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 the 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.
Make a 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 strains. Infused oil of marjoram makes a superior sports massage oil 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."
In Southern Italia, Origanum majorana, sweet marjoram, is referred to as maggiorana and the properties and uses are similar to those of oregano. An infusion of sweet marjoram was used in the treatment of malarial fevers. Oregano is known by several names, arigano, riganò and rianu. The well ground small flowers of oregano are used as a fine powder on newborn babies’ irritated skin. This powder is also used as a sedative for toothache when placed inside the cavity of the decayed tooth. Sometimes the flowers are infused in olive oil and this is used in a similar fashion, to ease the pain of toothache. A water-based infusion of the flowers is used to stimulate intestinal functions and help eliminate bronchial distress. Both herbs are widely used to flavor raw and cooked food. And, of course, oregano is sprinkled liberally on top of Napolitan pizza and into all kinds of tomato sauces!
Flower Essence Marjoram flower essence helps to put strong, sometimes confusing, emotions into perspective.
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 so pretty, dry beautifully 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, and 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."
Culture We grow both marjoram and oregano. We treat O. majorana as an annual in our Maine gardens, although at home in the Mediterranean countries it is a perennial. We start seeds in spring, transplant seedlings into the garden when the weather warms up and keep the beds well weeded until the plants are big enough to fend for themselves. Sweet marjoram is a delicate, shrubby plant with woody stems, its green leaves oval, and its white flowers - blooming from mid to late summer - look like little round "knots," hence its common name, knotted marjoram.
I harvest marjoram as the plant comes into bloom and dry leaves and flowers for use in teas and infusions or as a cooking spice. I tincture fresh marjoram in alcohol, infuse it in oil or honey. Fresh marjoram makes a really tasty vinegar!
Oregano, or wild marjoram, is a bushy, hardy perennial growing as high as two or three feet with creeping roots, opposite leaves, and purplish stems with pinkish purple flowers. The aroma is slight and disappears completely when it is dried. It is interesting added to salads and also makes a tasty vinegar. I add the leaves and flowers to a tea I call Erbe della Donne, because of its antispasmodic, cramp relieving properties. Bees and hummingbirds love these plants.