Sweet marjoram is a fantastic herb to use and grow. It thrives both indoors and out, though it's not as hardy as other culinary herbs. Marjoram does, however, make a fantastic addition to a kitchen herb garden.
Marjoram is slightly sweeter than its cousin, oregano. The two herbs can be used interchangeably in food recipes. In fact, the herbs are so similar that they're often confused for one another.
Marjoram is also sometimes called "Greek oregano," although this term is often misused. While some people call sweet marjoram Greek oregano, this name is also used to describe the most common variety of oregano, specifically Origanum vulgare hirtum. Not to confuse the matter anymore, but the vulgare variety of oregano is sometimes called 'wild marjoram.'
What Is Sweet Marjoram?
Sweet marjoram is a rich, sweet-tasting herb, that is often used as an oregano substitute. It has tender leaves and stems and grows well just about anywhere. A native of the Mediterranean, it is a low-growing plant that makes a nice ground cover.
- Latin name: Origanum majorana
- Common name: Sweet marjoram
- USDA hardiness zone: A very tender plant. It is sometimes said to be hardy to zone 8, but many gardeners in this zone have not had much luck. It's best to assume and treat marjoram as an annual.
- Exposure: Full to part sun, great for a windowsill garden
Growing and Harvesting Marjoram
Sweet marjoram grows slow, so it's often best to begin with small plants from the nursery. They enjoy a well-draining soil and a normal amount of fertilizer. Sweet marjoram does like the soil to be slightly dry, so be sure not to overwater your plants.
By mid- to late summer, your plants should be strong enough to be divided and placed in a container to be brought inside before the first frost hits. If you would like to save the entire marjoram plant, dig it up and pot it in early autumn. As with most culinary herbs, pluck the flowers before they bloom to encourage more growth in the leaves.
Marjoram plants like to be divided and a single plant can provide you with sweet marjoram for years (with the necessary winter care). Even potted marjoram can benefit from being divided on occasion and you can always give away any extra plants. Potted plants make great gifts, especially one this useful in the kitchen.
Cut back the juicy stems and leaves of marjoram as they grow. Sweet marjoram will provide you with multiple cuttings in one season. Harvesting at the end of the season should take no more than one-third of the plant.
Like oregano, hang sweet marjoram upside down in bundles to air dry. Once dry, remove the leaves from the stems and store in a glass jar for use throughout the winter.
Common Uses for Marjoram
A necessary ingredient in any lamb dish, marjoram is a welcome addition in Italian and Greek cuisines. Try a sprig of marjoram in your next batch of spaghetti sauce.
The sweeter, more delicate taste of marjoram can get lost in some foods. If using it as a substitute for oregano, use 1/3 more marjoram than you would oregano. Conversely, use less oregano if you're using it as a substitute for marjoram.
Medicinally, marjoram can be useful because it is rich in antioxidants. As a medicinal tea, sweet marjoram will soothe an upset stomach. It has anti-microbial properties and can be used as a skin wash.