photo of the flowering tips of Origanum syriacum by Yasmina Zahar
Bassatin Baanoub grow their oregano on land rented from a monastery, tucked away at the end of a dirt track, in the south of Lebanon. Mentioned in writing for the first time on stone tablets from the Hittite dynasty (1600-1200BC), its use hasn’t changed a great deal over time. Its importance is reflected in the fact that farmers have to acquire an export licence to be able to sell their crop.
how is it used in Lebanon?
It’s hard to overstate the importance of Origanum syriacum to Lebanon. Not only is it a key ingredient in the za’atar mix, but it’s been used for many centuries for its health benefits. Picked in August, it is laid on sheets during the heat of the summer. Once the leaves have been picked off, the remaining stems are used as compost under plants.
photo of oregano drying on sheets in the sun by Yasmina Zahar
As a dried herb, the oregano can be used to make a distillation. Some mountain farmers still use a traditional alembic to draw out the essential oils into the distillate. The resulting liquid is taken to soothe gastrointestinal problems as well as coughs and colds. People buy this, as well as other distillates, from small producers at places like the souk el tayeb in Beirut.
jars and bottles of “mouneh” – preserved foods found in the souk el tayeb in Beirut
add the aroma of Lebanon to you kitchen!
The aroma released from oregano as it cooks will summon hungry souls to the kitchen. Butter beans will absorb the fragrance as they’re gently fried in extra virgin olive oil and oregano. As an addition to a tomato sauce, you won’t need much. Rachel Roddy, in Five Quarters, suggests roasting tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil with some garlic. Adding a tablespoon of oregano half way through the cooking fills the kitchen with the heavy scent of the Lebanese mountains.