Wild oregano is what makes za’atar and what gives it its distinctive flavor; this is how to dry oregano.
At some point za’atar was labeled thyme which is not the correct herb, but it stuck!
People have mistakenly referred to it as thyme, probably because it has a thyme-like flavor along with oregano and marjoram.
This oregano has a strong spiciness that tells us we have come across the wild oregano of the region.
Each country has its own variety of oregano but they do share several similarities, and taste very much alike.
We always have a supply of this fresh and wonderful herb which grows easily in our place in the Jordan Valley.
Known as za’atar, the plant is the basis for the prepared za’atar mix that so many are familiar with.
I dry our za’atar regularly, grind it, and mix it with sumac, salt and sesame seeds.
There is something very fulfilling about making your very own za’atar to enjoy at home.
Making za’atar is very personal, and everyone seems to have their own mix ratios when it comes to making it.
Other uses for this fresh oregano are in salads, baking it into bread, and using it for flavoring olive oil.
There are huge health benefits in the leaves of this little plant, especially in the oil.
It is a natural antibiotic, can reduce cholesterol levels, improves gut health, and is packed with antioxidants.
You can see why the mediterranean diet can be such a healthy one with so many beneficial plants and herbs.
How to Dry Oregano
There are a few different methods you can use when making dried oegano or other dried herbs.
My prefered method is to wash and completely dry the leaves and put them on a tray, and allow them to dry out.
This method will take a few days, so patience is needed since you won’t have your dried herd right away.
It is important to put the tray in a dry place and to turn the stems on a regular basis.
This will help ensure that the leaves don’t get damp as the liquid in them evaporates.
If they do end up getting damp they will mold and rot, and that will spread.
Another way to go about drying this wild oregano is to hang it.
Using a line of some kind, hang the oregano upside down by the stems using clothes pins.
Space out the stems to allow air to circulate around the plants to let them dry evenly.
Once dry, remove holding a bowl under them to drop into.
Do this because the leaves come off easily when dry, and you don’t want to lose any if you can help it.
The third method is to use your oven to dry the oregano, this will be the quickest way to do it.
Preheat your oven to 350ºF (175ºC), once that temperature is reached turn the oven down to 210ºF (100ºC).
Make sure you check often and stir the herbs, truning them if you can in order for them to dry evenly.
This process should take 30 to 45 minutes.
Once the oregano is dry, hold the stem up upright with one hand and slide your forefinger and thumb down the stem.
This will remove the leaves from the stem in the easiest way.
You can use this technique before drying if you like and then dry the leaves on a tray without the stems.
Whichever method you decide on will work for getting them dry enough.
Next step is to gind the oregano spice grinder, which will of course give you the ground variety.
Fresh Oregano will begin to wilt quite quickly so using it quickly is key.
To extend its life you can put it into a plastic bag in the fridge with a damp paper towel, and allow air to get in and out.
You can freeze oregano, by removing the leaves and placing them in a plastic bag in as much of a single layer as possible.
Place the bag in the the freezer after removing all the air in the bag without crushing the herbs.
The other method is to dry the oregano as we discussed above in ‘how to dry oregano’.
Using Oregano in Cooking
Dried ground oregano will have a stronger flavor than the fresh leaves.
This is important to keep in mind when you are cooking.
You will find other herbs and spices that complement oregano will be what are known as ‘Italian herbs’.
Herbs like thyme, basil, parsley, sage, along with things like pepper and garlic.
When using dried oregano it is best to use it early on in your cooking so that it has a change to share its flavors.
When using fresh herbs it is usually best to add them at the very end so that the flavor remains intact.