If you were to ask me what my favorite day of the week is, I would reply without hesitation THURSDAYS. Thursdays make me smile and dance with glee. I spend the day full of A-N-T-I-C-I-P-A-T-I-O-N because Thursday is the day when new plants find their way to our garden as Wing Nut often does a little shopping before heading home at the end of her work week.
This week was "hyper" special because Cuban Oregano came to live with us. It has always been a treasure hunt when we settle in a new place to find him. The nice, but often clueless, nursery people always try to sell me on Greek, Italian or, GASP, Puerto Rican varieties. Here in the PNW I've been looking to cross paths with Cuban Oregano for 4 years now. When in NE, it took me 2 years to find him. So far, with enough patience and persistence--and some educating of the nursery staff--I have always been able to find him.
Isn't he spectacular? The Greek and Italian varieties are so insubstantial when compared to this plant. The leaves and stems of Cuban oregano are thick and fleshy and hairy. When you rub them with your fingers, the aroma of the leaves is out of this world.
This is a very important culinary herb in the Caribbean. In Cuban cooking, it is used to flavor black beans and roasted pork, to infuse oils or vinegars, to garnish salads or drinks. It also has medicinal uses. In Cuba the curanderos (healers) and yerberos (herbalists) use this plant to help with digestive ailments, bronchitis and rheumatoid arthritis.
If you ask any Cubans they will swear that this is the verdadero or real oregano. The first irony is that it is not a true oregano. This is plectranthus amboinicus, a member of the mint family and a relative of the garden coleus. The second irony is that it is not native to Cuba but rather to southeast Asia. Some sources say Africa but I've found numerous references to this plant in Vietnamese herb/cooking books. In Cuba it is called "orégano de la tierra" or "orégano francés," the latter pointing to Haiti as a point of introduction. It most likely was introduced in Haiti during the French colonial period. Adding to the difficulty of tracking down this plant are its numerous other names--Spanish thyme, French thyme, Mexican mint, Indian mint, soup mint, Indian borage, country borage, and oreille (French for ear).
Cuban oregano is hardy only to zone 10 so I have always grown it as an annual. It continues to look its best in the hottest part of summer even when kept in full sun. I've read that it can grow to 2' though I've never had one that grew that much. Plucking leaves and stems for culinary use helps the plant maintain a nice compact bushy shape.
I'd love to hear from anyone who has grown this plant. Do you grow it as an ornamental or as an herb and under what conditions? If grown as an herb, how do you use it?