Mary Beth Clark

Culinary Educator · Consultant · Author

Sweet Marjoram – Family Lamiaceae – Genus Origanum Maiorana

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Indigenous to the Mediterranean, Origanum maiorana (majorana), or Sweet Marjoram, has spanned millennium as a cultural and religious symbol, and as a medicinal herb of great importance. As the Symbol of Happiness in ancient Greece and Rome, marjoram’s powers endured even through the 16th-century, for Shakespeare included a loving reference to it in his Sonnet 99. This perennial herb genus has about 20 species, and prefers full sun and well-drained soil. Sensitive to cold, it grows well in southern Europe, especially in Provence, France, and eastward along the Ligurian coast and down onto the island of Sicily. Oregano is referred to as Wild Marjoram in some European and middle-eastern countries and has a more assertive flavor than Sweet Marjoram. Currently major commercial exporters are northern Africa and Sicily.

Traditions: Sweet Marjoram was sacred to Shiva and Vishnu in India, and Osiris in Egypt. Newly married Greek couples would be crowned with marjoram flowers. In Sicily, marjoram was thought to have to the power to banish sorrow.

Applications: Sweet Marjoram is the Queen of the aromatic herbs. It is a tonic, a digestive and a sedative so it is known to relieve anxiety and insomnia. Pliny prescribed ingesting marjoram for stomach disorders. Thankfully we do not endure many scorpion stings these days, but back in the days of Platina, he recommended marjoram to be ground, mixed with vinegar, then applied to the sting. In medieval times along with thyme, marjoram was effective as a meat preservative and a disinfectant. The Medical School of Salerno (10th-13th centuries) recommended ingesting marjoram as an antispasmodic and a good expectorant. Sachets and poultices included this herb and were pressed onto the chest. Mixed with honey, it was consumed to reduce or omit coughs. In ancient Greece, Sweet Marjoram was used in ointments to help retain color in hair and eyebrows. Today it is widely used by the cosmetic industry for soaps, creams, gels and lotions.

Culinary Uses: Delicate in aroma and taste, marjoram is best used with mild ingredients that enhance marjoram’s flavor and vice-versa, such as artichokes, green beans, peas and potatoes. A favorite herb in sausages, marjoram also marries well with veal, chicken and rabbit. While not an herb of dominance, its subtlety adds a special flavor to fish soups and stews, sauteed flounder and sole and poached trout. Add some fresh leaves to your vegetable salad or lettuce salad. Occasionally marjoram is paired with thyme in cooking, and is often used in making herbal digestivo.

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