Marjoram (origanum majorana)

Origanum, the genus name for both oregano and marjoram, comes from the Greek oros, which means mountains, and ganos, which means joy — a reference to the cheerful appearance these plants give to the Mediterranean hillsides where they grow. The genus, which includes more than 40 species, was valued primarily for its healing properties before it became popular for cooking.

Oreganum majorana, marjoram, is thought to be native to North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of India and has naturalized in southern Europe. The ancient Greeks also used this aromatic herb as a spice, a tea, and a hair pomade. In ancient Crete, distinguished leaders wore a sprig of marjoram as a badge of honor. Today, oil of marjoram is used as a fragrance in soaps, creams, lotions, and perfumes.


Plant profile

Common Names: Marjoram, Sweet Marjoram

Description: Bushy, 12-inch-tall perennial; branching stems with opposite, fuzzy, gray-green leaves; spikes of small white or pink flowers; aromatic

Hardiness: To Zone 7

Family: Lamiaceae

Flowering: Midsummer to late summer

Parts Used: Leaves and flowers

Range/Habitat: Native to North Africa, the Middle East, and parts of India, naturalized in southern Europe; often found on rocky slopes

Culinary use

This herb, which has a much more subtle flavor than its close relative oregano, is excellent for use in Mediterranean meat or seafood dishes, soups, tomato sauces, and pasta dishes. It also combines well with carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, peas, potatoes, and squash.

Oil of marjoram is a common flavoring for commercially produced beverages, ice creams, baked goods, soups, and condiments. The herb is also used as a food preservative.

Medicinal use

An ingredient in ancient “sneezing powders” used to treat rhinitis, marjoram can relieve symptoms of the common cold. When taken into the respiratory system through steam inhalation (the herb’s volatile oil is vaporized by boiling water), marjoram may help unblock sinuses and relieve laryngitis. Essential oil of marjoram can be added to a bath to encourage relaxation and to alleviate the symptoms of a cold or flu. Marjoram oil is included in massage oils to help relieve muscle cramps, including those brought on by menstrual and joint pain.

How to grow it

Marjoram thrives in rich, well-drained dry soil and full sun. Start seeds indoors 6 weeks before your last spring frost date. Space seedlings 18 inches apart in your garden after danger of frost has passed; avoid overwatering. Just before the plants bloom, cut the stems to within 1 inch of the ground. Dry the stems in a warm, dark place, then rub them on a screen to remove the leaves. Discard the stems and store the leaves in an airtight container. Propagate by cuttings or root division.