I keep reading recipes that say "use Mexican oregano." Since I live in México, and buy oregano here, I always figured it WAS Mexican oregano. Then, I was visiting Lake Chapala, and went to a farm festival. They were selling plants of all kinds, including Mexican oregano, which has BIG leaves and doesn't look anything like the oregano we usually eat. I am astounded! This is an entirely different plant, as far as I can see. I didn't have the courage to steal a leaf and taste it, unfortunately. Nor could I take one home, since I was travelling by bus. Is this plant really that common up north? I don't think a botanist would even call this thing oregano. Does anyone know how it tastes, as compared with the oregano we all buy and use? So sorry I didn't try it!
Sigh. The Chowhound title is very misleading. Mexican oregano is Mexican. In part. Whether or not it should be called oregano is the real question. But, yes, we botanists do call it oregano; as that is the name used locally (origano). Mexican oregano is from the species Lippia graveolens, in the verbenaceae or verbena family. Quite close to the mint family, Lamiaceae or Labiatae, of the Greek or Mediterranean oregano. In fact, the two families are pretty artificial; carry-overs from the olden times when families were often divided into tropical and temperate types. Commercial "Mexican" oregano sold in the USA has long been mostly Lippia micromera, Lippia oreganioides or from other species found in Venezuela. There, it can form whole woodlands in the tropical desert (arid zones) near the coast. The Zonas Aridas de la Costa. Yes. Woodlands. It is a large bush to small tree. When there is an understory (ground cover), it is often cactus.
American oregano has a stronger flavor than European forms; and, the leaves have a distinct, sculpted edge ("toothed"). So, it is easy to identify even in a bottle or package. I find both kinds to be good; choosing one or the other either for its authenticity (say, Mediterranean dishes versus New World); or, for the particular flavor. Many Mediterranean dishes have American counterparts; in which I use the likes of European oregano, olives and olive oil for the former; and, Lippia, mixed fruits and manteca (lard) or a light sesame oil (Venezuela's culinary standard) for the latter. Lots of opportunity here for play!
It is not entirely clear whether the plant that you found at Lake Chapala is the 'Mexican oregano', or yet a third type. I wonder how easy it is to find true, Mediterranean oregano in Mexico.
From the Chow link provided by bushwickgirl:
"Mexican oregano (L. graveolens), a close relative of lemon verbena, has an intense aroma of oregano combined with the sweetness of licorice. The ridged leaves are slightly elongated and oval in shape with a somewhat hairy texture.... In Mexico, where it’s preferred over Mediterranean oregano, it’s used in pay de queso (cheesecake made with cream cheese and condensed milk) and to flavor tomato-based sauces, stews, and beans. "
I haven't seen the fresh leaf, but the dried leaves that I get in cello packages are consistent with this description. They are little dried bundles, not small broken flakes. When crushed they give off a very strong aroma.
In taquerias, this dried Mexican oregano is provided as a condiment along with diced onion and cilantro when you order menudo.
Here's an interesting link comparing the two:
and the usual Wiki link:
and a chow link!
This should explain it all. I use both Greek and Mexican oregano for different recipes.