The joy and beauty of the garden , Oregano.

Origanum dictamnus, Dittany of Crete

The word Oregano is derived from the Greek oros, meaning ‘mountain’ and ganos, meaning ‘joy’ and ‘beauty’, how right.  This is the most wonderful group of plants that not only look stunning at this time of year but are also useful in the kitchen  and very beneficial for bees and butterflies.

The leaves of this herb have a wonderful rounded flavour and a tea can be made from the leaves to ease an upset  stomach.   Sadly this  oregano, is now endangered in the wild.  To grow it in the UK you must plant it in a very well drained soil as otherwise our wet winters will cause it to rot.

Another wonderful oregano in this group is  Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ much beloved by bees.

Origanum ‘Kent Beuaty’

These amazing bracts which surround the small flowers turn an even deeper shade of pink as the flowers fade.

The bracts dry beautifully making them ideal for dried flower arrangements and a wonderful Christmas presents for friends.

Origanum ‘Jekka’s Beauty’

This oregano I found as a seedling growing  along side  Origanum dictamnus.  I propagated it and found that it ran true from cuttings so named it Origanum ‘Jekka’s Beauty’.   The leaves of this oregano are also hairy, just like O. dictamnus, and they also have a good culinary flavour.

With all these special, beautiful, Oregano’s it is essential to cut them back hard after flowering so that they make a new crown of leaves which will then help the plant survive the winter months.  You will then  be rewarded with a spectacular display  in the following summer.

Lemon Verbena, Aloysia citriodora

Now that the clocks have changed and the weather has transformed from winter to high spring over night,  it is the ideal time to prune your Lemon Verbena.

Be brave, cut back hard to just above a leaf bud or to where they will eventually form; they are easily visible on the stem.

By doing this now you will be rewarded with masses of new growth in the summer.

This will then give you masses of leaves too make  the wonderful tisane which is called ‘Verveine’ in France.

Alternatively you can make one my families favourites

Lemon Verbena Crème Brulee

My mother made the best crème brulee. Alistair, my son,  has inherited her passion for them and always rates restaurants and cooks on how well they make them. This is a wonderful recipe; the flavour with its hint of lemon sherbet makes this brulee very special.

Serves 4, Preheat Oven to 140°C/275F/gas mark 1

225ml milk

1 handful of lemon verbena leaves finely chopped, ( reserve 4 whole leaves for use as garnish)

7 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

60ml double cream

50g demerara sugar

Put the milk in a pan with the chopped lemon verbena leaves, bring to simmering point, remove from the heat and then leave to cool and infuse. Place the egg yolks in a bowl with the caster sugar and whisk until pale and thick. Add the cooled infused milk and cream, whisk well. Pass through a fine meshed sieve.  Ladle the mixture into 4 ramekin dishes and set them in a roasting pan. Pour in enough water to come three quarters the way up the side of the ramekins, pop into the pre heated oven and  cook for 1 hour or until set. Leave to cool and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Just before serving, sprinkle the demerara sugar over the top and caramelise with either a blow torch or by putting them under a hot grill. Decorate with some fresh lemon verbena leaves.

Recipe taken from Jekka’s Herb Cook Book

Bon Appetite

All photographs and text are  © Jekka McVicar 2012.  Please do not use without permission.