The name marjoram is derived from the Arabic marjamie = the incomparable. Egyptians, Arabs, Greeks and Romans valued the spice which originally came from India.
Both marjoram and oregano are thought to have originated in Asia and then quickly became cultivated in the Mediterranean region. Generally distributed over Asia, Europe and North Africa; grows freely in England, being particularly abundant in calcareous soils, as in the south-east.
Marjoram was probably the most popular with the Ancient Greeks, who used the herb medicinally, symbolically and in cooking.
It is a perennial herb, with creeping roots, sending up woody stems about a foot high, branched above, often purplish. The leaves are opposite, petiolate, about an inch long, nearly entire hairy beneath. The flowers are in corymbs, with reddish bracts, a two-lipped pale purple corolla, and a five-toothed calyx. There is a variety with white flowers and light-green stalks, another with variegated leaves. It is propagated by division of roots.
When cultivated, the leaves are more elliptical in shape than the Wild Marjoram, and the flower-spikes thinner and more compact. Marjoram has an extensive use for culinary purposes, as well as in medicine, but it is the cultivated species, Origanum Onites (Pot Marjoram), O. Marjorana (Sweet or Knotted Marjoram), and O. Heracleoticum (Winter Marjoram) that are employed in cookery as a seasoning. They are little used for medicinal purposes for which the Wild Marjoram is employed.
Wild marjoram is a relative of oregano, which is famous as an essential ingredient of pizza. The oregano that sits in the spice-rack is actually a combination of wild marjoram stems and its close relatives marjoram (sweet marjoram, knotted marjoram, O. majorana) and Cretan oregano (O. onites).
There are three types of marjoram: sweet or knotted marjoram (Origanum majorana), pot marjoram (Origanum onites) and wild marjoram or oregano (Origanum vulgare).
Marjoram is not as well known as some of the other more popular herbs and it is often mistaken for oregano due to the fact that it is similar in taste and appearance and is actually a type of oregano. Wild marjoram is what we know as oregano and sweet marjoram is the herb that we simply refer to as marjoram. Part of the mint family.
The whole plant has a strong, peculiar, fragrant, balsamic odour. Marjoram is described as being aromatic or fragrant, spicy, camphoraceous and slightly bitter with little olfactory resemblance to oregano.
As marjoram is somewhat milder and less potent than it’s cousin oregano, it can be used in larger quantities without overpowering or spoiling a dish, it has a bitterish, aromatic taste, both of which properties are preserved when the herb is dry. Marjoram is characterized by a strong, spicy and pleasant odour.
Given as a beverage, marjoram water was thought to promote children’s speech development.
Marjoram can stimulate the appetite.
Marjoram is an expectorant and can help bring up mucous from the lungs; help remedy bronchitis and other chest complaints.
Marjoram has traditionally been used over the centuries as a treatment for indigestion, an antiseptic and to relieve pain.
As a sedative which is valuable to treat insomnia
Marjoram yields about 2 per cent of a volatile oil which is separated by distillation.
Its properties are stimulant, carminative, diaphoretic and mildly tonic; which is good if you are feeling tired, run-down or depressed.
A few drops, put on cotton-wool and placed in the hollow of an aching tooth frequently relieves the pain.
In the form of a warm infusion (tea), which is also valuable in spasms, colic, and to give relief from pain in dyspeptic complaints.
Externally, the dried leaves and tops may be applied in bags or as a poultice; as a hot fomentation to painful swellings and rheumatism, as well as for colic.
An infusion made from the fresh plant will relieve nervous headache, by virtue of the camphoraceous principle contained in the oil.
Marjoram promotes menstruation and stimulates regular blood flow.
Marjoram can be bought from your local supermarket either fresh or dried. Unlike many herbs, marjoram and oregano dry really well, better than practically every other herb, in fact. Therefore, if buying dried marjoram, much of the original flavour is retained.
In saying this, however, it is always better to use fresh herbs if possible in cooking. When choosing fresh marjoram, try to look for a fresh and healthy-looking herb, without any discolouration or blemishes.
Fresh marjoram should be stored in the refrigerator, wrapped in damp paper towels and placed in a plastic bag. If possible, store your fresh marjoram in the lower part of the fridge, where it will keep for several days.
The Marjorams are some of the most familiar of our kitchen herbs, and are cultivated for the use of their aromatic leaves, either in a green or dried state, for flavouring and other culinary purposes, being mainly put into stuffings. Sweet Marjoram leaves are also excellent in salads. They have whitish flowers, with a two-lipped calyx, and also contain a volatile oil, which has similar properties to the Wild Marjoram.
Winter Marjoram is really a native of Greece, but is hardy enough to thrive in the open air in England, in a dry soil, and is generally propagated by division of the roots in autumn.
Pot Marjoram, a native of Sicily, is also a hardy perennial, preferring a warm situation and dry, light soil. It is generally increased by cuttings, taken in early summer, inserted under a hand-glass, and later planted out a space of 1 foot between the rows and nearly as much from plant to plant, as it likes plenty of room. It may also be increased by division of roots in April, or by offsets, slipping pieces off the plants with roots to them and planting with trowel or dibber, taking care to water well. In May, they grow quickly after the operation. May also be propagated by seed, sown moderately thin, in dry, mild weather in March, in shallow drills, about 1/2 inch deep and 8 or 9 inches apart, covered in evenly with the soil. Transplant afterwards to about a foot apart each way. The seeds are very slow in germinating.
Marjoram has a delicate and slightly sweet flavour and it goes well with a number of different types of foods. It is traditionally partnered with meat, particularly lamb, veal, beef, pork and chicken but goes just as well with vegetables, pulses or seafood.
It is important to note, however, that marjoram does not withstand the cooking process well and its flavour and aroma are destroyed by high temperatures and long cooking times. Therefore, it is almost always added at the end of the cooking process or just before serving.
Why not try some of the ideas below for using marjoram in the kitchen:
Sprinkle chopped marjoram over your favourite pizza.
Use in minced meat mixtures, such as sausages, meatballs or bolognaise.
Sprinkle over a fresh salad.
Marjoram goes very well with cheese, egg or tomato dishes.
Try adding marjoram to soups, stews and sauces.
Use marjoram in stuffing mixtures.
Add marjoram to a cheese omelette or quiche.
Use in place of oregano for a gentler flavour.
Use to flavour homemade bread or herby scones.
Use in any type of citrus marinade for meat.
Cook foods that promote bloating and wind, such as cabbage, cauliflower or beans with marjoram to help relive indigestion.
Yet marjoram also has its place in vegetable dishes; it is mostly recommended for rather heavy vegetables like legumes or cabbage. Fried potatoes spiced with liberal amounts of marjoram are delicious.
In Western Asia, particularly in Jordan, Lebanon and Israel, a local marjoram relative (Majorana syriaca) is a common flavouring for grilled mutton and also used to flavour breads.
This special marjoram is more aromatic than the European variant and ranges in flavour somewhere between marjoram and oregano. Throughout the region, this powerful herb is known as zahtar , also transcribed zaatar or za’tar; yet in regions devoid of this particular marjoram, the same name or similar names are often employed for other related herbs. In Jordan, the zahtar herb is used to prepare a spice mixture known by the same name (see sumac); a similar zahtar blend is also popular in Israel.