By Dr. Mercola
Even if your cupboard is stocked with a few dozen of the most common spices and herbs, chances are marjoram is not one of them. One reason may be that many confuse it with oregano, in part because their botanical names and traditional monikers are similar. As The Spruce explains:
“In the Mediterranean, oregano is also known as wild marjoram, but that doesn't mean it is marjoram. Marjoram's botanical name is Origanum majorana, so it is the same genus as oregano but it is a different species. Marjoram's gentler flavor is sweeter than oregano, which is slightly woodsy with a warm and aromatic taste. And marjoram's aroma is not quite as pungent as oregano's.”1
To add to the confusion, both are perennial, their origins are based in the Mediterranean, and they can look very much alike. Marjoram, for its part, usually grows 12 to 20 inches high, depending on the variety, with woody stems and symmetrically placed leaves. Sweet marjoram is Origanum majorana, while oregano’s scientific name is Origanum vulgare. Harvest to Table2 explains that marjoram leaves are oval with a gray-green cast, while oregano leaves are taller and broader as well as oval and dark green.
As mentioned, oregano is also sometimes known as “wild marjoram,” so when looking for a marjoram plant, make sure you know for sure that’s what it is. Varieties include golden marjoram, golden tipped marjoram, dwarf, French and sweet. That explains why some bear flowers that range from white to pink to lavender.
One way to differentiate marjoram is described in one of its earliest names — knotted marjoram — as the very tips of the plant are tangled where the flower buds will appear. Ancient Greeks used marjoram garlands for brides and grooms to wear on their heads.
Uses for Marjoram
In cooking, oregano is famous for its use in pizza and pasta dishes, with its strong “piney” taste. Marjoram is both milder and sweeter and can be cooked using different methods, such as roasted in meats or sautéed in vegetables, and adds complexity to soups and marinades.
You may detect marjoram’s distant relationship to the mint family of plants, as well. The milder flavor makes marjoram an herb you can use confidently in both fresh and cooked dishes, pairs well with cheese, eggs and potatoes, and is delicious sprinkled on cold salads and used in dips.
Marjoram is grown as an herb to flavor dishes but, just as importantly, imparts several impressive health advantages. It’s known as an anti-inflammatory that increases digestive enzymes for improving problems with tummy troubles, and benefits your heart due to its ability to maintain normal blood pressure and optimize cholesterol levels.
It also contains compounds that are antifungal, antiseptic, antiviral and antibacterial, which makes adding it to your food good for staving off a number of illnesses, including cold, flu and even food poisoning and staph infections. As an essential oil, marjoram has been identified for its ability to reduce insomnia, stress and anxiety and overall, lift your mood and sense of well-being. Organic Facts3 adds that marjoram is good for improving brain function and may help prevent age-related decline and dementia.
Growing Marjoram for Its Culinary and Nutritional Benefits
While marjoram is a perennial herb, meaning it comes back year after year, in colder climates it won’t; it doesn’t take kindly to freezing temperatures, so where frost is imminent, marjoram is considered an annual. However, it’s easy to propagate from stem cuttings and can be grown just as easily indoors or out. The “Cliff Notes” on growing marjoram are fairly straightforward, according to Planet Natural:4 It requires full sun or partial shade; rows should be spaced 8 to 12 inches apart with the same distance between plants.
When planting the seeds outdoors, marjoram should germinate in about 10 days and reach maturity in 70 to 90 days. According to the University of Illinois Extension,5 you can also soak your marjoram seeds overnight to speed up the germination process. As it happens, however, marjoram is one of those plants that thrives even in poor soil if the soil is also able to thoroughly dry in between waterings. Marjoram grows fairly quickly and should remain constantly availabile when it’s continually harvested.
It also tends to sprawl, making it an attractive plant to enhance your overall garden theme. This herb also grows well indoors in containers, and it does well on a south-facing window sill.
An alternative to growing marjoram from seeds outdoors is to grow indoors under grow lamps, which you could begin a few months before spring, but unfortunately, only half of them will germinate, according to Mother Earth News. They also grow very slowly compared to outdoors under the sun, so a faster, easier way would be to buy new plants in the spring. In addition:
“Take care not to overwater marjoram, but watch closely for signs of drought stress, too. Plants that wilt for more than a few hours in midday need more water. Cut stems back often to encourage your plant to branch, or wait until just before the flower buds form to harvest them in bulk by shearing the whole plant back by two-thirds its size.”6
Troubleshooting When Growing Marjoram
Good air circulation is important to discourage pests like aphids and spider mites, especially in areas where high humidity is a problem, so a little wider plant spacing might be necessary. Steps to minimize problems with such pests in your garden usually require forethought and action sooner rather than later, including:
- Keep dried leaves and other debris cleared away from the ground herbs like marjoram are growing in, as they, too, may carry “alternate hosts.”
- If you see one or more plants severely infested with pests, remove them immediately, place them in a plastic bag that ties securely and put them in the trash for removal from your premises.
- Treat your plants with organic neem oil or a mild soap suds spray, remembering to spray the ground around the plants, stems and the underside of leaves. Repeat the process after it rains (after moisture dissipates) and once a week.
A good, homemade version of seed-starting mix, inspired by Rodale’s Organic Life,7 suggests combining the following items found online or at most garden centers:
- 4 parts organic compost (you can also make your own)
- 1 part perlite, a mineral
- 1 part vermiculite, another good mineral
- 2 parts coir, or coconut fiber, an alternative to peat moss
To discourage rot, wilting, black spots or other types of plant diseases, water minimally (drip irrigation is a good idea) and use sulfur dust to slow the progression of the disease. On a positive note, in the garden, marjoram draws butterflies and other beneficial insects.
Propagating Marjoram Through Root Cuttings
Besides perpetuating your healthy marjoram plants by digging them up and taking them indoors to plant in pots when frost is imminent, Mother Earth News further advises:
“Most marjoram plants are grown from cuttings, so they are well rooted and ready to grow as soon as you transplant them into warm soil. After the last spring frost, set out plants in full sun, in soil that is gritty and fast draining with a near-neutral pH.”8
When cuttings are taken in midsummer in order to root them, marjoram should regroup quickly enough for you to get a second cutting of sprigs by early fall. Three-inch-long stem tips sans flower buds can be perpetuated nearly indefinitely by taking a few easy steps, then repeating the process:
- Remove all but the topmost six or eight leaves from each sprig.
- Place the cut part of the stems in moist seed-starting mix.
- Place the “starts” in a warm, shady spot, keeping them constantly moist.
- In about three weeks, vigorous new roots will be visible, which should be transplanted to 6-inch pots filled with potting soil, and transfer to larger pots when the main stems grow to 5 or 6 inches in height.
- In a few weeks, pinch back the tops to encourage branching, which should continue through the fall, winter and spring, at which point new cuttings can be taken to transplant into your outdoor garden.
How to Dry Marjoram (and Other Herbs)
To dry sprigs of marjoram, choosing stems that look as if they might flower soon will help perpetuate the plant so it doesn’t flower and go to seed too quickly. (That’s also when the flavor is considered “peak;” however, even the flower buds are edible and add a lovely, fragrant essence to vinegars and to make olive oil-based dressings.) Line up 3-inch-long marjoram sprigs on a dry baking sheet, place in an oven set at 150 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for two or three hours.
This method retains both the essential oils in the herb as well as the vibrant green color. Store the stems with their leaves intact sitting upright in a jar or similar container in a cool dark place. As an alternative, you can cut small bundles of the herbs, tie them together with twine or burlap, and hang the bouquets upside down in a dark, well-ventilated room, preferably not touching other bundles you may have drying.
When dry, you can also strip the leaves from the stems and store them in a dry glass jar away from sunlight. Unlike some other herbs, the dried version imparts nearly the same essence as the fresh leaves. Whenever you need a little extra flavor, just strip off the leaves in the equivalent of a teaspoon or two, depending on the amount needed. If you have any left over, use it in a fine mesh bag in sachets, potpourri or floral wreaths.
Source: mercola rss