Marjoram is very similar to oregano in appearance. It is preferred by some in cooking since it has a much sweeter taste. The similarities exists because marjoram and oregano are close cousins and are both members of the mint family of herbs.
Marjoram is native to North Africa and Southwest Asia. It thrives in dry, arid regions, and grows between 1 and 2 feet tall.
Marjoram is a tender perennial that is often grown as an annual in colder climates.
Ideal Location for growing Marjoram.
Marjoram prefers full sun and a well-drained soil. Sand or small pebbles can be added to improve the drainage of the garden bed. Marjoram will do well in average or light, rich soils. Since Marjoram is native to the Mediterranean region, it tolerates dry soil conditions and can withstand the occasional drought.
Growing Marjoram Indoors
Marjoram can be started indoors and grown successfully in the winter months while still small. Keep it in a sunny window that receives a good amount of bright light. After you have enjoyed it all winter, you can transplant it plant it outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. If you have limited space, marjoram will also grow well in a container or barrel the patio.
Marjoram plants are most often grown from seed. Get an early start on this popular herb by starting it indoors under lights. You can also direct sow seeds into your garden in the spring once the soil has warmed. Sow seeds on lighted tilled soil and cover lightly. Don’t allow the ground to become too dry before young plants have sprouted. Germination can be slow taking up to two weeks.
Space seedlings or thin plants to 12 inches apart or in rows 18 inches apart for a mass planting. Do not over fertilize marjoram. This can interfere with the production of essential oils which give the plant its flavor. To lengthen the growing season, pick flower buds as soon as they appear. The leaves can become bitter after the flowers begin to bloom.
Marjoram has very few reported diseases. Common pests may include whiteflies, thrips or spider mites.
Varieties of Marjoram
Sweet marjoram is the most common form found in stores. It has grey green leaves and grows just 12 inches tall.
Za’atar Marjoram is a wild variety excellent when used fresh in salads. It boasts a blend of flavors that include oregano, marjoram, and thyme. Height is 12-20 inches and should be grown in full sun.
Where to Buy Marjoram Seeds and Plants
Marjoram is not as readily available as some of the other culinary herbs, but can occasionally be found in specialty garden centers. Seeds are typically available in stores beginning in late winter. Small plants will be found during the early spring months.
Cooking with Marjoram
Marjoram is a highly aromatic herb whose flavor improves with drying. It is one of the primary herbs used in stuffing and sausages.
Sweet marjoram is best used fresh or very lightly cooked as high heat can damage the flavor. Fresh uses include salads, cheese, and oils. Blended with other herbs like parsley and chives it can be sprinkled on top of pasta and vegetable dishes.
Marjoram is a staple in French cooking and one of the ingredients used in the herb blend Herbes de Provence. It is also quite popular in Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern dishes. Marjoram is an excellent herb to use when roasting meats or to enhance the flavors of stews. It can be wrapped in cheesecloth or tied in a bundle then used as a bouquet garni in slow cooked dishes.
An Easy Marjoram Recipe
Marjoram pairs very well with lemon and garlic. Here is a simple recipe that can be used when grilling chicken.
Marjoram and Lemon Baste
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh marjoram
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Finely chop the marjoram leaves.
- Combine with oil and lemon juice and blend well with a mortar and pestle.
- Add to grilled chicken during the last few minutes of cooking.
Harvest marjoram leaves any time after the plant has produced a few dozen stems. Select the young, tender leaves, as they will have the best flavor. Oils are strongest in the morning hours before the heat of the sun has set in.
When harvesting marjoram, ensure there are enough leaves left on the plant to allow healthy growth. Never trim more than one-third of the plant at one time. Marjoram sprigs should be cut just above a leaf node. The plant will create new branches at the cut ensuring a healthy bushy plant.
Marjoram is an excellent herb to dry. Gather bunches and hang them in a dry warm and well-ventilated area. A paper bag can be used to keep out dust if needed. You can also spread sprigs of marjoram out on a cooking sheet or drying rack. After the leaves are dry, strip them from the stems and store in an airtight container.
Leaves can also be preserved in oils or vinegar, then used in a flavored dressing. They can be crushed and mixed with a small amount of oil and frozen. This is a good way to store marjoram to be used in cooking stews and meats.
Marjoram Uses in Herbal Medicine and Health Benefits
Since marjoram is highly aromatic, the essential oils are often used to add scent soaps and lotions. It also makes a fragrant bath herb. Tie a tablespoon each of fresh marjoram and oatmeal in a piece of cheesecloth, then drop in the tub.
Marjoram can be used in herbal medicine to treat headaches, ease sore muscles, aches and pains. Combined with lavender, marjoram has been used to make herbal sleep pillows.
The flowers dry exceptionally well and can be used to make potpourris or decorative arrangements.
Marjoram is a popular culinary herb with a highly fragrant scent. It is an easy to grow tender perennial that can be started from seed in the early spring. It grows equally well in the garden or as a potted herb.
Once called the “herb or grace” by Shakespeare, marjoram is a symbol of sweetness and well-being. It should have a place in every culinary herb garden.