Many herbs grow well in the Phoenix area because they are originally from hot, dry climates like the Mediterranean. Often, however, these same plants find it hard to endure the extremities of our particular climate. Our winters are a bit colder and our summers are a lot hotter, so the plants thrive for a while and then either die of cold, or shrivel in the heat. Of course every garden is different, from the soil and watering system, to the microclimates and surrounding plants, but in general, there are some plants that do better than others. Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens) is one of them, and no wonder, since it is native to the Mexican and American Southwest where it has been used in medicine, tea, and cooking.
If you are wanting to grow Greek or Italian Oregano, but find it difficult to keep alive in your gareden, give Mexican Oregano a try. Not only does it thrive in our desert heat, but it grows into a rather large bush if you let it. It will die back some in the winter, but a little pruning makes it burst forth when it heats up. The flavor and scent is a bit like Greek Oregano on steroids. It is very strong, so you don’t need a lot in a recipe. Grow it all summer and dry enough to last through the winter (you will have more than enough to share as well).
How to Grow Mexican Oregano
In Phoenix, plant Mexican Oregano from seed or transplants anytime from February to November. It likes full sun, heat, and fertile, well-drained soil. Average moisture is just fine. It is a hardy perennial in USDA Zones 10 and 11.
One interesting note if you live in Phoenix is that the leaves of Mexican Oregano look very similar to Lantana. I have both growing next to each other and without smelling the leaves, it is difficult to tell them apart without the flowers. The scent, however, is NOT the same. The Mexican Oregano leaf is on the left and Lantana is on the right.
How to Use Mexican Oregano
You can use Mexican Oregano in any dish that requires Greek or Italian Oregano, just use a little less of it. It can be used either fresh or dry.
To dry Mexican Oregano, break off or cut stems into 8-10 inch lengths. (This is good for your plant and will promote more growth.) Tie small bunches together.
I like to hang my herbs on a pantry shelf using a clothespin. It is best to dry herbs out of direct sunlight. In Phoenix during the summer it only takes a couple days to dry most herbs. I also have Peppermint, Rosemary, and sage drying here.
My Storage Method
Once they are dry I like to crush the leaves and store them in my spice drawer. I use baby food jars upside down with labels on the bottom because I like to see the herbs and spices (looks like I need to replenish a few). It is important to store herbs in a dark place because light degrades their volatile oils.
The best way I have found to crush the herbs is to do it using a paper towel. Simply place the herbs on the towel and then fold it and squeeze the bundle until all the leaves are off.
Then pick up the paper towel and crush all the leaves and pour them into your storage container. No mess!
Now they are ready to use in any recipe or for tea. If you would like to have a powdered Mexican Oregano, Grind the leaves in a coffee grinder designated for herbs. Just wipe the grinder out afterward so you don’t mix flavors.
When you grow your own herbs, you will always have enough fresh or dried on hand if you harvest as they grow.