Origanum onites (Pot Marjoram)
Origanum onites, has several common names, including Pot Marjoram, Cretan Oregano, Greek Oregano or Turkish Oregano.
A semi-evergreen, aromatic, herbaceous perennial that forms a bushy clump of erect stems adorned with lance-shaped, fuzzy green leaves and topped with clusters of tiny white flowers arranged like a corymb-like form.
This plant is native to the Eastern Mediterranean Region, specifically from Sicily to Turkey and is widely cultivated around the world for its culinary and medicinal uses.
Pot Marjoram is easily distinguishable from other Origanum species due to its Corymb-like inflorescence and its seasonal dimorphism, with small leaves in the summer and larger leaves in the winter.
HEIGHT & WIDTH
Pot Marjoram Scientific name
- Botanical name: Origanum onites (oh-RI-guh-num oh-NY-teez)
- Family: Lamiaceae (lay-mee-AY-see-ee)
- Common name: Pot Marjoram, Cretan Oregano, Greek Oregano or Turkish Oregano
- Synonyms: Majorana onites, Origanum album
|Origanum||There 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.
How to identify Origanum onites
Origanum onites 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 has dense foliage of green leaves and erect flower stems bearing clusters of tiny white flowers.
It can be easily differentiated from other origanum species due to its inflorescence arranged in false corymbs.
An interesting characteristic is the appearance of two types of leaves during the seasons (seasonal dimorphism): In the winter, it has large leaves and in the summer has smaller leaves.
The foliage has an average height of 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft) and a width of 40 to 50 cm (1.3 to 1.6 ft)
The stems are upright or ascending, green to reddish-green, hairy, and woody at the base.
They are squared, with opposite green leaves at each node.
Clusters of tiny white flowers with green bracts are arranged in a false corymb (has a panicle inflorescence instead of a racemose inflorescence like a true corymb).
The leaves are small, green and very smooth due to the numerous hairs.
They are entire, sessile (no stalk) or subsessile (very short stalk), ovate to subrounded, truncate or cordate at the base and marked veins on the underside.
Covered with numerous essential oil glands that release volatile oils with a sweet mild fragrance. The fragrance is more intense when the leaves are rubbed or crushed.
The leaf size changes during the seasons (seasonal dimorphism): In the winter it has large leaves to maximize photosynthesis, and in the summer smaller leaves to survive summer drought.
The inflorescence is composed of clusters of tiny flowers arranged in a false corymb with a convex or flat top.
The flowers are small and usually white, with two lips, the upper lip is notched, and the lower lip has 3 lobes. The corolla is inserted in a one-lipped calyx.
Bloom time is during Spring and Summer.
Origanum onites Habitat
Origanum onites as the name suggests (origanum = “joy of the mountain”), is a mountain plant, that can be found at altitudes up to 1400 m (4600 ft).
It is well adapted to grow in rocky and mountainous regions. It can be found in various habitats, including rocky slopes, forest edges and mountain meadows usually on limestone.
It prefers sunny places but can also be found in partial shade.
Origanum onites Usage
Pot Marjoram is widely cultivated as a herb but is also appreciated as an ornamental plant due to its dense rounded habit and fragrance.
It can be used in the following ways:
- Rock Gardens: It is well-suited for rock gardens. Its ability to thrive in rocky and stony areas and its compact rounded form makes it a natural fit for rock gardens or other alpine-style planting areas.
- Garden Borders and Edging: The compact ball shape of Pot Marjoram makes a neat border for flower beds and pathways. It can be planted at the base of trees as it tolerates root competition well.
- Ground Cover: It can be planted in mass serving as a ground cover.
- 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 in hanging baskets and window boxes. (check the guide to growing Oregano in containers)
- Herb Garden. Add Pot Marjoram to your herb garden alongside other culinary herbs. Its pleasant aroma and delicate flavour make it a great addition.
- Wildlife garden: The small flowers of Pot Marjoram attract pollinators like bees and butterflies.
- Sensory Garden: Its lovely appearance, pleasant fragrance and soft texture engage sight, smell, and touch. Ideal for any sensory garden.
Pot Marjoram is a very popular herb, with a sharp peppery flavour and a fragrance similar to thyme.
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.
It is one of the flavourings used in the typical Turkish candy called Turkish Delight.
Origanum onites has been used for many years to treat several health problems such as gastrointestinal and respiratory disorders, cholesterol, diabetes, headaches, etc
It is one of the main ingredients of Oregano Water (Kekik suyu). A home remedy obtained by water vapour distillation which is used to treat several illnesses.
Research showed many medicinal properties such as antifungal, antiviral, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, analgesic and others
Due to its antiseptic properties and its fragrance, the essential oil of pot marjoram is used in the production of soaps, shampoos and skin creams.
Marjoram flowers are rich in nectar attracting pollinators such as bees and butterflies. Like other Oregano plants, this one is a valuable addition to the biodiversity of your garden and is ideal for wildlife gardens.
Pot Marjoram flowers can be used in potpourris, Tussie-mussies and bridal bouquets as a symbol of joy and happiness.
How to care for Origanum onites
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.
Pot Marjoram prefers full sun, but it can also do well in partial shade.
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.
Pot 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 grows well in most types of soils: mildly acidic, neutral and mildly alkaline.
Pot 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 water it, making sure to let the soil completely dry out before watering again.
During its first year after planting, it’s essential to water the young plant every two to three weeks or more often if the soil is sandy and the weather is very hot. 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 it 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 so that the stems touching the ground will not rot during the wet winter months.
Pruning Pot Marjoram helps maintain its shape and encourages bushier growth.
- Give it a cleaning prune in early spring. You should cut back the old, weak or overly crowded stems. This will allow for better air circulation and light penetration, which will promote healthy growth. Prune it down entirely 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. The leaves´ flavour is less intense when the plant is in flower.
When to plant Origanum onites
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 onites
Pot marjoram is best propagated by stem cuttings or layering.
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, either by cuttings or layering.
Stem cuttings: take softwood cuttings in spring before it starts blooming or semi-hardwood cuttings in late summer or early autumn.
- Cut the stem just below a leaf node.
- Remove the lower leaves, leaving a few pairs of upper leaves intact.
- Plant in a well-draining medium. Keep the medium consistently moist and provide indirect light.
- Once the roots have developed, transplant the rooted cuttings into individual containers and grow in cold frame during the first winter.
Layering: in autumn or spring
- Choose a mature plant.
- Take a flexible young branch and bend it down to the ground.
- Dig a shallow hole, place the middle of the branch in it, and cover with soil.
- Place a peg or a rock on top to hold it down.
- After rooting, cut the stem from the mother plant.
- Replant the rooted stem into prepared holes or pots filled with well-draining soil.
- Water thoroughly and keep them adequately moist while they establish.
A good online source for plant propagation techniques can be found in RHS propagation article.
If you prefer books, I can recommend the following:
Sources of information used for this article
I researched this plant in the following books, which I highly recommend you read. They won´t disappoint you!
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