Friday, October 9, 2009

Herb of the Week -- Marjoram

The herb of the week is Marjoram. (Origanum majoricum)

I have been avoiding Marjoram, because I wasn’t sure how to approach it. But I have now written about all of the rest of the herbs we grew this year, so I can’t put it off any longer.

Marjoram is a member of the Oregano family. It is similar in many ways to Oregano. The plants are closely related, the flavor is similar, and it is grown, harvested, cultivated, and used much the same, so I wasn’t sure whether to treat it as seperate herb, or to just consider it an addendum to Oregano.

When I first started researching Marjoram, early this summer, I ran into a lot of different opinions and positions about Oregano and Marjoram. describes Marjoram as “Oregano’s calmer, sweeter, fraternal twin.” Their site then goes on to describe the subtle differences between the two, and finishes by saying that they are generally interchangeable in recipes.

Linda Gilbert, a journalist, cooking instructor and caterer, writes, in an article for Sally, That not only are many people confused, and labeling at nurseries confusing, but many experts get confused as well.

Now I don’t feel so bad.

Ms. Gilbert then goes on to point out that all Marjorams are oreganos, but not all oreganos are Marjorams. To further complicate things, there are many other plants that are neither oregano nor Marjoram, but that somehow get called such.

Mexican Oregano, (a close relative of Lemon Verbena) Cuban Oregano, ( a relative to Thyme), and
Puerto Rican Oregano (A colius family member), are all examples.

Then, to further complicate things, The most common variety of Oregano is also known as wild Marjoram.

One of my favorite quick reference sites for any herb, The Tasteful Garden, has an herb encyclopedia that has quick and easy descriptions of most herbs. Although they identify Oregano and Marjoram as different herbs, they group them together under the same heading.

This is because care and use of the two plants is so similar. They suggest using the two together, along with basil and thyme, for a well balanced blend of herbs.

And, in case you are wondering, Marjoram and Oregano are both members of the Mint family

So, now that I have thoroughly confused you, let’s get back to Marjoram.

The plant that I grew in my garden this year, and knew as Marjoram looked, tasted and smelled completely different from the plant that I grew and knew as Oregano.

Based on that difference, I am treating Marjoram as a seperate herb. Keep in mind that the lines between the two blur a little though. This is good, because it allows you the opportunity to experiment on your own.

I like recipes, but I also like to just go in the kitchen and play. That’s the fun part of growing your own herbs. If you were paying $3-5 a bunch for herbs at the grocery store, you wouldn’t dare to experiment with them.

So, let's talk about Marjoram.

Marjoram is indigenous to the Mediterranean area and was known to the Greeks and Romans, who looked on it as a symbol of happiness.
Marjoram has a delicate, sweet, pleasant flavor with a slightly bitter undertone.
Traditionally used in meat dishes, Marjoram's mellow taste and enticing fragrance make it compatible with a wide variety of foods. Good in lamb dishes, as well as beef and veal and in soups or stews Marjoram blends well with parsley, dill, basil, or thyme.

Marjoram was called amaracum in Latin, which in turn was taken from Greek amarakos The origin of the Greek name is not known, but maybe it came from further East, Sanskrit maruva . Marjoram’s reputation as aphrodisiac in Roman literature is probably due to the similarity of amaracum to Latin amor or love, which is linguistically not related.

Marjoram needs a warm climate to fully develop its specific aroma, much of which, like Tarragon, (a non related herb) it loses when dried.

Despite the fact that dried Marjoram tastes and smells completely different from fresh Marjoram, dried Marjoram is a staple herb in much European cooking, in fact, it is such an important herb in sausage making that in Germany it is called Wurstkraut or “sausage herb“. In German cooking it is often combined with Bay leaves, Black Pepper, and juniper, and in fact is combined with those three in a traditional venison ragout.

Dried Marjoram has application among vegetables as well, being particularly suited for use with heavier vegetables, cabbage, root vegetables, legumes, etc. Sprinkling it liberally on fried potatoes produces a delicious alternative to boring fried potatoes.

Fresh Marjoram, on the other hand has a delicate flavor that blends well with chives and parsley in fish dishes or other subtly flavored applications

Marjoram is grown much the same as Oregano, in full sun to partial shade, in well drained, slightly lean soil. It is relatively hardy and can be grown as a perennial in most US Climate Zones.
It grows well in pots or containers and attracts bees butterflies and birds.

It can be started indoors from seed, 6-8 weeks before planting outside, and can be planted outside as soon as danger of frost is past. It can be harvested as soon as 6 weeks after it is planted outside.

When I add perennials to our garden, I seldom harvest anything the first year. I give them one year to grow into a good healthy plant and develop a root system that will help them live through Michigans’ rough winters. But there is probably no real need for that, it’s just a personal thing that I do.

Marjoram can be harvested as soon as the stems are taller than 3” off the ground, and can be cut back to a 3” height. Like most herbs, cutting the ends forces growth lower on the plant and will result in a bushier plant.

Marjoram harvested before the first flowers appear will have a sweeter more true flavor. Marjoram harvested after flowers appear will be stronger and may have a slight bitter taste. This will be less noticeable if you plan on drying your Marjoram than it is in fresh Marjoram.

If planting more than one plant, be sure to allow room between them for air circulation to help avoid the occasional fungus that Marjoram gets.

Like most herbs if you water with a sprinkler, try to water in the morning,, to allow the water to all dry off the leaves by night. This makes them less attractive to insects, who come out at night and drink the water off leaves, as well as a less fertile breeding ground for molds and fungi.

The leaves of your Marjoram will probably die down soon after frost occurs, but the roots will survive and provide new plants the next Spring.

Marjoram can be used fresh, or it can be dried or frozen. Let me start you off with a few recipes to get your mind working. As always, Feel free to leave a recipe in the comment section, if you have a Marjoram recipe.

Marjoram Potatoes and Onions
prep time 15 mins
cooking time 40 mins
serves 4
4 medium potatoes peeled and sliced thickly
4 medium onions sliced
1 T Dried Marjoram
salt and pepper
Layer the potatoes and onions in an oven proof dish.
Sprinkle with the Marjoram, salt and pepper.
Dot the butter over the top.
Bake in a moderate oven 350 F for 40 mins and then serve

Or you may want to try:

Carrot, Apple and Marjoram Soup

2 Large white Onions (peeled and chopped)
2 T Sunflower oil
1T Butter
4 Apples -Jonathan, or other tart pie apples work best, (peeled, cored and chopped)
8 Carrots, (peeled and chopped)
1 t Salt
1 T Fresh Marjoram leaves
Black pepper, freshly ground

4 C Water

Soften the onions in sunflower oil in a heavy, covered pan, over medium low heat, until translucent. Add the butter and the carrots, stir well, then cover and allow to cook for 10 to 15 minutes (peek occasionally, don‘t let the onions brown); then add the apples. Continue cooking for another 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the apples have begun to break down. Add the water, bring to a boil and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then puree with a hand mixer, adding the salt, black pepper and Marjoram as you work.

Serve with fresh baked bread.

Medicinally, Marjoram tea has been used historically for relief from symptoms of hay fever, sinus congestion, indigestion, asthma, stomach pain, headache, dizziness, colds, coughs, and nervous disorders. It is a gently fragrant, calming herb that does have mild antioxidant and anti-fungal properties. Unsweetened tea can also be used as a mouthwash or gargle. Take 1-2 cups of tea per day for the therapeutic benefits.
Externally, Marjoram leaves can be ground into a paste (add hot tea or water, and a little oatmeal for consistency purposes, if desired), and used for the pain of rheumatism and for sprains. The leaves can be made into an oil for relief of toothache pain - drop a few drops of the oil on the affected tooth. Leaves can also be placed in cheesecloth or a coffee filter and placed under the tap for a fragrant and refreshing bath that is believed good for the skin.

It was believed that the Greek God Venus created Marjoram and gave it its’ wonderful sweet flavor and scent. The herb was said to the favorite of Aphrodite.
It was said that if you anointed yourself with Marjoram you would dream of your future spouse.

The ancients believed that if Marjoram grew on a grave it was a sign of the happiness of the departed spirit. Sometimes it was planted at gravesites to comfort the departed and ensure their eternal peace and happiness.

During ancient times, wreaths of Marjoram crowned the heads of bridal couples to symbolize love, honor and happiness. Marjoram was used by Hippocrates as an antiseptic. The leaves of the plant were often chewed during the Middles Ages to relieve toothache, rheumatism, indigestion and coughs. In ancient Egypt it was used for healing and disinfecting.

It was used in England at one time as an ingredient of snuff. They then decided to put it in their beer, as a preservative and to give an aromatic flavor.

In modern magic, Marjoram is used in love spells is carried it is protective. It is also placed around the house, a bit in each room, and renewed each month for home protection. It is grown the garden to shield against evil, or given to a depressed person to bring happiness It is also used in money mixtures and sachets.

Wiccans use Marjoram to promote a sense of peace and calm.

In kitchen magic, Marjoram is added to food to strengthen, physically and spiritually.

We grew Marjoram for the first time last year, and harvested it for the first time this year. It grew fast and quickly became a strong, healthy and happy player in our herb garden.

This article is linked to The Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays feature. Click Here to read all about Sustainable, Organic, Local and Ethnic food strategies.


  1. I grew Sweet Majoram last year, but couldn't figure out what to use it for. It had a wonderful aroma,(like the old Herbal Essence shampoo of the 70s)but I thought it would be to overbearing in food. Guess I'll have to revisit it next year!


  2. I would LOVE to learn how to grow herbs. I have got a couple of books from the library but they were more confusing than helpful. What book would you recommend in getting a beginner started?

  3. Jane, I think the secret with all herbs is to play with amounts. Add just a little bit, then taste and add a little more. Of course, I have my favorites that I just throw a whole bunch in, but almost any herb can take over a dish if you aren't careful.

    Sandra, If you want a book, there are two that may help:

    Your Backyard Herb Garden: (A Gardener's Guide to Growing Over 50 Herbs Plus How to Use Them in Cooking, Crafts, Companion Planting and More)
    By Miranda Smith, is a good beginners book,
    Rodale's Successful Organic Gardening: Herbs
    by Patricia S. Michalak is good if you are just starting.

    Rodales can be a bit overwhenlming if you are starting with just a little space, because it includes a lot of information on planning and soil prep for a big garden, but the herb info is good.

    Personally, I get much better tips, and have more fun just going to the nursery on Saturday morning in the spring and talking to people.

    So many people love to talk about their gardens, and they can tell you more about what works in your own area than any book will.

  4. Hi Troy,
    I am not a big fan of the flavor of marjoram, but I wonder if I could find a kind I like fresh. I don't like all kinds of oregano, either. I didn't realize that marjoram was a type of oregano.

    You asked me about garlic chives. I like the flavor of them, and the blooms are pretty, but if you don't get them cut off before going to seed, you will end up with way more garlic chives than you want, and for me, they were impossible to dig out. In the garden where we used to live, I even broke down and used some chemical, which knocked them back, but didn't kill them. It took me 8 years of living here, before deciding to grow some in pots, and not let them go to seed.

  5. Troy,
    I read your post yesterday and wondered if the lady at the herb class would bring it up --never once mentioned it. I guess you can't talk about them all. But majoram sounds like a great herb to plant and I hope to plant some next year. The potatoes look wonderful. I wish I had known about leaving the plants to grow for a year!

  6. See Vickie, pretty soon you will know more about herbs that the lady teaching the class...

    It's certainly not necessary to wait a year to harvest your perennials, I just do it.

    I think deep inside I enjoy seeing big healthy plants in my garden almost as much as I enjoy using the herbs. It's such a shame when you cut them all down, even knowing that they will grow back.