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Plant story - helping to conserve Origanum syriacum

The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership has conserved the endangered Origanum syriacum, the most economic and edible wild plant in Lebanon.

Introducing Origanum syriacum

This 30-40 cm high, slightly hairy perennial with its oblong-ovate, 10-15 cm long leaves and with a nice "Thymus - like" smell, represents the fastest, easiest, and most common and popular breakfast of the Lebanese people. It is a very important plant as far as its economic use is concerned. It is found in every shop, in every supermarket and in every home. Tons of plants are produced and consumed every year.

Origanum syriacum is growing wild in the Lebanese mountains. It can be found everywhere in rocky places from the North to the South and at different altitudes. Recently and due to its importance in the economic use of the country, Origanum syriacum has become a cultivated crop to cover the need of the local market. However, large amounts of the consumed Origanum product are still imported.

A useful plant

On all the Lebanese main roads hundreds of bakeries can be found, dedicated mainly to make the MANKOUCHE prepared from a dough and O. syriacum. ZAATAR is the Arabic name given to the final product after it has been baked in the oven. Once the plants are harvested after the flowering stage, they are dried and crushed to get a fine product composed mainly from the leaves and flowers. The taste of the raw Zaatar is very strong; hence some other ingredients such as Summaq (made from the fruits of Rhus coriaria), sesame seeds and salt are added to mellow the taste.

The dough is prepared in the shape of a disc about 25 cm in diameter. The Zaatar, which is mixed already with salad (sunflower or maize - rarely olive) oil, is spread over the dough, which is then put in the oven for about 2 minutes. After baking the breakfast is ready. Next to Mankouche preparation Zaatar is also part of many Lebanese dishes and used as a flavouring agent. Separately, the green leaves are used in salad and some other foods.

Origanum syriacum is also known as a medicinal plant for its ability to relief stomach and intestinal pain.

Story by Simon Khairallah, LARI, Tel Amara, Lebanon