Long ago, the ancients placed a lot of importance on herbs and their uses. Today, they have taken the lowly place in the kitchen, instead of being symbols of great deeds and heroes. Sweet marjoram is one of these herbs. It was once the plant that sanctified marital bliss, and now is more closely thought of as something to put in the turkey stuffing at Thanksgiving. Wild marjoram, which resembles oregano closely, is still used in folk medicine, and in the kitchen, too. Here, we will discuss marjoram - its medicinal and culinary uses, its history, how it is grown, and how to harvest and store it.
History of Marjoram
Marjoram has a colorful history. Oregano and marjoram were almost inseparable in mythology. It was said to be the favorite herb of Aphrodite. Legend tells us that Venus created the plants and gave them their sweet flavors and scent. In medieval times, if you anointed yourself with marjoram before retiring, you would dream of your spouse. It was believed that if marjoram grew on your grave, then you had found eternal happiness. People often planted marjoram on a relative's grave to insure their eternal peace.
Marjoram was used in the Middle Ages as a sign of everlasting love and honor. Bridal couples wore wreaths of marjoram. It was added to food to nurture love. Ladies carried it in their posies and sweet bags. It was strewn around houses as a deodorant. In England, it was used in snuff, and then added to beer for both preservation and taste.
As a folk remedy, marjoram has been used for relief of asthma, rheumatism, indigestion, toothache and even cancer. It has minor antioxidant and antifungal properties. Gargles and teas have been made to ease sinus congestion and hay fever. If used during menstruation, it may irritate the uterus.
It is ground into a paste and mixed with oatmeal for a poultice to relieve arthritis and rheumatism pain. These poultices are also said to relieve skin ulcers, abrasions, and boils.
Marjoram has a taste reminiscent of mild oregano with a hint of balsam. Because oregano and marjoram are often confused, either one works well as a substitute for the other. The main difference between the two is the stronger taste of oregano.
Leaves and flowers are used, both fresh and dried. Add sprigs of marjoram to green salads, using flowers for garnish. French, Italian and Portuguese cookery uses marjoram the most. It goes well with beef, fish, lamb, roasted poultry, and veal. Marjoram complements green vegetables, cauliflower, eggplant parsnips potatoes, squash and carrots. It works well in stews, marinades, dressings and herbed butters. It complements bay, garlic, onion, thyme and is used in poultry stuffing. It is an important seasoning for sausage in Germany.
How to Grow Marjoram
Marjoram is a tender perennial that is generally grown as an annual. It has a dense root system and is very bushy. Marjoram grows to a height of 1 foot, and flowers in August and September. Flowers are white or pink in clustered flower spikes. It prefers a deep, well drained soil with a pH balance of 6.9. It does best in full sun.
Marjoram is typically started indoors before planting. The seeds are tiny and slow to germinate. Set the seedlings out after any danger of frost. Plant in clumps of three every 6 to 8 inches. Five clumps of marjoram are sufficient to feed an average family. Be careful to keep well weeded when small so that the weeds don't overwhelm the seedlings. Water marjoram sparingly. Pinch the plants back before they bloom to keep their shape. When they get ready to bloom again, cut back to 1 inch above ground. The roots can be divided and taken inside for winter use after they have become well established in a year or two.
Harvesting and Storage
In warmer climes, marjoram can be taken twice in a season. It maintains its flavor and potency well when dried, unlike a lot of herbs. Rub the cut stems on a screen to remove the leaves from the stems, and dry in a place out of the sun to preserve the color and flavor. Store in airtight containers.
Tips For The Chef
Marjoram can be substituted for oregano for a milder taste in pizza, lasagna and many Italian dishes. It works well in poultry stuffing and is used as a marinade for asparagus, artichokes and mushrooms. Use marjoram along with dill and thyme in herbed butters.
Marjoram is an ancient herb with a long reputation as being both a medicinal and culinary herb. It is easy to grow, and adds a pleasant scent to the herb garden. Plan on growing marjoram in your herb garden this year.
Alden Smith is an award winning author and regular contributor to DoItYourself.com. He writes on a variety of subjects, and excels in research.