Marjoram is a member of the oregano genus; the several names that are
used are often confusing and plants are mislabeled. Origanum marjorana
is labeled "sweet marjoram" or "knotted marjoram."
The knotted marjoram label is applied because of the type of flowers,
which are in small clusters or knot-like shapes before blossoming. The
blossoms are tiny, white or pink, and are in spherical clustered flower
spikes or corymbs of three to five flowers. Sweet marjoram is a tender
perennial usually grown as an annual. Native to North Africa and South-west
Asia, it is naturalized in the Mediterranean region and cultivated in
Other species cultivated as ornamental plants include O. dictamnus,
the dittany of Crete, and O. sipyleum, called hop plant. Wild marjoram,
O. vulgare, is a perennial herb with woody stems about a foot
high, branched above, and often purplish. The flowers are purplish or
white, covering the hillsides, so the Greeks called the plant "joy
of the mountains" and used it to cure rheumatism. Wreaths and garlands
of marjoram were used at weddings and funerals. It was said to be precious
to Aphrodite, the goddess of love, and that this was what made it so
gentle-gentle enough to cure sprains as well as to comfort the dead
when it grew on their graves. Legend had it that if you anointed yourself
with marjoram before sleeping, you would dream of your future spouse.
As a folk remedy, the herb has been used against asthma, indigestion,
rheumatism, toothache, conjunctivitis, and even cancer, but it is doubtful
that it has much medicinal value apart from its minor antioxidant and
antifungal properties. Marjoram may irritate the uterus if used during
menstruation or pregnancy. It is otherwise considered safe.
Marjoram is something like a mild oregano with a sweet fragrance. The
leaves and flowers are used fresh or dried in culinary recipes. The
cuisines of France, Italy, and Portugal use much marjoram. It's good
with beef, veal, lamb, roast poultry, green vegetables and more. Add
marjoram to stews, soups, stuffings, dressings, and flavored vinegars.
Wild marjoram has large purple flowers, which may be used in potpourri
or herbal wreaths.
Because of the mildly antiseptic properties of marjoram, some herbalists
recommend adding it to herb bath mixtures. A stimulating herbal bath
mixture might contain mint, bay, basil, and marjoram. Placing about
½ cup of the herbs in a cloth bag or tea infuser, allow the bath
water to flow over the bag.
Marjoram seeds are very small and slow to germinate, so they should
be started indoors and set out after all danger of frost has passed.
The heat of mid-summer may make the marjoram appear wilted; however,
excess watering is not recommended. Overwatering may diminish the flavor.
Wild marjoram may be propagated by division of the roots in the autumn.
Sweet and wild marjoram may be used fresh or dried; the dried retains
much of the flavor.