MARJORAM & OREGANO
Sweet Marjoram • Origanum majorana
Oregano or Wild Marjoram • O. vulgare
These familiar aromatic culinary herbs are also medicinal herbs. The genus name comes from the Greek, oros and ganos, meaning joy of the mountain, an allusion to the beautiful sight and scent of aromatic, pale purple, wild marjoram flowers covering hillsides. The ancient Greeks revered these herbs. When either appeared on a grave it was an indication that the departed was happy and at peace. Young couples in love were crowned with sweet marjoram, and the goddess Demeter is often depicted wearing a crown of wild marjoram on her head. Commonly used as strewing herbs, marjoram and oregano have been valued as furniture polish, purple dye, beer flavoring, and for their aromatic oils.
Sweet marjoram's antispasmodic properties eliminate menstrual cramps and nausea often associated with menstruation. It is a well-known emmenagogue. I make a strong infusion of dried marjoram leaves and flowers, drinking two to four cups throughout the day. Mildly tonic to the digestive system, and carminative, marjoram also relieves stomach upset and baby's colic.
The infusion acts as a vasodilator and can help lower high blood pressure. To help relieve nervous headache, wise women drink a cup of marjoram infusion or place an oregano compress on their forehead. Add either one fresh to your bath to relieve pain and encourage relaxation.
Grandmothers make marjoram liniment by tincturing the freshly gathered leaves and flowers in witch hazel or rubbing alcohol. Liberal use increases circulation and relieves the pain in swollen rheumatic joints. I've applied a warm poultice of fresh oregano on muscle spasms, sprains, and stains. Infused oil of marjoram makes a superior sports massage oil, especially when combined with St. John's wort.
Nourishing to hair follicles, the infused oil of fresh marjoram rubbed into the scalp promotes hair growth and healthy hair. I sometimes use oregano vinegar diluted in water as a final rinse over my locks to leave them clean and shiny.
Marjoram's essential oil has a warming and comforting effect on the heart. According to Gerard, it offers relief for conditions stemming from grief and for those who "are given to over-much sighing."
Magical lore tells us that marjoram is sacred to Venus as well as Demeter and will bring the blessings of lasting love and abundance. I love to wrap aromatic herbs like marjoram and oregano around small grapevine wreaths. They look very pretty, dry beautifully, smell fragrant for many months, and make great gifts. Or weave sprigs into a wreath or crown and wear for a wedding.
Marjoram stimulates clairvoyance in matters of the heart. Maude Grieve gives us this recipe: Mix equal parts dried marjoram, thyme, calendula, and wormwood. Add vinegar and honey; simmer over a slow fire. Cool and anoint yourself before bed saying three times: "St. Luke, St. Luke, be kind to me. In dreams let me my true love see."
We grow both marjoram and oregano. We treat O. majorana as an annual here in our Maine gardens, although at home in the Mediterranean countries it is a perennial. We start seeds in early spring, transplant seedlings into the garden when the weather warms up and we keep the beds well weeded until the plants are big enough to fend for themselves. Sweet marjoram is a delicate, shrubby plant. Its stems are woody, its green leaves oval, and its white flowers, blooming from mid - to late - summer, look like little round "knots," hence another of its common names, knotted marjoram.
I harvest marjoram leaves and flowers as the plant comes into bloom and dry them for later use in teas and infusions or as a cooking spice. I tincture fresh marjoram in alcohol, or infuse it in oil or honey. Fresh marjoram makes a wonderful, tasty vinegar!
Wild marjoram is a bushy, hardy perennial plant growing as high as two feet with creeping roots, opposite leaves, and purplish stems with pinkish-purple flowers. The aroma of O.vulgare is slight and disappears completely when it is dried. It is nice in salads, makes a tasty vinegar, and is fabulous as a tea.
Wild marjoram is a primary ingredient in our Erbe della Donne, our herb tea blend based on a Southern Italian recipe for female reproductive health.