Sometimes the names marjoram (Origanum majorana) and oregano are used interchangeably, but on this site, we use the name oregano to reference Origanum vulgare, which, unfortunately, is also called wild marjoram. The two species are closely related and can interbreed.
The cross between the two Origanum x majoricum may be called Hardy marjoram, Italian marjoram, Sicilian marjoram or French marjoram. It’s a little hardier than marjoram and a little sweeter than oregano.
Marjoram is a low-growing upright herb, reaching 10 to 20 inches in height. It has reddish stems and fuzzy gray-green leaves that grow opposite each other on the stem. Flowers appear in late summer and may be violet to lavender, pink or white.
The unopened flower buds are said to resemble knots, which gives rise to the common name “knotted marjoram”. Marjoram is native to the Middle East.
Also known as sweet marjoram, pot marjoram, knotted marjoram.
Marjoram History and Folklore
I see a lot of sites stating that marjoram comes from the ancient Greek meaning “Joy of the mountains”. This is not true. The word oregano and the genus name Origanum which oregano and marjoram share sounds a bit like it could be from the Greek for something like “ornamenting the mountain” or “making the mountain sparkle”. Marjoram may come from the Latin meaning “greater”. Or not. But if it is, then I suppose Origanum majorana is the greater ornament of the mountain, if you don’t mind mixing your languages. In truth, both words probably are pre-Greek and pre-Latin and meant something else entirely.
It is difficult to sort out the differences between marjoram and oregano lore, and I suppose it’s possible the lore isn’t so different. The plants are quite similar and 3,000 years ago they might have had even less to differentiate them.
In the language of flowers, marjoram symbolizes blushing.
Marjoram is a tender perennial hardy in zones 7-9. Some have reported success overwintering marjoram in sheltered areas in lower zones as well, but for the most part, marjoram should be brought indoors for the winter or treated as an annual in colder regions. Marjoram does make a lovely houseplant.
Marjoram enjoys a very sunny position with loose, well-drained soil. It tolerates both poor soil and drought, though you should water it regularly for several weeks after planting to allow it to get established. It is susceptible to root rot though, so don’t overdo it.
Marjoram seeds are slow to germinate. They can be soaked overnight before planting to help speed up the process and temperatures of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit will give you the ideal conditions for germination. They should be planted just below the surface of the soil and watered lightly to prevent damping off. They can be started indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost date and transplanted outdoors after all danger of frost has passed. They should be spaced at least a foot apart in the garden. Marjoram can also be propagated by root division, they should be divided in the fall, and cuttings, which can be taken anytime and rooted in water.
Marjoram attracts many beneficial insects and is considered an excellent companion for many garden plants. Rabbits and aphids enjoy marjoram.
Harvesting and Preserving Marjoram
You can begin harvesting marjoram about 60 days after sowing and continue to cut the leaves as you need them throughout the growing season. Cut the stems with scissors, rather than just plucking off leaves to encourage new growth. Take a big harvest just as the flower buds appear, as this is when the flavor is best and don’t be afraid to cut it back severely. It will grow back much bushier. If you are growing marjoram indoors, do take the time to cut it back at this time to keep it at a manageable shape and to avoid woodiness. Outdoors it isn’t as serious if it decides to get wild.
If you plan to use your marjoram to infuse oils, you can let them bloom and collect the flowers immediately for the best fragrance. They should be harvested just after the dew has dried on a moderately warm or cool day, if possible.
Marjoram can be dried on a screen or hung in bundles in a well-ventilated place or dried in a dehydrator. Do not dry it in the sunlight as this can damage the essential oils that make it so delicious and fragrant. Dried marjoram can be stored in a sealed container in a dark, dry place for six months or so. You can also freeze the fresh leaves.
Culinary Uses for Marjoram
Marjoram is a popular culinary herb in the Middle East and the Mediterranean region. It has a woodsy-balsamic fragrance and a sweet flavor that is good in salads and it really shines when paired with meats and in tomato-based sauces. It is also good with potatoes, beans and eggs and pairs well with both basil and thyme.
Marjoram’s flavor is best when it is added in the last 5 to 10 minutes of cooking.
It also makes a nice after-dinner tea.
Healing Uses for Marjoram
Marjoram is analgesic, antibacterial, antiseptic, carminative and diuretic. It is a rather pleasant tea that supports digestion and prevents gas and soothes the nerves. It is also useful during cold season as the tea will help sooth the throat and break up congestion while encouraging a good night’s sleep.
Marjoram added to the bath water or to massage oil helps relieve joint and muscle pain.
Inhaling the fragrance of marjoram can help break up congestion. The fragrance is also calming and can help the restless cold sufferer get some sleep. Try a few drops of the essential oil on a pillow or a handkerchief or steep some marjoram in your warm bath just before bed.
There is some evidence that drinking marjoram tea daily can help regulate female hormonal cycles and have some effect on related issues like PCOS. Massaging the abdomen with an oil formulated with marjoram clary sage and lavender has been shown to help with painful menstruation1.
Magick of Marjoram
Marjoram is variously listed as being ruled by Mercury or Venus and the element Air or Fire. Agrippa associates it with Aries and Leo and the Sun.2. That’s a lot of correspondences, but it’s probably because it’s so often confused with oregano. Agrippa is specifically referencing sweet marjoram with reference to the Sun, which does seem reasonable, and he mentions marjoram as ruled by Mercury- I suspect he is referencing oregano here.
I have also seen Mars listed as a ruler for marjoram, but I’m not feeling it. Marjoram is a gentler herb. Its use for love magick does suggest Venus, but the sort of magick isn’t what we normally think of Venusian. It’s about harmony, the sort that comes from communication and concord as well as luck, which suggests Mercury, and gaining knowledge, more Mercury as well as the connection with the dead. Marjoram’s soothing action on the nervous system also suggests Mercury to me.
Agrippa’s correspondences might suggest Fire as a ruling element but despite its protective nature, I’m not feeling it any more than Mars. It’s just not that aggressive. Considering Marjoram’s affinity for both the respiratory system and the nervous system, and the strength of its scent, I am feeling Air more strongly.
The Pahlavi texts lists it at sacred to Ashavahist3. It is sacred to Themis4, and Venus.
Marjoram is suitable for decorations, crowns, floral arrangements, corsages and boutineers for both weddings and funerals.
I have seen marjoram mentioned in Roman, Greek and Egyptian lore referencing perfumery and in some with specific mention toward using its fragrance (among others) to draw a lover5.
Marjoram is very good for love spells, especially those related to divining your future spouse or how happy you would be with a particular person as a spouse. Try drinking a potion of marjoram in wine or tea, or anointing your body with marjoram infused oil, or just put a sprig under your pillow before sleep as part of a dream divination spell for this purpose.
To attract a spouse worth dreaming about, place a sprig of marjoram in the center of each room (it’ll look pretty in a little glass vase).
It is also used to help relieve the pain of grief and help those grieving a loss to know joy again. It can be used as a bath for this purpose, especially in combination with Balm of Gilead buds (see also poplar). Repeat the bath for 7 days. Infuse the Balm of Gilead and marjoram in oil to gently massage the grieving before bedtime.
Combine marjoram and thyme in a wash or fumigation incense to drive sadness out of a house, especially after the death of a resident.
Combine marjoram with violet in a wash or fumigation or carry it to protect against whatever viruses are going around. (And wash your hands with it too.)
For general protection of the home and family, place a marjoram leaf in the four outer corners of your home or use it in a floor wash.
This protects against family and marital strife as well as general bad luck. You can also add it to family meals to protect the diners from discord among one another (see also basil, which will enhance this effect) and to enhance their love for one another, as well as to generally ward off bad luck for everyone involved. (You must eat the meal together.)
Other Uses for Marjoram
Marjoram is pleasantly aromatic with a floral yet woodsy fragrance that is nice in potpourri, fragrance oils, and cosmetics.
Warnings and Toxicity
Marjoram is generally considered safe, but should not be used medicinally by pregnant women or children- though culinary doses are okay. Anyone who has ever had an allergic reaction to any plant in the family Lamiaceae (mint) should approach marjoram with caution.
Marjoram may affect blood clotting and so should not be used by those who have bleeding disorders or who are taking blood thinners. For the same reason, avoid taking marjoram for at least two weeks before any surgery6.