Origanum majorana  (Marjoram)

Origanum majorana, also known as Marjoram, Sweet Marjoram or Knotted Marjoram, is a semi-evergreen, aromatic, small herbaceous perennial that forms a compact mound.

The leaves are grey-green to grey, and the flowers are usually white, appearing in clusters arranged in a panicle along the erect stems. 

Before blooming, the clusters of flower buds look like knots, hence the name “knotted marjoram.

This plant is native to the Mediterranean Basin, specifically Turkey and Cyprus, but is widely cultivated worldwide for its culinary and medicinal uses.

Marjoram is often confused with Oregano, but although they belong to the same genus, they have different characteristics.

Famous for its delicately aromatic leaves, marjoram’s scent is milder than other types of Oregano.

Origanum majorana plant (Marjoram.Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram)

Quick Overview

TYPE

Type herbaceous

HEIGHT & WIDTH

Origanum majorana height and width

BLOOM TIME

Orifanum majorana bloom time

SUNLIGHT

full sun / semi shade

HARDINESS

hardiness (-10ºC / 14º F)

DROUGHT TOLERANCE

drought tolerance aprox 4 months

ORIGIN

origin mediterranean basin

Marjoram Scientific name

  • Botanical name: Origanum majorana (oh-RI-guh-num maj-or-AN-uh)
  • Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
  • Common name: Marjoram, Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram
  • Synonyms: Majorana hortensis, Thymus majorana
NameMeaning
OriganumThere are two versions of the origin of the name;
1-  Derives from a combination of two Greek words “oros” meaning mountain and “ganos” meaning joy. So Origanum means “Joy of the mountain”.
2- Derives from the Greek word “origano” meaning bitter, referring to the bitter flavour of these herbs.
majorana

How to identify Origanum majorana

Origanum majorana plant (Marjoram.Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram)

Plant

Origanum majorana is a small herbaceous perennial that develops a woody base as it matures. It is evergreen in milder climates and forms a dense upright mounding shape. It may lose its foliage during the winter in very cold climates.

It can spread due to its horizontal underground stems ( rhizome) that send shoots and roots along their length.

It has dense foliage of grey-green leaves and erect flower stems bearing clusters of tiny white to pale pink flowers.

The foliage has an average height of 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 ft) and a width of  30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 ft)

Origanum majorana stem (Marjoram.Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram)

Stem

The stems are upright or spreading, green to reddish-green, hairy, and woody at the base.

They are squared, with opposite grey-green leaves at each node.

Clusters of tiny white flowers with grey-green bracts are arranged in panicles with multiple branched stems growing from a central stem.

Origanum majorana leaf (Marjoram.Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram)

Leaf

The leaves are small and very smooth due to the numerous hairs. The colour is grey-green and becomes silvery grey during the Summer 

They are entire, elliptical and generally obtuse, with marked veins on the underside and almost parallel to the midrib. The petiole is short and hairy.

Covered with numerous oil glands that release essential oils with a pleasant fragrance. The fragrance is more intense when the leaves are rubbed or crushed.

The leaf is, on average, 15 to 18 mm (0.6 to 0.7 in) long and 3 to 6 mm (0.3 to 0.8 in) wide.

Origanum majorana flower (Marjoram.Sweet Marjoram, Knotted Marjoram)

Flower

The flowers are grouped in spiked or rounded clusters arranged in a loose panicle along the stem. 

The flowers are tiny and usually white or pale pink.

They are two-lipped, the upper lip is notched, and the lower lip has 3 lobes. 

The corolla is 4 to 5 mm (0.1 to 0.3 in) and is inserted between tightly packed grey-green bracts.

The flowers bloom during the Summer.

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Origanum majorana Habitat

Origanum majorana as the name suggests (origanum = “joy of the mountain”),  is a mountain plant, that can be found at altitudes up to 2000m (6500 ft).

It is well adapted to grow in rocky and mountainous regions. It can be found in various types of habitats, including rocky slopes, forest edges and mountain meadows. 

It prefers sunny places but can also be found in partial shade.

Origanum majorana Usage

Ornamental

Marjoram is widely cultivated as a herb but is also appreciated as an ornamental plant due to its dense mounding habit and fragrance.

It can be used in the following ways:

  1. Rock Gardens: It is well-suited for rock gardens. Its ability to thrive in rocky and stony areas, along with its compact mounding form, makes it a natural fit for rock gardens or other alpine-style planting areas.
  2. Garden Borders and Edging: The compact ball shape of Marjorman makes a neat border for flower beds and pathways.
  3. Ground Cover: It can be planted in mass as a ground cover.
  4. In containers: It can easily be grown in containers, making it a versatile choice for patio gardens, balconies, or other limited-space areas. It looks really pretty cascading from hanging baskets and window boxes. Check the guide to growing Oregano in containers.

Culinary

Marjoram is a very popular herb, known for its sweet and mild flavour. Often referred to as “sweet oregano” because Its taste is more delicate than that of other Oreganos for example Origanum vulgare.

According to Greek mythology, the goddess of love, Aphrodite, blessed this herb with her magic touch, infusing it with a sweet and mild flavour.

The leaves can be used fresh or dry for seasoning a wide variety of dishes:  meat, fish, pizzas, bread, salads, soups etc. Typically sprinkled towards the end of cooking to preserve its strong flavour.

It is also used for herbal tea and to flavour olive oil and vinegar.

Medicinal

Origanum majorana has been used for many years to treat allergies, hypertension, headaches, muscle aches, arthritis, cancer, depression, and respiratory and gastrointestinal problems.

Research shows many medicinal properties such as antifungal, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, analgesic and others.

Cosmetics

Due to its antiseptic properties and its fragrance, the essential oil of marjoram  is used in the production of soaps, shampoos and skin creams.

Companion Planting

Marjoram is valued as a companion plant in vegetable gardens. It is believed to boost vegetable growth, enhance their flavour, and act as a natural insect repellent.

Biodiversity

Marjoram flowers are rich in nectar attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies. As with other Origanum species, this plant is a valuable addition to the biodiversity of your garden and is ideal for wildlife gardens.

Other uses

Sweet Marjoram flowers can be used in potpourris, Tussie-mussies and bridal bouquets to symbolise joy and happiness.

How to care for Origanum majorana

Cold exposure

This plant is frost tender and can only tolerate temperatures down to -10ºC (14ºF), as long as the soil is well drained. Cold and humid soil can be fatal to it. 

Add a thick layer of mulch to shelter the roots from low temperatures. 

Another option is to plant it in containers that can be moved to a sheltered spot during the winter.

Sun exposure

Origanum marjorana prefers full sun but it can also do well in partial shade. Providing it with at least 6 hours of daily sunlight is ideal for its growth and overall health.

In places with very hot climates or strong sunlight, it can be helpful to protect plants from the afternoon sun to prevent leaf damage. Providing partial shade during the hottest hours of the day can protect the plant from excessive heat and intense sunlight.

Soil

Marjoram prefers well-drained stony, or sandy soils, but it can also do well in chalky soils. Avoid planting it in wet areas, as it dislikes soggy soil, which may lead to root rot and fungal diseases.

It thrives best in soils that are slightly alkaline to neutral in pH, but can also tolerate slightly acidic soils.

Watering

Marjoram is drought tolerant and can go for some without water once it is established (about 4 months of drought if the temperature is not too hot). 

Once established, it usually does not need watering. However, if there’s a long period without rain or very hot weather, you should give it some water. Just make sure to let the soil completely dry out before watering it again.

During its first year after planting, it’s essential to water the young plant every two to three weeks, especially in the summer (or more often if the soil is sandy). This is because the plant is developing its roots, which are still short and can only reach the shallow parts of the soil that dry out faster. By providing regular watering, you help the oregano establish strong roots that can access deeper soil and better withstand dry conditions in the future.

When you water the plant, make sure to give it plenty of water, allowing the soil to get a good soak. This way, the water can sink deep into the soil, helping the roots grow deeper as well. With deep roots, the plant can withstand longer dry periods since the lower soil layers stay moist for a longer time.

To preserve the soil´s moisture, you should add mulch around the root area of the plant. Gravel is the best option for mulching. 

Pruning

Pruning Marjoram helps maintain its shape and encourages bushier growth.

  • Give it a cleaning prune in early spring. You should cut back the stems that are old, weak or overly crowded. This will allow for better air circulation and light penetration which will promote a healthy growth. Prune it down completely if it is overgrown or weak. This will enable new stems to grow from the base.
  • Give it a hard prune (always cutting above a healthy set of leaves)  immediately after the flowering period typically early to mid summer to help maintain its shape and encourage new growth.
  • Give it a light prune regularly from late spring to the end of summer to prevent the plant from becoming too leggy and to harvest its leaves for cooking.

When to plant Origanum majorana

The best season to plant is in spring or autumn, depending on your climate. Avoid planting during periods of extreme temperatures.

If you live in a location with moderate weather, you should preferably plant during autumn. By doing so, the plant gets a chance to develop its roots during the cooler months before the arrival of summer’s hot temperatures. However, if you encounter severe winters, it’s better to wait until spring when the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed up, creating a more favourable environment for the plant to thrive.

How to propagate Origanum majorana

Due to its upright habit, Marjoram is best propagated by stem cuttings. Propagation by seed may lack the desired fragrance or flavour due to unpredictable genetic variation. So if you have a plant that has the wanted qualities, it is better to clone it through cuttings.

Stem cuttings: take softwood cuttings in spring before it starts blooming or semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer or early autumn.

  1. Cut the stem just below a leaf node.
  2. Remove the lower leaves, leaving a few pairs of upper leaves intact. 
  3. Plant in a well-draining medium. Keep the medium consistently moist and provide indirect light. 
  4. Once the roots have developed, transplant the rooted cuttings into individual containers and grow in cold frame during the first winter.

Seeds: sow seeds in autumn.

  1. Sow the seeds in a well-draining medium. Lightly press the seeds into the surface of the soil without covering them. 
  2. Maintain consistent moisture and provide indirect light. 
  3. Germination typically takes 2-4 weeks. Once the seedlings have grown a few sets of true leaves, transplant them into individual containers and grow in cold frame during the first winter.

A good online source for plant propagation techniques can be found in RHS propagation article.

If you prefer books, I can recommend the following:

By clicking on the book image, you’ll be transported to the Amazon website. And here’s a little secret: when you purchase through these links, you support my work without any additional cost, enabling me to continue creating interesting content for you!

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Sources

Sources of information used for this article

Books

I researched this plant in the following books, which I highly recommend you read. They won´t disappoint you!

By clicking on the book images, you’ll be transported to the Amazon website. And here’s a little secret: when you purchase through these links, you support my work without any additional cost, enabling me to continue creating interesting content for you!

cover of Dry gardening bookcover of Dry gardening book
cover of Field  Guidebook
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Internet

Article from North Carolina Extension

Article from Kew

Vol XII from FloraIberica

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