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Cuban Oregano or Coleus amboinicius, is not native to Cuba and is not oregano. This fragrant semi-succulent perennial plant is likely native to Africa or India. It has a lovely and distinctive oregano-like flavor and odor. Some say that the aroma of the leaves is a pungent combination of the aromas of oregano, thyme, and turpentine.
Cuban oregano is cultivated throughout the tropical world. Some adore it for its culinary properties and others for its medicinal value. Also, it makes an attractive ornamental plant. It is a low-maintenance plant that can be grown in containers or a garden. Side note, the ornamental coleus, widely known by gardeners for their gorgeous and varied foliage, is a close cousin to the Cuban oregano.
How to Identify Cuban Oregano
Cuban oregano grows one to three feet in height. On the higher end, if you are growing it outdoors in a warm climate. It has a stem similar to succulent plants, with new growth providing greener and more delicate stems.
The edible leaves are round, thick, with a distinct velvety touch. Also, the green leaves are serrated along the edges, and some varieties have variegated colors and deeply toothed margins. Towards the end of the cooler months of the year, the plant produces flowers. These pink, purple, or white flowers tend to attract bees and butterflies to the garden.
Where Does Cuban Oregano Grow
The Cuban oregano is a tender perennial. Given that this plant is native, it is hardy only in USDA Zones 10 and 11. In North America, it will survive winters in the warmest areas of California, Florida, Hawaii, and Texas.
In these areas, you can freely grow Cuban oregano outside year-round. Elsewhere, you can grow it outside during the frost-free months or on a sunny windowsill. In locations with hot and humid summers, Cuban oregano grows vigorously. The plant can easily grow one foot or more each growing season.
Uses of Cuban Oregano
Use this powerful seasoning carefully, as its flavor can overpower any dish. It has a strong menthol or camphor scent that becomes intense you crush it. The flavor complements poultry, lamb, and beef dishes. Use it fresh or dried when cooking.
In India, the common name of this plant is Indian borage. They use it to flavor fish curries and mutton dishes. Throughout the tropical world, various cultures use this plant in sauces and marinades. For example, in Latin America, they find a valuable place in some salsa and sofrito dishes.
In Chinese medicine Cuban oregano is known as, dao shou xiang, which translates to “makes the hands fragrant.” Cuban oregano soothes digestion and relaxes spasms. Also, it is thought to have antibiotic, expectorant, and laxative effects.
Locals use the leaves to prepare a home remedy for fever, sore throat, and cold in Kerala. The leaves are usually boiled with other herbs to make a medical concoction.
How to Grow Cuban Oregano
Cuban oregano is a fast-growing tender perennial plant. It can be grown indoors in pots or outdoors in the gardens.
Being native to the tropics, it is hardy in USDA Zones 10 to 11. In North America, it will survive winters in the warmest areas of California, Florida, Hawaii, and Texas. In these areas, you can freely grow Cuban oregano outside year-round.
Elsewhere, you can grow it outside during the frost-free months or on a sunny windowsill. In locations with hot and humid summers, Cuban oregano grows vigorously. The plants grow 1 ft (30 cm) or more during the growing season.
Where to Find Cuban Oregano Seeds
Though not typically grown by seed, they are available online. Buy online is a good option for those who cannot find the plant in their local nursery. Such might be the case for most gardeners in North America due to the exotic origin of this plant.
You can buy seeds from CaribbeanGardenSeeds.com. They offer a variety of seeds for plants that are indispensable in Caribbean cuisine.
Another good source for Cuban oregano seeds is Artie’s Home website. They are a home and décor marketplace that sells a variety of home and garden items.
You can also try to get some seeds from ColonialCreekFarm.com. They specialize in herbs, scented geraniums, and perennials.
How to Plant Cuban Oregano
The fastest and most common way to grow your Cuban oregano plant is to purchase a young plant from a nursery. Or, if you know someone with this plant, because of its vigorous growth, they likely have plenty of it to spare, if that is the case you can easily take cuttings and root it.
Planting Cuban Oregano by Seed
Sow seeds in soils above 70ºF. Press seeds onto the surface of the soil, but do not cover the seeds. Sow one seed per inch. Keep moist until germination. Ensure that the spot or container receives full sun to partial shade. The seeds will germinate between 21 to 28 days. After the seeds germinate, and with true leaves, thin seedling 8 to 12 inches apart.
Propagating Cuban Oregano
You can propagate Cuban oregano cuttings in water with ease. Using a pair of sharp scissors, cut a four to a six-inch section of new growth from an existing plant. Trim the leaves from the bottom two or three inches. Then, place the cutting in a clear plastic cup or glass of freshwater.
Place the cup on a sunny windowsill indoors or in a sunny protected area outdoors. Be sure to change the water every two days to prevent bacteria build-up. Within two to four weeks, you will see new growth at the bottom of the cutting. The rooting period is often much faster. Cuban oregano almost always produces roots when propagated in water.
Once there is about an inch of root growth, the plant is ready to be placed in soil. Fill a six-inch deep pot with potting mix, create a hole in the center. Then, gently place the rooted cutting inside. Make sure to bury the new roots and the bottom two to three inches of the stem.
Water the propagated plant thoroughly. You can keep it indoors in a sunny windowsill or outdoors in a protected area until the plant shows healthy new growth. Once the plant appears to be striving, you can plant it outdoors or in a bigger container. Just remember that if your area is below zone 10, it may not survive the first frost or freeze.
Cuban Oregano Soil and Watering Needs
Cuban oregano is relatively low-maintenance. It is drought-tolerant. Cuban oregano loves rocky, loamy, and sandy soils at low elevations. This plant prefers well-drained soil, with occasional watering. One inch of water each week should be enough. Be sure to allow the top inch of soil to dry out between watering.
Cuban Oregano Fertilizing Needs
You can fertilize Cuban oregano every three to four months in the spring and summer. Though, if you forgo fertilizing, the plant should be fine.
Cuban Oregano Light Needs
Cuban oregano does fine in full sun if planted in a warm and humid climate. But it also grows well in part-shade spots such as porches, patios, and courtyards with a few hours of morning light. Overall, ensure that it gets four to six hours of sun, preferably in the morning hours.
Cuban Oregano Diseases and Common Problems
Due to its potent scent, antifungal properties, and insect-repelling oils – Cuban oregano is rarely bothered by pests. Though, watch out for spider mites (Tetranychidae spp.). They feed off the leaves and can impact the health of the plant if left unchecked.
Companion Plantings for Cuban Oregano
Cuban oregano grows well in containers alongside other partial shade-loving plants. Some excellent companion planting choices are begonia, impatiens, fuchsia, and coleus. However, Cuban oregano will outgrow its container in just a few months.
Answer: Cuban oregano is very easy to grow. It grows quickly, and you can enjoy this plant throughout the summer. It is not too fussy about water, soil, or light.
Answer: Harvest the leaves whenever you are ready to use them. It is a fast-growing plant that constantly provides new stems and leaves. Even if you cut it back after a robust late-spring early summer growth, it will soon get a multitude of new foliage.
Answer: In zones 10 – 11, Cuban oregano is a perennial. Elsewhere, if grown outside, it will likely die from frosts and freezes. But, it can survive indoors for multiple growing seasons.
Answer: No, it is not. Humans can consume as much as they please – but sadly, it is toxic to cats, dogs, and horses.
Answer: You can use this plant to make a rich herbal tea. You can add lemon or honey. Also, it is a tasty addition to a salsa dish. BodhiBasics.com sells seeds, and they also have a few recipes.
Final Thoughts on Cuban Oregano
This pungent tropical herb may not be common in North America, but it is worth planting either in the garden or as a container. Cuban oregano grows fast and requires little attention. Just place it in a sunny spot, with occasional watering, and it will take care of you. In the best-case scenario, you will adore the pungent aroma and flavor of this herb. In the worst-case scenario, you end up with a beautiful insect-repelling ornamental plant.