Oregano and Marjoram
Perennials; normally grown as annuals in colder climates (except sweet marjoram, which is an annual in all climates)
Height 20 to 40 cm; spread 20 to 40 cm.
Lush green herbs with clusters of very small, tubular, mauve, pink or white flowers; grows as a groundcover.
Origanum majorana (sweet marjoram): Annual; strong spicy flavour
Origanum majorana aureum (golden marjoram): Annual; similar to sweet marjoram but milder in flavour
Origanum vulgare hirtum (Greek oregano, true oregano): Hardy perennial; strong, excellent flavour—my favourite!
Origanum vulgare hirtum var. 'Kaliteri': High oil content and wonderful flavour (the variety name means “best” in Greek)
Oregano must be started from with young plants purchased from a garden centre. Marjoram may be started indoors from seed or grown from young plants purchased from a garden centre.
How much: Two to three plants.
When: About one week after the date of the average last spring frost.
Where: Full sun; sheltered. Golden varieties need a bit of shade in the afternoon to prevent the leaves from scorching. Excellent in containers. Prefers well-drained soil. Space plants 20 to 60 cm apart.
Care and Nurture
Origanum species are easy to grow! Pinch back to encourage branching and bushy growth. To prevent root rot, never overwater plants.
You can harvest the leaves or the flowers. The flowers have a strong flavour, so use them sparingly. Be sure to pull each flower from its socket (calyx)—you don't want any of the green bits.
For best flavour: Harvest leaves after the flower buds have formed but before they have opened.
Leaves: Harvest as need throughout the growing season. Cut sprigs 6 to 10 cm from the ground. Use whole or strip the leaves; discard tough stems or use on a BBQ for flavouring.
Flowers: Harvest flowers shortly after they open. Flowers grow in clusters; clip cluster from growing stem and pull gently into individual florets.
Preserving the Harvest
Oregano and marjoram dry well—in fact, unlike many herbs, their flavours actually become more intense after drying. These herbs are also suitable for freezing.
- Wild or common oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a poor variety, with a bland flavour and aroma. It is, however, the available as seed at garden centres. I don’t recommend that you grow this variety, when there are so many better plants to choose from.
- Growers have recently developed ornamental Origanum varieties. These plants are gorgeous, with loads of flowers and a compact, mounding growth-habit; they bloom right through the season, and the flowers attract butterflies and bees. Just don’t try to eat them!
- In areas where winters are more severe, protect perennial species by mulching or building up a heavy snow cover.
- Oregano is the most popular dried herb in the United States.
- Marjoram and oregano look great in rock gardens. Golden oregano makes a good contrast plant for herb gardens.
- Marjoram and oregano are very attractive to bees and butterflies.
- Marjoram and oregano leaves can be rubbed over heavy oak furniture and floors to impart a fresh, fragrant polish.
- It was once believed that sweet marjoram could keep milk from spoiling, hence the adjective "sweet."
- The Romans and Greeks used sweet marjoram for making crowns for happy young couples.
- If the ancient Greeks spotted oregano growing on a grave, it meant that the departed was happy in the afterlife.
- The ancient Greeks used oregano as a remedy for narcotic poisons, convulsions, and dropsy.
- Marjoram was used as a charm against witchcraft because people believed that anyone who had sold his soul to the devil could not endure its scent.