In today’s article, we talk about how to cultivate marjoram, the plant’s structure, and its properties. Marjoram is an aromatic plant highly appreciated in cooking for its delicate aroma and in herbal medicine for its medicinal properties. It is native to Asia and is also known by the synonyms sweet marjoram and garden marjoram. It has spread over time in the Mediterranean basin and grows spontaneously in favorable climatic conditions.
Let’s first explore the botanical characteristics of this plant, the necessary precautions for cultivating it in the garden, and its uses in herbal medicine.
Botanical characteristics of the marjoram plant
Marjoram, scientifically known as Majorana hortensis or Origanum majorana, is an herbaceous plant that can have an annual or perennial cycle depending on the varieties and cultivation conditions. It belongs to the botanical family Labiatae or Lamiaceae.
It is an officinal plant very similar to oregano and thyme, but with a much more delicate aroma. The plant is suffruticose, meaning it has small dimensions, reaching a maximum of 50 cm, and herbaceous, almost woody, branching from the base.
Roots, stem, and leaves
The marjoram plant has fibrous and very slender roots. The numerous stems are pubescent, covered with a dense and thin down, with a square section, and highly branched. The leaves on the stems are opposite, oval or elliptical in shape, very small and elongated, not exceeding 35 mm in size, and have a glaucous green color. The leaves of the marjoram plant emit an intense, penetrating, and delicate aroma at the same time.
Flowers, fruits, and seeds
The flowers of a marjoram plant are very small and gathered in terminal racemes on the secondary branches carried in the axil of the leaves. The corolla is white at the beginning of flowering, then turns yellowish. The flowering occurs in the summer, from June to September. Pollination is entomogamous, occurring thanks to the action of bees and other pollinating insects. The fruit is a tetrachene containing tiny spherical seeds with a smooth texture and brown color. A thousand small seeds weigh about 0.25 grams, but they retain the ability to remain viable and germinate even after 2-3 years.
It is possible to cultivate marjoram in various varieties. Among the most common in gardens are:
- Sweet or white marjoram. It has an herbaceous consistency, limited growth, and glaucous leaves due to the dense down covering them. It is considered an annual plant since, except in very favorable climatic conditions, it does not withstand frost.
- Common or black marjoram. It is more robust and hardy than the previous species. It has almost woody stems and velvety pale green leaves. It better withstands frost and is therefore grown as a perennial.
How to cultivate marjoram
Marjoram requires a mild climate since it loves the sun. Depending on the variety, in Southern Italy, it can be grown as a perennial. It is often found growing spontaneously at the edges of fields. In temperate regions, however, this aromatic herb is usually treated as an annual plant since it is sensitive to prolonged frost.
Sowing period, soil, and spacing
Marjoram seeds are sown from early spring when temperatures are stable above 15°C. As a sowing technique, a small plastic pot, about 10-12 cm in diameter, with light and soft soil can be used, and numerous seeds are scattered on the surface and buried a few millimeters deep. This way, a vigorous clump is obtained, which will be transplanted after about 45 days. Reproduction can also occur in spring through cuttings, as with rosemary, or through division of clumps, as with common sage.
For final planting, choose loose and well-draining soil, even of calcareous nature, with a good supply of organic matter, which can be obtained with home compost or earthworm humus. Transplant the seedlings at least 40 cm apart in rows. Leave a distance of 25-30 cm between each plant.
Cultivating marjoram requires relatively limited care, as the plant is quite robust. Irrigation is necessary only during sowing and initial formation in a pot, immediately after transplantation to aid root establishment, and in the driest summer periods to promote vegetative development. Avoid excessive watering and waterlogging.
In domestic cultivation, marjoram should be protected from the growth of weeds. If you want to avoid weeding operations, simply use natural mulch with straw after the final transplant.
Biological pest control
There are few insects that cause problems when cultivating marjoram. These include the larval stages of the beetle Chrysomela menthastri, leaf-mining larvae, and leafhoppers. In case of attack by these insects, you can intervene with Bacillus thuringiensis var. kurstaki.
Harvesting and drying
In a marjoram cultivation, the harvest is carried out when the plant is in bloom. Typically, this begins in June, depending on the planting time. For the uses we will shortly describe, it is recommended to collect fresh sprigs, just cut above ground level. However, these can also be dried in a shaded and ventilated place for future use. Dried marjoram is used as needed, especially during the winter months.
Properties of marjoram
The main constituents of marjoram are found in its essential oil, which is obtained through steam distillation.
Marjoram essential oil consists of elements such as terpinene, 4-terpineol, sabinene, linalool, carvacrol, cis-sabinene hydrate (responsible for its aroma), linalyl acetate, ocimene, cadinene, geranyl acetate, citral, estragole, eugenol, and 3-carene. Other elements present in the plant include flavonoid glycosides, some tannins, proteins, vitamins A and C, and mineral substances. These compounds are known for their anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties.
Given its components, the marjoram plant has long been used in folk medicine as an antispasmodic, carminative, and digestive. Even now, it is considered a natural remedy for anxiety, insomnia, and headaches of nervous origin.
Uses in cooking
The main reason for cultivating marjoram is its use in cooking, both for its aromatic and digestive properties.
In some regional cuisines, particularly in Liguria and Tuscany, it is used as a substitute for oregano to flavor various dishes, such as soups, omelets, stuffings, meat or fish dishes, side dishes, sauces, and more. To preserve its aroma best, chefs recommend adding marjoram after the cooking process is complete.
In the culinary field, this aromatic herb is also used for preparing digestive liqueurs. After a maceration process, marjoram aromatic oil can also be used.
As mentioned earlier, cultivating marjoram is also beneficial in herbal medicine. In this case, the main focus is on the essential oil. It has various uses. For example, for digestive disorders, 4-5 drops of marjoram essential oil can be used with a spoonful of honey three times a day. If you want to take advantage of its calming function on the nervous system, the dosage of essential oil increases to 8-10 drops to be taken with honey before going to sleep.
This essential oil is well-known in herbal medicine and is easy to find (you can purchase it here).
- International Journal of Molecular Sciences – “Antibacterial and Antifungal Activities of Spices” – A review discussing the antibacterial and antifungal activities of various spices, possibly including marjoram, and their potential health benefits.
- Current Medicinal Chemistry – “Antibacterial and antifungal properties of essential oils” – This article reviews the antimicrobial properties of essential oils, including those from marjoram, covering studies from 1987 to 2001.
- Journal of Ethnopharmacology – “Traditional use, phytochemistry, toxicology, and pharmacology of Origanum majorana L.” – A comprehensive review of marjoram (Origanum majorana), including its traditional uses, chemical composition, toxicology, and pharmacology.
- Food Chemistry – “Chemical composition and antioxidant properties of marjoram (Origanum majorana L.) essential oil” – This study investigates the chemical composition and antioxidant properties of marjoram essential oil, highlighting its potential health benefits.
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry – “Antioxidant activity of marjoram (Origanum majorana L.) extract” – An article focusing on the antioxidant activity of marjoram extract, exploring its potential applications in food preservation and health promotion.
- Journal of Essential Oil Research – “Chemical composition of the essential oil of marjoram (Origanum majorana L.) from Reunion Island” – An analysis of the chemical composition of marjoram essential oil from Reunion Island, contributing to the understanding of its regional variations.
- Wiley library – “Antimicrobial activity of marjoram (Origanum majorana L.) against foodborne pathogens” – This research investigates the antimicrobial activity of marjoram against common foodborne pathogens, highlighting its potential use in food safety.