flavors of chiles, cumin, and paprika, where the Mediterranean variety may be masked. It pairs well with other herbs like basil, garlic, thyme, and parsley. Add Mexican oregano to traditional soups like berria and posole and other traditional sauces like moles and rojas. Add the herb to bean dishes, burritos, and enchiladas. The strong flavor of the herb pairs well with fish, pork, salsas, and tomato based sauces. The leaves and flowers of Mexican oregano can be dried to preserve and retain their flavor, and will keep for up to three months. Keep fresh Mexican oregano wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Mexican oregano has been used by native people in Mexico and Central America, traditionally for teas to treat respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments.
Mexican oregano is native to Mexico and can also be found growing in Central and South America. The herb was first identified and classified by Carl Sigismund Kunth, a German botanist who wrote Nova Genera et Species Plantarum, a series of seven volumes on New World plants and flora. Growing throughout Mexico, Central America and as far south as Venezuela, Mexican oregano is prevalent in cuisines throughout the region. In the United States, Mexican oregano is found growing in Texas and New Mexico and is a common herb among ingredients in Tex-Mex. Outside of its native range, Mexican oregano is mostly found in home gardens and at farmer’s markets.
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