Native to the Southwestern United States and Central American regions, Mexican oregano is a must-use in Mexican and Latin American cooking!
What is Mexican oregano?
Mexican oregano is a flowering shrub from the verbena family that grows from 3.3 to 9 feet in height. The shrub called Lippia graveolens has white flowers that grow throughout the year, but it’s the leaves that are dried and harvested as oregano.
Mexican oregano is also called wild oregano, wild marjoram, scented lippia, redbrush lippia, orégano cimarrón, scented matgrass, Mexican sage, origan, oregamon, Mexican marjoram, or Mexican wild sage.
Does Mexican oregano grow only in Mexico?
No, Mexican oregano grows in a wider region than that. You’ll find it growing all over South Western United States and Central America. This means Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of the neighboring states, as well as Central American countries from Belize and Guatemala all the way down to Nicaragua.
What is the difference between Mexican oregano and traditional oregano?
While Italian oregano (Origanum vulgare) belongs to the mint family Lamiaceae, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) belongs to the verbena family. Mexican oregano is more pungent than Italian oregano and has a citrus flavor as opposed to the anise flavor of Italian oregano.
Mexican oregano is closer in flavor to the lemon verbena family of shrubs that are used in cocktails, salad dressings, syrups, and ice creams.
What is Mexican oregano used for?
Mexican oregano is used to add an earthy, peppery, and citrus-like flavor to dishes. It also has a carminative effect – breaks down and expels excess gas from the stomach – which is why it’s added to most spicy Mexican dishes.
In Volume 1 his book The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, Bruce Kraig has also mentioned that in Mexico, it’s also used to prepare a herbal tea called country tea or té de pais.
Mexican oregano is also used to season vegetables while pickling them.
Where to buy Mexican oregano and how to store it?
You can buy dried Mexican oregano in any local Mexican or Latin American store near you or in the gourmet section of different markets. You can also find it online on Amazon.
Dried Mexican oregano can be stored in a cool dry place away from sunlight and moisture. It will last for months.
Fresh one is difficult to come by, but if you have access to it, store it in between damp paper towel sheets in the fridge for a week or two.
What can you use as a substitute for Mexican oregano?
If you don’t have access to Mexican oregano, use regular oregano as a substitute. It may not be as pungent and flavorful, but it will work too! To add the citrus notes of the Mexican oregano, add a little chopped coriander or cilantro as well.
Another great alternative for Mexican oregano is dried marjoram which also belongs to the origanum herb family. A bit sweeter than Mexican oregano, it also has strong citrus notes. Dried verbena leaves also work the same way.
If you can’t find anything similar to Mexican oregano, don’t worry. Your dish will still taste as good! But if you can find one of the substitutes above, perfect!