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Add Some Spice With Plectranthus

Call it whatever you want, but chances are you will love Plectranthus amboinicus. It is an herb with many names, including Mexican mint, Indian borage, Spanish thyme, and big thyme. I know it as Cuban oregano, though it did not originate in Cuba. In fact, in Cuba it is commonly called French oregano! Nor is it oregano. A member of the mint family, the leaves emit a powerful aroma when crushed or rubbed against. The scent is a cross between sage and oregano, but the plant is more closely related to coleus than to either sage or oregano. It is not a surprise that one can find the plant also listed as Coleus amboinicus

Native to southern and eastern Africa, plectranthus is used as a culinary herb in many parts of the world. It can be substituted for sage or oregano and is used in salsas, salad dressings, herb breads, and stuffing for meats. The peppery taste of the raw leaves becomes sweet when cooked, and in India they are often battered and fried. Traditionally, this herb has many medicinal uses as well. A tea can be made from the leaves that is useful for sore throats, headache, cough, and various viral infections.

Well! All that, and I grow it because it is beautiful. It is available in plain and variegated forms. I love this variegated form of Cuban oregano. The leaves and stems are somewhat hairy.This specimen is planted in partial sun in my woodland garden.

Cuban oregano also grows on my patio in an herb pot along with dill and mint.
Last year I grew Cuban oregano as a companion to other plants in a large container.While primarily a foliage plant, plectranthus does produce delicate pink or blue flowers in late summer to early fall. It can grow up to 20 inches tall and may have a sprawling habit, making it perfect to spill over the edge of a hanging basket or pot. Allowed to spread, it makes a good ground cover. It does best in sun to shade in moist soil with lots of organic matter. Unpalatable to deer, Plectranthus is usually pest free. Cuban oregano is hardy in zones 9-11. It is quite cold sensitive, but in cooler regions it can overwinter as an attractive houseplant. Cuttings root easily in damp soil or water.

Special note: Thanks is due to Elephant's Eye, a South African blogger whose suggestion prompted this post. This one is for you, Diana! 

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Reader Comments (20)

This is a standard plant sold in garden centres in the UK for putting in containers and hanging baskets which, as you say, will usually die in the winter. I don't remember what it was called but certainly not any of the names you know it by, Some mild winters it did survive. It would be useful here in containers as I like the way it sends out its strong growth. Christina

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

As Christina says, we know it as a plant for hanging baskets. It looks rather like apple mint so would be wary of putting it in the border, in case it decided to take over. Although, if it isn't hardy, then it shouldn't be a problem, is it hardy with you? Nice leaf !!

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Looks good enough to eat..

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGreggo

I think your two readers are thinking of South Africa's Plectranthus madagascariensis. A similar variegated cream and white leaf. But edible? Not that I have ever heard. Plectranthus is part of the mint family, but your readers will need to make sure if they have your herb or my ornamental.
The leaves are very similar, but it is a huge family! South Africa has 44 species of Plectranthus. I am investigating, and will let you know if any of our species is edible too.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElephant's Eye

Well, I don't know this plant at all, but it is very pretty!

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

HI Deb, thanks for such lovely comments on my blog. I seem to be on a tangent photography wise, and blog wise, sometimes it's good to go down another road.

I hear you about the body that feels older, mine does odd things too...

Funny when I read Cuban oregano I thought of a completely different plant, but yours are lovely. We had a very silver one at the nursery, I just can't remember the variety.

Jen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

I once grew a plant called Cuban oregano that had big, thick, fuzzy leaves. I wonder if it is the same plant. Your container planting is beautiful!

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCasa Mariposa

I adore the leaves of this unique herb...I will have to seek it out.

Hi Deb, I have this plant in a hanging basket that I purchased, but did not know its name or background. Now that I know more, I may take a cutting and overwinter it indoors.

May 19, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer

A deer doesn't like it? Plus, it's pretty? Sold!

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTatyana

I've not seen this much in garden centres if at all. Will look out for it now. Believe its also called broad Silver spurflower. Having an aromatic trailer is brilliant for containers or front of border where the accidental brush releases the fragrance. Great one for Diana's dozen

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura@PatioPatch

I only know this as Plectranthus - and a favorite of mine for shady containers. The variegated form is a wonderful alternative to the ubiquitous ivy and I love the way it sort of meanders through a design. Although it isn't always available in the outdoor plant section of nurseries it can often be purchased as an indoor plant. Even as a 2" 'stuffer' it can really add some foliage sparkle to an otherwise plain design.

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterKaren Chapman

I grow Mona Lavender plecanthrus, but it isn't hardy here, so I keep overwintering it in a pot inside. It stays green all winter, and when it blooms in late summer, it's beautiful!

May 20, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRobinL

I grow this in far north tropical Australia. I didn't realize it grew in so many other areas. Regular oregano will not grow here, and neither will sage and I find this can be used in recipes calling for either sage or oregano. such a useful plant.

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAfricanaussie

It looks beautiful - you have inspired me to try to get my hands on some.
I have read that rabbits don't like Cuban Oregano either (not that it means anything to a hungry bunny).

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterThe Gardening Shoe

Just to add, the variegated Cuban oregano looks really lovely!

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Looks like my first post got lost! We just brought back a couple of Plectranthus from our holiday in Cornwall and they are both planted out now. Looking forward to how they will look like after a few weeks as they are lovely plants!

May 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Here in Italy this plant is sold like 'the incense plant' and grown as a annual. The smell is identical to church incense, it reminds me when I used to go to Mess as a child. They only burn incense during special Messes, or funerals and the smell is totally different from the indian incense sticks you buy. Very nice planting on your last year's pot, you should repeat it!

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto

It's wonderful! I gave some away for Christmas and got wonderful feedback from those who used the leaves for their dishes.

May 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBom

The Kirstenbosch horticulturalist has answered my email. Our Plectranthus madagascariensis is NOT eaten.

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