Lesser known than it’s cousin oregano, marjoram has never quite gotten its time in the limelight. While both are members of that ever useful plant family mint, oregano gets top billing. But the humble little marjoram is no less important in mythology, cooking, or herbal medicine than oregano.
The uses of marjoram, like many herbs, seem to be so old as to be lost in the mists of time, we do know this great little plant originated in the Middle East and Mediterranian areas. It spread West from there, and was well known to all of the big name historical cultures – the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and many others. Most people will know it best from its flavor in blends, like Herbs de Provence and Za’atar. But nothing in life is every easy, so to make things more confusing, in antiquity marjoram and oregano were sometimes referred to interchangeably. Due to this it, can be confusing to read older texts about marjoram, and while they didn’t mind the change out, you though, do want to avoid using the wrong species. Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is usually called Sweet Marjoram, and Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is usually listed as Oregano or Wild Marjoram, it is important to distinguish between the two since they do have different properties. Marjoram is sweeter and more mild than oregano, and they look slightly different.
Marjoram has been used for centuries by humans in many ways. An early reference to marjoram is its depiction on Hittite tablets, and there is another record of the use of marjoram in the Ebers Papyrus. Which if you aren’t hip to ancient Egyptian Medical papyri, is the oldest and all around awesome Egyptian medical papyrus. The Egyptians were using marjoram oil as a way to treat ear infections, as an antiseptic, and was used in their embalming, and worn in rituals for the god Osiris. In Greece it was more associated with Aphrodite (Venus), who was supposed to have created oregano and marjoram and loved them greatly, which means both were included in wedding and funeral rituals. It is said that if marjoram grows on a grave the deceased is happy, or will have a pleasant afterlife. Greeks, Romans and even during the Middle Ages in Europe marjoram was used to crown couples, or the bride, during marriage ceremonies. Also during the Middle Ages it was used as a “strewing” herb, meaning one of the many herbs, like other herbs I’ve mentioned, that were added to reeds or straw on the floor to produce a sweet smell when stepped on, think early air fresheners. Marjoram was also added to beers before hops use became prevalent, since it is a good antiseptic. There was even a belief in Prussia that thunder could cause milk to sour, which was remedied by placing a sprig of marjoram next to the milk.
Marjoram is one of those herbs that never seems to not work with meat, it pretty much goes with every sort from fish to beef. It does go well with breads and vegetables, but desserts are not its strong point. Otherwise it is a highly useful herb. It’s popularity in America has to do with returning GI’s and their taste for Italian food, and of course marjoram came along with that. Another well known use is for vocalists, or singers, they are known to use the herb as a tea, or an inhalant, to help to preserve the voice, or treat laryngitis. It probably worked so well since it has an anti-inflammatory nature, is an analgesic, and has antiseptic qualities, this means it is a great addition (as an oil) to sore throat sprays for colds, laryngitis, or just a seasonal scratchy throat.
Chemically marjoram contains many compounds that make it great for herbal medicine uses. Marjoram contains carvacrol for anti-fungal, and antibacterial, as well as champor, borneol and various terpenoids for numbing and analgesic properties. Its analgesic qualities make it great for topical or internal use for pain of all sorts, and this is one herb that is fairly safe in small quantities over a long period of time. Its oils have been used for centuries to help treat inflammatory pain in joints and muscles, most frequently used to treat rheumatoid arthritis. Topical application of these oils definitely helps with muscle spasm pain, and brings healing warmth to it as this is another warming oil. Remember bringing additional blood to an injured area helps it to heal faster, this is using the body’s natural healing system to help things along. It is also an antispasmodic so it helps to tell tight muscles to relax and release the tension from spasms, stress, or just over exertion.
Marjoram Massage Oil
- 1 oz Carrier Oil (Sweet Almond, Avocado, Olive, etc)
- 20-30 drops Sweet Marjoram oil (use 10-15 for this and additional oils if you decide to make a blend)
Mix well and store in a dark container, massage directly into sore muscles or joint. Avoid sensitive areas, this is a warming oil and can irritate. This is great for muscle pain and spasms as well as muscles exhausted and sore from exercise, as well as lady cramps. Since this is a warming oil
ProTip: To the above recipe instead of 20-30 drops add 10-15 of marjoram, and then add 10-15 of one or a few of these oils lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus. These will all add to the existing calming, antispasmodic, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties of marjoram.
SleepyProTip: A great sleep blend is a drop of lavender and a drop of marjoram rubbed into the temples.
Since marjoram its an antispasmodic it also helps to sooth and calm a cramping digestive tract. Used internally or rubbed into the abdomen, it can relieve stomach and intestinal cramps. This is a great way to treat lactose intolerance as well! For stomach complaints, or just as an internal pain remedy, you can add 2-3 drops of marjoram oil to a gel capsule and take it. You can combine it with other oils like fennel or chamomile for stomach complaints, or with frankincense or lavender for spasms and pain.
If you are going to take an essential oil internally only use therapeutic grade essential oils, I recommend this one.
Or you can make a tea infusion, it is rather nice like a rosemary tea. Very fresh and vegetative tasting, remember though making it with fresh marjoram is usually preferred, but dried works just as well here.
- 1 teaspoon Fresh Marjoram (2 teaspoons dried)
- 8 oz Boiling water
Steep in a covered teacup for 5-10 minutes, and drink. If you want to up its stomach calming power add in fennel seeds, chamomile, or ginger. You can also substitute a drop of sweet marjoram oil in warm water, or cool.
Marjoram not only helps with pain and stomach complaints it is also a great tea to have before bed time. It has a slight sedative quality, since it contains linalool, and if you need to be super sharp it is probably not the day time herb for you to use for pain or otherwise. Night time though, is its time to shine! It helps to calm the mind, like Tulsi (Holy Basil), and helps the mind to relax as well as the body. This means that sleep will come easier for those that have a hard time shutting down, and if all you can focus on is pain, sometimes helps the mind let that go so sleep can take hold. For stress reduction, it pairs extremely well with lemon balm and really helps to release stress.
SleepyProTip: Add a teaspoon of one or a few of these – Tulsi, lavender, or chamomile for a more relaxing sleepy tea.
I have brought up a few sleep aids before, and I can not stress enough how very important an adequate amount of sleep is. Sleep is your rest, repair, and recharge cycle for your body. This is when repairs and housecleaning is done, think of it like a computer defragging every night, the body asseses things, does some spring cleaning and if repairs are needed they can be done. Your body requires this time to function normally and it also has a great effect on your mental well-being. Sleep deprivation can cause irritability, depression, anxiety, moodiness, and even hallucinations. If you are in pain why add all of those issues to your existing ones? This is why I find that finding and using gentle, non-addictive, herbal sleep aids, since these are better than me up roaming the house at all hours of the night, because I can’t shut off.
Sometimes though, all you need is a hot calming bath, to shut off your mind or to ease pain in muscles and joints. Marjoram is a great bath addition, and it is so lovely smelling, you will want to bathe with it all the time. Its scent was used to freshen the air in the past, like I mentioned above, and is widely used in perfume and soap making. Believe me once you start, you will see why it is so widely used. After you use it, there is no going back, and it will be hard to go without a bit of marjoram in your bath.
Marjoram Epsom Salts
- 5 cups (40 oz) Epsom Salts
- 5-15 drops Sweet Marjoram Essential Oils
- optional: 1 tablespoon of dried marjoram, or any other oils to increase stress reduction, reduce pain, or give sleepiness
Mix well and store in a dry, airtight container. Add a cup to a hot bath and soak that pain away! You can throw in a tablespoon or so of the dried herb as well in this to boost the potency. If you are suffering from some heinous lady cramps, this is a great way to help you through the pain, and it also helps if you have inflamed muscles from over exertion. It can make you drowsy though so this is best done at night, or when you have time to take a nap if you need it.
Marjoram Bath Tea
- 2 tablespoons Marjoram, fresh or dried
- 16 oz Boiling water
Brew like you would tea, in covered pot or cup and add to hot bath water. Just like the Epsom soak above this is also a great soak for sore muscles, lady cramps, muscle spasms, joint pain and inflammation.
- 2 tablespoons Marjoram, fresh or dried
- 16 oz Boiling water
- a towel or rag, large enough to cover the painful/sore area
Prepare like you would the bath tea above, but instead of adding to a bath allow to cool enough to be tolerable. Soak the towel in the infusion and apply to affected area, repeat as necessary. This is a great option if you are on the go, or don’t have access to a tub to soak in.
I am always a big fan of taking your medicine in your food so here is a few recipes that are great ways to integrate marjoram into your diet. First up is a delicious soup that is good for a cold winter night to lift your spirits and keep you warm.
Marjoram Lentil Soup
- 2 cups of Puy Green lentils, soak for an hour prior to starting soup
- 1 Yellow onion diced
- 2 Stalks celery diced
- 4-6 White or Red potatoes, diced
- 2-3 Carrots diced
- 2 cups of Broccoli florets
- 2 teaspoon Marjoram, dried or minced fresh
- 1/2-1 teaspoon Black pepper, ground
- 2 teaspoons Cilantro fresh (may be omitted, or reduced to 1 teaspoon)
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tablespoon Olive oil
- 8 cups Water (you can use Chicken or Beef stock instead for a more hearty soup)
In a heavy soup pot, or dutch oven, add olive oil and heat until hot. Add onions and cook until clear, add in water and lentils. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 1 hour, after the hour add potatoes and celery. Add broccoli and carrots after potatoes begin to soften, then add in herbs, salt and pepper. Simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors. Serve warm with crusty bread, or naan.
Since they are the most well known marjoram blends, I am going to give a za’atar recipe and herbs de Provence. Herbs de Provence are great for meatloafs and other meaty dishes, it goes great sprinkled over potatoes then roasting them, and loads of other delicious culinary things. Za’atar is possibly lesser known in the west, but it is just as awesome. It is a common spice blend in Middle Eastern and North African cooking. It goes great in meat, vegetable, rice and bread dishes, I find it is fantastic rubbed onto some flat bread and baked. Or just a teaspoon or so of it with some olive oil, and some bread for dipping, is a good snack for having a drink with friends or right before the main meal. Not only do they both taste great, but these are both great ways to have your food be your medicine, as I said above.
- 1/4 cup Sumac (you will find this in most Middle Eastern style markets, it has a citrus flavor and you can in a pinch use some lemon zest but real sumac is best)
- 2 tablespoons dried Thyme
- 2 tablespoons dried Marjoram
- 2 tablespoons dried Oregano
- 1 tablespoon Roasted Sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon salt
Grind sesame seeds in mortar and pestle with the salt, or grind them in a food processor or blender. Add the remaining ingredients and give a quick pulse in a blender or processor, or a few good grinds with a pestle until you have a fairly uniform chunky mixture. Store in an airtight container for 3-6 months.
Herbs de Provence
- 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon dried Oregano
- 2 tablespoons and 1 teaspoon dried Thyme
- 2 tablespoons dried Savory
- 2 tablespoons dried Lavender
- 1 teaspoon dried Basil
- 1 teaspoon dried Sage
- 1 teaspoon dried, crushed Rosemary
Mix well and store in an airtight container, stores for about 3-6 months as well. This goes great as a crust for roasts, on roasted potatoes, even in bread! And like za’atar, is a great way to get an extra boost of marjoram and its healing properties in your diet.
Marjoram while considered to be “mostly harmless” can have some reactions with medications or if you are pregnant. So do make sure that you always check, even the mostly safe herbs, on WebMD just to be sure there will be no interactions with medications and so forth. Remember even water becomes poisonous if you have too much of it, so always use herbal medicine sensibly, with caution and respect. As always if you are in doubt about anything, ask a professional!