While making my manicotti tonight, I received a painful reminder that the stuffing isn't actually the most tedious part of the process - it's pulling all the tiny leaves off the oregano stems. It seems as though the oregano I'm able to buy here is not fully grown; it's been like this for as long as I can remember.


Obviously the stems are stiff, and bitter, and generally no good to throw in the mix, at least not with any of the recipes I use. So I really need to get the leaves off the stems, and with this oregano, it's a painful process.

I've tried obvious routes, like "stripping" the leaves off the stems with my hands or a knife, but it doesn't really work. The stems are too hardy, and if I strip them hard enough to get the leaves off then I usually end up stripping the stem with it. And laying the stems flat on a cutting board and trying to chop the leaves off directly is almost impossible; the leaves are so tiny and irregularly distributed that it ends up taking longer than just pulling the things apart with my hands.

Am I missing something obvious? Is there a way to prepare these oregano leaves that's more fun than watching paint dry?

  • 2
    Leaving this as a comment because I have no idea how well it would actually work. Have you tried quickly blanching the plants? Or (this will sound silly) shaking the stems really vigourously? Alternatively. hold the stem and run a razor sharp knife along it.
    – daniel
    Oct 1, 2010 at 3:41
  • 1
    It might be the climate, and they need to a different variety in your area. But if you have a south-facing window that gets good light, with a windowsill that you can put a flower pot on, consider growing your own mexican or greek oregano -- it's really hearty stuff (even after you haven't watered it for a week, and it's been sitting in the 90F heat, it still comes back with some water).
    – Joe
    Oct 1, 2010 at 15:35

3 Answers 3


If you're using it in something long-simmering, like soup or spaghetti sauce, you can tie a bundle together (with cooking twine or unflavored dental floss) stems and all and toss it into the pot. As it cooks, most of the oregano leaves will fall off into the food and even those that don't will impart a lot of flavor into the dish. At the end, just pull out the bundle like you would bay leaves. I've never had trouble with the stems leaching bitter flavor when using this method.

  • This is a good thought. In this specific case I needed to chop up the leaves for use in a filling, so I wouldn't have been able to do this, but it will come in handy for sauces and the like.
    – Aaronut
    Oct 1, 2010 at 17:07

Are you sure you're talking about oregano? Oregano doesn't have tiny leaves, and it's quite simple to use the pinch and strip technique to take all the leaves off in one fell swoop. The hardy central stem is actually a benefit here because it's less likely to break when you do the pinch.

I found a video on youtube, jump to the one minute mark.

  • Wow, that does not look AT ALL like the oregano I buy here. I guess that must be part of the problem.
    – Aaronut
    Oct 1, 2010 at 2:44
  • @Aaronut: That's bizarre. Not even among the differing varieties of oregano do I find what I'd consider "tiny" leaves: google.com/images?q=oregano When I think tiny leaves the first thing that comes to mind is thyme.
    – hobodave
    Oct 1, 2010 at 3:03
  • Yes, I looked at the Google images too, that's when it suddenly dawned on me that the problem must be the oregano itself. I've added a picture. The thing is, all of the oregano here seems to look like that; I guess Ontario-grown oregano sucks.
    – Aaronut
    Oct 1, 2010 at 3:08
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    My home-grown oregano looks much like yours. I usually look for older (stiffer) stems, rinse well, then grasp near the top and strip down to the bottom using my fingers. It's always been quite easy. N.B. this stuff spreads rapidly so I don't mind wasting some if the stem breaks--just get another stem.
    – kajaco
    Oct 1, 2010 at 16:37
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    @Aaronut. I walk out the back door when I need them. Rinse. Strip. Chop (maybe). Use. Less than a minute. I don't dry them because they're just going to get wet as soon as I mix them in with whatever.
    – kajaco
    Oct 3, 2010 at 2:56

I agree with just sitting and picking the leaves off. It's no harder than shelling beans. Kind of therapeutic! Personally, I prefer the large fleshy Cuban oregano leaf. It's easy to work with and hard to kill when growing.

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