Cuban oregano loves lots of direct sunlight | Photos by the writer
Cuban oregano loves lots of direct sunlight | Photos by the writer

On the way from Jhang to Toba Tek Singh, we stopped for a cup of tea and a delicious, savoury treat known as ajwaain pakorray or carom seed fritters.

Later, I learnt that the fritters did not contain carom seeds. Instead, the entire leaf of Cuban oregano is used in these fritters because of its pronounced taste and aroma. Cuban oregano is often mistaken for carom seeds, mostly in Punjab.

Also known as Indian borage, Mexican mint and Spanish thyme, Cuban oregano is referred to as ajwaain in our local nurseries and gardening stores.

Cuban oregano is not true oregano that is used as a seasoning in pizzas and pastas. Neither is it mint (Mentha), borage (Borago), or thyme (Thymus). Instead, it’s Coleus amboinicus, a species of the coleus plant. It has a strong aroma and an equally strong taste.

Cuban oregano can add year-round flavour to your dishes, while its potent oils are mosquito repellents

The aroma of Cuban oregano is twice as strong and hence it is used for fritters, in tea and as a seasoning for the extra kick in several cuisines. It may seem to be a magnified, aromatic version of oregano, but Cuban oregano belongs to the coleus species.

This semi-succulent, hardy, easy-to-grow and low-maintenance, perennial herb belongs to the family Lamiaceae. Being an invasive plant, it can tolerate neglect and can survive on minimal watering. At home, it should be grown in a pot or a container rather than in the ground or empty spaces, because it propagates very easily and will leave no space for other plants to grow.

You can grow it from a seed, but propagation is one of the easiest and most favourable methods. Small containers, bags or plastic pots of three- to four-inch size may be used, which will make transplanting the young plant into a bigger space easy. A stem of around four to six inches with five to six nodes would suffice for propagation.

Aromatic Cuban oregano leaves
Aromatic Cuban oregano leaves

In this method, the stems are planted in the soil. Soon tiny roots grow out from the nodes on the stems. Once the roots develop completely, there is growth of new leaves and shoots from the stem, and it is time to transplant it into a bigger container. The new pot or container size should be at least six to eight inches in both depth and width.

During transplanting, one need not worry about roots getting damaged, as the plant will still continue to thrive in favourable conditions. It is recommended that not just one, but a few stems are planted simultaneously, to compensate for any loss of cuttings through stem rot or fungal attack.

Small potted Cuban oregano plant
Small potted Cuban oregano plant

It is better to use organically rich potting mix for planting, which has a pH between 6 and 7.5. After shifting the plant to a bigger container, for the first few days, it should be kept in shade or under other plants to allow it to adjust to the new environment. Afterwards, it should gradually be shifted to its permanent position in sunlight. The plant grows in warm and humid conditions and flourishes well in zone 9 to zone 11. It can grow around two to four feet in height.

Every 10 to 15 days, the plant needs nitrogen-rich fertilisers, which may include decomposed cow manure or decomposed chicken manure. Keep the soil well drained, and vermi-compost may also be added. Since there is no fruiting, and the herb is not planted for its flowers, there is no need, therefore, for potassium or phosphorus-rich fertilisers. Rarely though, the plant may produce beautiful pinkish-purple flowers.

A rare Cuban oregano flower
A rare Cuban oregano flower

Compared to old and mature leaves, the young, green leaves are usually harvested for their strong aroma and better taste, but limited quantities should be used — the flavour is strong. The leaves can also be dried and stored for use later.

Traditionally, the method to dry the Cuban oregano leaves is to pluck the required number of leaves from the plant and make a small heap while tying the petiole part of all the leaves together. This bunch should be hanged in a cool, dry place with good aeration, to avoid mould or fungal attacks. Once dried, the leaves can be stored in an air-tight jar.

Alternatively, a time-saving and much easier method is to spread the leaves out in a tray and put in an oven, dehydrator or a microwave oven for a few seconds.

There are hardly any pest or disease attacks on the Cuban oregano plant. But one may spray the plant with organic pesticide fortnightly to fend off pest attacks or disease. Some people keep Cuban oregano plants in the house, as its potent oils help to repel mosquitoes.

The plant should be watered when the soil dries up completely. The pot should have drainage holes so that excess water is drained. It grows well in at least four to six hours of direct sunlight, from morning to noon.

Cuban oregano is a must-have herb for all new kitchen gardeners and highly recommended for adding more green to your kitchen garden.

Please send your queries and emails to kalishahid@hotmail.com. The writer is a physician and a host for the YouTube channel ‘DocTree Gardening’ promoting organic kitchen gardening

Published in Dawn, EOS, October 9th, 2022

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