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Nutrition Basics


(Origanum Syriacum)

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  • zaatar plant (origanum syriacum)


    Zaatar is arabic and also known as Za'atar, Za'tar, Zatar, Zatr, Zattr, Zahatar, Zaktar or Satar, Origanum syriacum, Bible Hyssop, Syrian Oregano, Majorana syriaca, Wild Marjoram, Syrian Marjoram, Holy Hyssop, and Lebanese Oregano.

    The name Zaatar alone most properly applies to Origanum syriacum (syn. Majorana syrica). It is also the name for a condiment made from the dried herbs, mixed with sesame seeds, dried sumac, and often salt, as well as other spices. It is a generic name for a family of related Middle Eastern herbs from the genera Origanum (Oregano), Calamintha (Basil Thyme), Thymus (typically Thymus vularis, i.e., Thyme), and Satureja (Savory). . Used in Arab cuisine, both the herb and spice mixture are popular throughout the Middle East.

    zaatar, a blend of herbs, sesame and salt

    Written history lacks an early definitive reference to Zaatar as a spice mixture, though unidentified terms in the Yale Babylonian Collection may be references to spice blends. According to Ignace J. Gelb, an Akkadian language word that can be read sarsar may refer to a spice plant. This word could be attested in the Syriac satre, and Arabic za'atar (or sa'tar), possibly the source of Latin Satureia. Satureia (Satureja) is a common name for Satureja thymbra, a species of savory whose other common and ethnic names include, "Persian za'atar", "za'atar rumi" (Roman hyssop), and "za'atar franji" (European hyssop).

    Thymus capitatus (also called Satureja capitata) is a species of wild thyme found throughout the hills of the Levant and Mediterranean Middle East. Thyme is said to be a plant "powerfully associated with Palestine", and the spice mixture za'atar is common fare there. Thymbra spicata, a plant native to Greece to Israel, has been cultivated in North America by Syrian, Palestinian, and Lebanese immigrants for use in their za'atar preparations since the 1940s.

    Another species identified as "wild za'atar" (Arabic: za'atar barri) is Origanum vulgare, commonly known as European oregano, oregano, pot marjoram, wild marjoram, winter marjoram, or wintersweet. This species is also extremely common in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories, and is used by Palestinians to make one local variety of the spice mixture.

    Other Latin names for the herbs called Zaatar in Arabic include Origanum syriacum (also known as Bible Hyssop, Arabic Oregano and Wild Marjoram) and Origanum majorana (Sweet Marjoram). Both Oregano and Marjoram are closely related Mediterranean plants of the Lamiaceae family, so it is unsurprising that they could be used interchangeably.


    ZAATAR (Origanum syriacum) is a woody perennial native to the Middle East.

    This is a spicy smelling and tasting oregano-like herb that is the keystone herb in the condiment of the same name, which is used quite frequently by people living in the Middle east. You mix the dried and powdered herb with various other ingredients -- garlic, salt, olive oil, crushed sumac seeds, etc and use it on bread. Quite delicious and habit forming in a good way. Zaatar is one of the sources of the antiseptic essential oil known as carvacrol, which (along with other terpenoids such as thymol) inhibits several kinds of nasty bacteria (e.g. Pseudomonas aeruginosa) by eroding the bacterial cell wall.

    To grow the plant in your garden, it prefers full sun and sandy, fast-draining soil. It makes an abundant crop of leaves in the first growing season and will grow to a height of 3 feet or so. The plant is pollinated by bees. The flowers are small and white or pale pink. If you want wild zaatar in your kitchen garden by next summer, start seeds indoors over winter and wait (patiently!) for them to grow. They take a while to germinate and are slow growing. Transplant sturdy seedlings in the spring, and watch them take off just as your roots and tubers get going in the garden. Everything will be ready for harvest at the same time, so you can plan a few recipes around them, Make sure to harvest in the first year of growth as the overwintering of this plant is never a sure thing. If you are in a year-around growth zone without freezing, they will continue to grow with surprisingly little maintenance. The perennial herb does not seem bothered by pests, tolerates infrequent water and stays a silvery green year-around in frost-free zones. Seeds are available from various seed vendors such as SuburbanSeeds: Zaatar Heirloom Seeds (25 seeds per packet) (a non-affiliated source).


    Zaatar is generally prepared using ground dried Thyme, Oregano, Marjoram, or some combination thereof, mixed with toasted Sesame Seeds, and Salt, though other spices such as Sumac might also be added. Some commercial varieties also include roasted flour. Traditionally, housewives throughout the Fertile Crescent, Iraq, and the Arabian peninsula made their own variations of Zaatar, which was unknown in North Africa. In Morocco, Zaatar mix consumption is sometimes seen as a trait of families with Andalusian roots, such as many inhabitants of Fez. Recipes for such spice mixtures were often kept secret, and not even shared with daughters and other relatives. This general practice is cited by Western observers of Middle Eastern and North African culinary cultures as one reason for their difficulties in determining the names of the different spices used. Among Arab and Arabic-speaking Jewish families in Israel, Zaatar mix is often called "doqa", in reference to the dried Zaatar leaves traditionally being "pounded" in its preparation.

    Some varieties may add Savory, Cumin, Coriander or Fennel seed. One distinctively Palestinian variation of Zaatar includes Caraway seeds, while a Lebanese variety sometimes contains Sumac berries, and has a distinct dark red color. Like baharat (a typically Egyptian spice mix of ground Cinnamon, Cloves, and Allspice or Rosebuds) and other spice mixtures popular in the Arab world, Zaatar is high in anti-oxidants.

    Zaatar, both the herb and the condiment, is popular in Armenia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, and Turkey.


    Zaatar is traditionally dried in the sun and mixed with Salt, Sesame Seeds and Sumac. It is commonly eaten with pita, which is dipped in Olive Oil and then Zaatar. When the dried herb is moistened with olive oil, the spread is known as za'atar-wu-zayt or zeit ou za'atar (zeit or zayt, meaning "oil" in Arabic and "olive" in Hebrew). This mixture spread on a dough base and baked as a bread, produces manakeesh bi zaatar. In the Middle East, ka'ak (a soft sesame seed bread, known as ka'akh in Hebrew), is sold in bakeries and by street vendors with za'atar to dip into or with a za'atar filling.

    Zaatar is used as a seasoning for meats and vegetables or sprinkled onto hummus. It is also eaten with labneh (yogurt drained to make a tangy, creamy cheese), and bread and olive oil for breakfast, most commonly in Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, as well as other places in the Arab world. The Lebanese speciality shanklish, dry-cured balls of labneh, can be rolled in za'atar to form its outer coating.

    Fresh Zaatar, the herb itself, rather than the condiment, is also used in a number of dishes. Borek is a common bread pastry that can be stuffed with various ingredients, including za'atar. A salad made of fresh Zaatar leaves (Arabic: salatet al-zaatar al-akhdar) is also popular throughout the Levant. The recipe is a simple one consisting of fresh thyme, finely chopped onions, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. A traditional beverage in Oman consists of Zaatar steeped in boiling water to make an herbal tea. Westerners have begun to take notice of this exotic herb and now you will find it used on pizza, popcorn and baked potatoes. You might want to sprinkle a few spoonfuls of fresh Zaatar with carrots and potatoes and toss a small handful into soups and stews. If you want to make your own Zaatar spice blend, start with dried Zaatar from your own garden for the most flavorful blend. Te heady aroma also makes a good herb for an oil infusion.


    In the Levant, there is a belief that Zaatar makes the mind alert and the body strong. For this reason, children are encouraged to eat a Zaatar sandwich for breakfast before an exam or before school. This, however, is also believed to be a myth fabricated during the Lebanese civil war to encourage eating of Zaatar, as provisions were low at the time and Zaatar was of abundance. Maimonides (Rambam), a medieval rabbi and physician who lived in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt, prescribed Zaatar for its health advancing properties.

    More recent research confirms that Zaatar herbs do in fact boast significant health-enhancing properties, since sumac, thyme, and oregano are all chock full of flavonoids, organic compounds that are important dietary sources of antioxidants that can protect cells from damage. Some scientists even speculate that one of Za'atar's components might actually boost mood and cognition in low doses.

  • Sumac Health Benefits: Sumac is rich in gallic acid, which research suggests has anti-fungal, anti-viral, and cancer-fighting properties, and quercetin, which also seems to an anti-inflammatory agent effective against cancer. A 2009 study also suggested that sumac can protect DNA from errors during cell reproduction in animals, though research on human cells was inconclusive.

  • Thyme & Oregano Health Benefits: Thyme and Oregano are both rich in thymol and carvacrol, similar organic compounds called phenols that have antiseptic and antimicrobial properties. Like gallic acid, they are also effective in suppressing funguses and other microorganisms. A 2010 study found that thymol and carvacrol can weaken drug-resistant strains of disease-causing bacteria like Salmonella and Staphylococcus aureus, making the microbes more susceptible to antibiotics. In lab tests, the antioxidants in thyme were even powerful enough to fight off acne-causing bacteria. A fluid extract of thyme also helped patients with acute bronchitis and phlegmy coughing fits minimize their respiratory symptoms,

  • Brain Boosting Zaatar: In certain parts of the Middle East, folk tradition suggests that Za'atar has brain-boosting properties. Syrian children are often encouraged to sprinkle the spice mix on meals before exams. Scientific literature on the health benefits of Za'atar herbs like thyme, oregano, and sumac for human intelligence is minimal, though some researchers are beginning to speculate that the carvacrol, the phenol found in thyme and oregano, may have cognitive and mood-enhancing properties, at least in rodents. A 2011 study found that in mice, specific doses of an oregano extract elevated levels of serotonin, a vital brain neurotransmitter involved in regulating mood, learning, sleep, and appetite, working like a low-impact version of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs that are commonly prescribed as antidepressants in humans. Another study published last month showed that when fed to rats, steady low doses of carvacrol can boost levels of serotonin and dopamine, which is also involved in mood, learning, and feelings of reward, possibly increasing feelings of well-being and reinforcing other positive brain processes. Finally, a 2012 study found that in rats, thymol and carvacrol helped alleviate some symptoms of dementia caused by beta-amyloid, a protein linked to Alzheimer's disease. When dosed with the compounds before being placed in a water maze, cognitively impaired rats learned how to navigate the labyrinth more quickly than expected. Of course, it is not at all clear that the mood and cognition-enhancing health benefits of thyme and oregano compounds for rodents can translate to humans.

  • More research is necessary before anyone can recommend pouring Za'atar over your meals for a brain boost, though recent studies have found strong protective effects against cognitive decline from eating a Mediterranean diet rich in olive oil, which is more than compatible with Za'atar, flavor-wise. Just go easy on the salt when creating your own blend.


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    Horizon Herbs: Zaatar (Origanum syriacum), Organic, 50 Seed Packet (Non-Affiliated Merchant)
    (Wild Middle-Eastern Oregano, Ezov, Majorana syriaca). Family: Mint (Lamiaceae). Hardiness: 20°F. Woody perennial native to the Middle East. This is a spicy smelling and tasting oregano-like herb that is the keystone herb in the condiment of the same name, which is used quite frequently by people living in the Middle east. You mix the dried and powdered herb with various other ingredients--garlic, salt, olive oil, crushed sumac seeds, etc and use it on bread. Quite delicious and habit forming in a good way. Zaatar is one of the sources of the antiseptic essential oil known as carvacrol, which (along with other terpenoids such as thymol) inhibits several kinds of nasty bacteria (e.g. Pseudomonas aeruginosa) by eroding the bacterial cell wall. Plant prefers full sun and sandy, fast-draining soil. Makes an abundant crop of leaves in the first growing season. Make sure to harvest in the first year of growth as the overwintering of this plant is never a sure thing. 50 Seeds/pkt., Certified Organically Grown. From a gardening friend: "I wanted to send you additional confirmation that your source of Zaatar is authentic. I bought some plants for a friend who grew up as a goat herder on one of Israel's first settlement kibbutzim and he was familiar with the herb and its prevalent use among the Palestinians. I watched expectantly as he brushed the leaves and inhaled. He lifted his head, gave a knowing smile and said, "It smells like the Holy Land.""

    zaatar origanum syriacum seedlings


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