What is Mexican Oregano? (3 Interesting Facts)


Are you wondering what Mexican oregano is and what to do with it?  Are you curious about how it compares to other herbs, such as Mediterranean oregano or Cuban oregano?  I was curious too, so I did some research to learn more.

So, what is Mexican Oregano?  Mexican oregano is a flowering plant in the verbena family.  It is a shrub that can grow 3 to 9 feet tall.  The leaves of Mexican oregano are harvested, dried, and used as an herb to flavor many traditional Mexican foods, including chili, beans, meat, and fish.

Of course, Mexican oregano is not to be confused with other popular herbs, such as “regular” (Mediterranean) oregano, Cuban oregano, or Epazote.  They are all different herbs with different flavors!

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at Mexican oregano, where it comes from, and what it is used for.  We’ll also compare it to some other common herbs, including Mediterranean oregano.

Let’s dive in.

What is Mexican Oregano?

According to Wikipedia, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolons) is a flowering plant in the verbena family (which includes lemon verbena).  It is a shrub that can grow 3 to 9 feet (0.9 to 27 meters) tall, with white or yellow flowers.

Mexican Oregano flowers
Mexican Oregano flowers. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Lippia_graveolens,_known_as_Mexican_Oregano_(11628265214).jpg

Mexican oregano is native to Texas, New Mexico, Mexico, and parts of Central America.  Mexican oregano has many other names, and may also be called:

  • Redbrush lippia
  • Oregano Cimmaron
  • Scented lippia
  • Scented matgrass
  • Mexican wild sage
  • Oregano Mexicano
  • Puerto Rican Oregano
  • Desert Oregano

Mexican oregano favors hot climates with sandy soil and prefers places where it can get full sunlight.  Since it is native to hot, dry regions, it can survive droughts and is sensitive to frost.

You can grow Mexican oregano outdoors if the temperatures stay above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius) year round.  You can also grow it in containers, such as grow bags or pots.

You can learn more about grow bags in my article here.

What is Mexican Oregano Used For?

According to Oregon State University, Mexican oregano is used for flavoring, medicine, and for ornamental purposes.

The leaves of Mexican oregano are dried after harvest for long-term storage.  The leaves are sometimes used to make tea, which is popular as a remedy to treat cough and respiratory infections.

Mexican Oregano
Mexican Oregano, in dried herb form. It is used as a seasoning in Mexican dishes and for making tea.
Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mexican_Oregano_(5200441431).jpg

The dried leaves of Mexican oregano are also used as an herb in traditional Mexican cuisine to flavor many foods, including:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Chili
  • Soup

Mexican oregano is somewhat similar to “traditional” or Mediterranean oregano.  It is a little sweet and also has a citrus/lime flavor, similar to cilantro.

Where Do I Find Mexican Oregano?

It can be a little tricky to find Mexican Oregano at some grocery stores.  However, you can order it both in small amounts and in bulk quantities online.

You can find both dried Mexican Oregano leaves and live Mexican Oregano plants online.

Here is a listing on Etsy offering dried Mexican oregano leaves.

Here is a listing on Colonial Creek Farm offering Mexican Oregano plants (they are hardy in USDA Zones 9 through 11).

You can find your hardiness zone on this map from the USDA.

What is the Difference between Mexican Oregano and Oregano?

Mexican oregano and oregano (also called Mediterranean oregano) are both flowering plants whose leaves are harvested, dried, and used as herbs to flavor food for cooking.

Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolons) is from the verbena family, while oregano (Origanum vulgare) is from the mint family.  The two look similar, but the flavors are different.

Mexican oregano has a stronger flavor and is less bitter and less minty than oregano.  Mexican oregano also has a citrus or lime flavor that oregano does not have.

According to the University of Arizona:

“As compared to the Mexican oregano, the Mediterranean product is a smaller leaf of some-what lighter green color and milder, sweeter flavor.”

https://cals.arizona.edu/fps/sites/cals.arizona.edu.fps/files/cotw/Oregano.pdf

Mexican oregano also has higher essential oil content than oregano, at around 3% to 4%.  Mexican oregano is used in traditional Mexican dishes, including beans, meat, and fish.

On the other hand, Mediterranean oregano is most familiar when paired with tomatoes as pizza or pasta sauce.

Oregano
Mediterranean oregano is used in pizza and pasta sauces, and sometimes to season other dishes in Italian cuisine.

The table below shows the differences between Mexican oregano and Mediterranean oregano at a glance.

Mediterranean
oregano
Mexican
oregano
Origanum vulgareLippia graveolons
Mediterranean
and parts of Asia
and Europre
Texas, New Mexico,
Mexico, parts of
Central America
can grow 8 to 32
inches tall
can grow 3 to 9
feet tall
green leavesgreen leaves
purple flowerswhite or yellow
flowers
warm climate with
full sunlight
hot, dry climate
with sandy soil.
frost sensitive.
savory, but without
citrus flavor
spicy and a little
sweet, with a lime
or citrus flavor
used as an herb in
traditional Italian
cuisine, including
pizza/pasta sauce
used as an herb
to flavor meat,
fish, beans,
chili, soup
also called Wild
Marjoram or
Origanum
also called desert
oregano or Puerto
Rican Oregano
A side-by-side comparison of Mediterranean Oregano and Mexican Oregano.

What is Oregano?

According to Wikipedia, oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a flowering plant in the mint family.  It is a perennial herb, and can grow 8 to 32 inches (20 to 80 centimeters) tall with purple flowers.

oregano plant
Oregano, or Mediterranean Oregano, is a perennial herb with purple flowers.

Oregano is native to some parts of Europe and Asia, including the Mediterranean region (hence its name “Mediterranean Oregano).  Oregano is also called:

  • Origanum
  • Wild marjoram (not to be confused with its cousin, sweet marjoram)

Oregano is a perennial plant, meaning that it will come back year after year, provided frost does not finish it off in the winter.  It prefers dry soil with a pH between 6.0 and 9.0, and does best in full sun (meaning it needs 8 or more hours of sunlight per day).

Oregano is an annual if you grow it outdoors, since it likely won’t survive the cold during the winter, especially in northern regions.  You can also opt to grow oregano as a perennial indoors, using containers such as pots or grow bags.

Oregano is sometimes called the “pizza herb”, since it pairs well with tomatoes in pizza and pasta sauce.  However, it can also be used for meat, fish, and vegetables.

Roma tomatoes
Oregano pairs well with tomatoes, as in pizza and pasta sauces.

Personally, I like to fry eggs in olive oil, add some stewed tomatoes, and throw in some oregano for seasoning.

Can I Use Regular Oregano Instead of Mexican Oregano?

You can use regular oregano instead of Mexican oregano in a pinch, but these two herbs are not exactly the same.  Remember that Mexican Oregano has a zesty lime or citrus flavor that oregano does not have.

So, you might want to add some lime or coriander to replace the citrus flavor that would be missing with regular oregano.  On its own, regular oregano is not a perfect substitute for Mexican Oregano.

You can also try using marjoram with lime or coriander as a substitute for Mexican Oregano.  Marjoram has a similar flavor, but like regular oregano, it lacks the citrus flavor of Mexican Oregano.

Is Mexican Oregano the Same as Cuban Oregano?

Mexican oregano is not the same as Cuban oregano.  The two herbs come from different plants and have different flavor profiles.

The leaves of Cuban oregano have a scent that is a mixture of oregano, thyme, and turpentine.  The flavor of Cuban oregano is similar to oregano, but with a stronger mint flavor.

This differs from the citrus flavor present in Mexican oregano.

What is Cuban Oregano?

According to Wikipedia, Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) is a perennial plant in the Lamiaceae family.  It can grow up to 3 feet (1 meter) tall.

Cuban Oregano
Cuban Oregano is an herb that can grow up to 3 feet tall.

According to the University of Florida, the leaves of Cuban oregano are thick and succulent.  They are covered with hairs and have a grayish green color.

Cuban oregano is native to southern and eastern Africa.  Cuban oregano is also called:

  • Indian borage
  • Indian mint
  •  Mexican mint
  • Soup mint
  • French thyme
  • Spanish thyme

Cuban oregano grows in woodland and coastal areas, and it prefers to grow well-draining soil and partial shade.  It is frost tender, and grows best in tropical or subtropical areas.  It does not need much water.

According to the North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Cuban oregano is hardy in Zones 10 and 11 in the U.S.  You can find your hardiness zone in this map from the USDA.

However, you can grow Cuban oregano in cooler areas if you grow it in a container indoors in the winter.  Cuban oregano is used in cooking to flavor meat and fish.

Is Mexican Oregano the Same as Epazote?

Mexican oregano is not the same as Epazote.  The two herbs come from different plants and they have different flavor profiles.

The leaves of Epazote have a scent that is like turpentine or creosote.  The flavor of Epazote is citrus, savory, and minty.

What is Epazote?

According to Wikipedia, Epazote is an annual herb native to South America, Central America, and southern Mexico.  It can grow up to 3.9 feet (1.2 meters) tall.

Epazote has small green flowers, and can be used for tea or as an herb for flavoring food.  Other names for Epazote include:

  • Wormseed
  • Jesuit’s Tea
  • Mexican Tea
  • Payqu

Conclusion

Now you know what Mexican oregano is and what it is used for.  You also know how it stacks up to other herbs, like Mediterranean oregano, Cuban oregano, and Epazote.

I hope you found this article helpful.  If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.

If you want to read some of my most popular posts, check out the “Best of GreenUpSide” page here.  Enjoy!

~Jonathon

jonathon.david.madore

Hi, I'm Jonathon. I’m the gardening guy (not guru!) who is encouraging everyone to spend more time in the garden. I try to help solve common gardening problems so that you can get the best harvest every year!

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