Growing Your Own Marjoram

With casual care, marjoram will continue to grow through fall and winter, and into the following spring.

| June/July 2004

Native to North Africa and western Asia, marjoram (Origanum majorana) is sometimes called "knotted" marjoram because the tiny white flowers emerge from knot-shaped buds. You can use this flower characteristic to help confirm that you do, indeed, have marjoram rather than a related oregano, of which there are more than 30 species. This herb sometimes is called sweet marjoram, too, because no other oregano matches its clean, sprightly flavor.

To the ancient Greeks, marjoram was the herb of marital bliss. Thought to be a favorite of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, it was woven into garlands that brides and grooms wore on their heads. Also according to ancient folklore, sleeping with a bit of marjoram tucked under your pillow was supposed to promote dreams of true love. And before the Middle Ages, many people believed that planting marjoram on graves helped assure the happiness of departed loved ones.

Marjoram is not considered an important medicinal herb, but a tea brewed from its leaves may help with indigestion, headache or stress.

The herb's flavor more than justifies growing it in your garden for culinary purposes, though. Think of marjoram as a tame oregano and use it with confidence in Italian-style, tomato-based dishes such as pasta or pizza, or as an accent for most vegetables, especially potatoes, whether they're served hot, or marinated and served cold. Marjoram also is good on fresh tomato sandwiches, and it pairs well with eggs or cheese. A light sprinkling adds savory flavor to cream-based sauces or soups, especially potato soup, and to savory herb butter, too. And, the flowering tops are a pretty addition to herbal vinegar.

Dried marjoram delivers flavor nearly equal to that of the fresh version; on the plant, the flavor usually peaks just before the flower buds form, though the buds are edible, too. When drying marjoram for kitchen use, lay 3-inch-long stem tips on a dry cookie sheet and place the cookie sheet in a 150-degree oven for two to three hours; this method retains marjoram's essential oils and the green color of its leaves. Store the dried stems with their leaves intact in an airtight container in a cool, dark place; when you need some leaves for a recipe, just strip the right amount from the stems.

A fast-growing plant, marjoram will produce a steady supply of new growth if it is regularly trimmed back. Should you have more stems than you can use in the kitchen, mix them into potpourris, sachets, tussie-mussies or herbal wreaths; the flowering tops sometimes are used as a source of beige or gray dye, too.

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