Skip to main content

Oregano vs. Mexican oregano: What their differences are and why it matters

In the culinary world, Mexican oregano and oregano can sometimes be confused for one another. While browsing the grocery store, you may toss one in your cart when you’re working with a recipe that calls for the other herb — it’s an easy mistake! At the end of the day, your recipe won’t be totally ruined if you use them interchangeably, but these flavorful and easygoing herbs do bring different things to the table. If you’re wondering what makes them distinct and why the nuances matter, keep reading ahead.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Mexican oregano vs. oregano

Is oregano the same as Mexican oregano? Not quite. Though they look similar with their flat leaves and purple flowers, Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) and oregano (Origanum vulgare) are different plants altogether. They might, on the surface, look similar, however, and they actually share flavor and aroma compounds called “terpenes.” Both can also be grown as either container-bound herbs indoors or groundcover herbs outdoors. But they do differ in how they look and grow.

A closer look may help you distinguish details between these herbs. Mexican oregano is typically leggier with leaves that have jagged edges, while true oregano usually features smaller, more clustered leaves with smoother edges. In terms of origin, Mexican oregano comes from Mexico and parts of South America, while true oregano, or European or Mediterranean oregano, is native to parts of southwestern Europe and Asia. In your garden, Mexican oregano will spread six feet and shoot up six feet in height, so it appreciates space to grow. True oregano, on the other hand, spreads around two feet and grows 1.5 feet tall.

Mexican oregano and true oregano in dishes

Mexican oregano is part of the verbena family, featuring a floral and citrusy flavor. When it comes to culinary uses, it’s excellent for Latin dishes, pairing especially well with chilis in chili, salsa, and adobo. It’s sometimes brewed as tea, which is why it’s sometimes called té de pais, or “country tea.” Mediterranean oregano, on the other hand, is part of the origanum family and is more closely related to mint. Featuring a sweet and peppery flavor, it often goes on pizza and pasta as extra garnish.

Can you substitute oregano for Mexican oregano?

One ingredient won’t make or break a recipe, but oregano and Mexican oregano offer different flavors. You can substitute oregano for Mexican oregano, but the taste may be different from what you’re looking for. Mexican oregano, in fact, tends to be stronger and earthier, so less is more if you’re substituting it for traditional oregano. Instead of true oregano, marjoram and lemon verbena will give you more of the citrus note you may be looking for.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

How to grow Mexican oregano and oregano

Although different in flavor, Mexican oregano and oregano share relatively similar care requirements. Here’s what you need to know to keep each thriving throughout the growing season.

How to care for Mexican oregano

Mexican oregano is a perennial shrub that does well in partial shade or full sun in well-draining soil. It can be grown from seeds, cuttings, or root division, so sourcing it isn’t difficult. While it appreciates deep watering in well-draining soil, it’s also relatively drought tolerant. Blooms appear in the summer, which is when you should start cutting back on the foliage — which you can dry out to use in your favorite recipes! Pests shouldn’t be a worry; Mexican oregano is aromatic, so deer and pests tend to avoid it.

How to care for oregano

Oregano thrives in full sun in well-draining soil. You’ll have the best luck growing plants from cuttings or divided roots when the temperatures are above 70 degrees Fahrenheit in spring or fall. As with Mexican oregano, it can resist bouts of drought — in fact, overwatering may actually cause root rot. Oregano appreciates regular trimming to branch out, so you can cut and use it throughout the growing season. Like Mexican oregano, oregano is relatively pest resistant, although you may occasionally encounter spider mites or aphids.

Where can you buy Mexican oregano?

If you’re looking for Mediterranean or Mexican oregano to use in a pinch, you can search for them at your supermarket. Mediterranean oregano is often a staple in grocery stores, but Mexican oregano may be harder to find. You can usually find Mexican oregano in dry form (as it’s often used) at Latin markets. If you can’t get Mexican oregano at a local supermarket, you can always find it online and have it shipped right to your door.

Sharing similar appearances and some flavor notes, oregano and Mexican oregano actually feature differences that make each suitable for specific dishes. Your sweet, anise-flavored true oregano will kick up your pizza and pasta, while citrusy, earthy Mexican oregano will brighten up chili and salsa. At the end of the day, both are prolific growers that are easy to care for. And if you can’t grow them in time for your recipe, you’ll often be able to find them at your grocery store or online in a pinch!

Editors' Recommendations

Stacey Nguyen
Stacey's work has appeared on sites such as POPSUGAR, HelloGiggles, Buzzfeed, The Balance, TripSavvy, and more. When she's…
5 tips for starting an amazing basement garden
While intimidating, setting up a DIY basement garden is definitely possible
A person potting plants

A basement garden, though not thought of often, can be a wonderful addition to your home — especially during the winter. A basement greenhouse is a great way to overwinter your plants, as it ensures that all of your work won't go to waste just because the weather's cooling down.

Whether you have a furnished or unfurnished basement, it’s possible to designate a specific area for growing plants indoors. Though potentially costly, it can be a good alternative if you aren’t ready to commit to (or don’t have the space for) a regular outdoor greenhouse.

Read more
This DIY Mason jar herb garden is the perfect weekend project
How to get fresh herbs from a jar year-round
Herbs in Mason jars

Those new to indoor gardening may find it challenging to get started on growing edible plants inside, but this endeavor is a lot easier than you might think. One straightforward and fun way to get started on kitchen container gardening is putting together a DIY Mason jar herb garden. This project is accessible in every way — in addition to being relatively uncomplicated, it's also affordable and quick to assemble. Plus, you'll get a beautiful result and a consistent supply of fresh herbs at the end. If you've always wanted to try growing herbs in Mason jars, keep reading to learn how.

What materials you'll need
For this project, you'll need four items: a Mason jar, bag of potting mix, supply of rocks or pebbles, and packet of seeds. Part of the appeal with Mason or glass jars is that you can see your plants root and grow over time. While Mason jars are relatively inexpensive, you can also save money by upcycling glass containers that previously stored pasta sauce or jam. Since you do want the roots to have space, make sure your jar is at least 4 inches long. The bigger your vessel, the more room your plants will have to grow.

Read more
Gardening 101: 7 easy seeds to grow in cups for a tiny, adorable, and low-maintenance indoor garden
How to choose seeds to start inside of cups
Two hands side by side, one holding seeds the other holding a seedling

Many gardeners start seeds indoors during the last weeks of winter or early spring to get a head start on the growing season. Vegetables, flowers, and even fruit trees can be started this way. If you want to start your seeds indoors, but don't have anything to plant them in, why not try growing your seeds in plastic cups?

Recycling these cups provides the perfect temporary (or even permanent) homes for your plants, and you'll get the cutest container garden in the process. In this guide to easy seeds to grow in cups, we'll explain how to choose your seeds, care for them, and avoid common pitfalls.

Read more