Oregano & Sweet Marjoram
Oregano and sweet marjoram are closely related perennial, culinary herbs. Both are cultivated for their aromatic leaves used fresh or dried as seasoning in many regional cuisines. They are often used interchangeably.
- Marjoram is a milder and sweeter alternative to spicier oregano.
- Origanum vulgare is the common variety that grows wild in Mediterranean mountainous regions. It lacks the depth of oregano flavor preferred in most cuisines.
- Origanum vulgare hirtum is considered the true Greek oregano. Origanum vulgare syriacum is used in za’atar spice.
- Popular in Italian cuisine and in pizza nearly everywhere, the spicy, aromatic oregano widely recognized is made from a hybrid of wild marjoram and a variety of oregano, Origanum onites.
- Also popular, Mexican oregano is from a completely different species, Lippia graveolens, and is not a true oregano, but it gives a culinary punch.
- Several oregano varieties are grown primarily for their ornamental rather than culinary value.
- Some recipes call for sweet marjoram, which is Origanum majorana. Italian marjoram, x majoricum, is a cross between sweet marjoram and oregano and is more winter-hardy than sweet marjoram.
In the Garden
- Rely on plants purchased from a nursery rather than starting your own plants from seed.
- Oregano plants grown from seed are highly variable and often lack flavor. Nursery plants are selected for culinary use. Marjoram seeds are nearly dust-like, somewhat difficult to handle, and require a long period to germinate after sowing.
- Cuttings of marjoram and oregano from plants grown for culinary use are easily propagated.
- Provide plants for culinary purposes with moderate water. Non-culinary oreganos have low-water requirements.
- Give oregano and sweet marjoram a sunny location and well-drained soil. Variegated leaf varieties benefit from some afternoon shade.
- Space plants about 18 in. apart to provide good air circulation. One plant of each is sufficient for most families.
- For best leaf flavor, do not allow oregano and sweet marjoram to flower. Pinch them back or shear about one-third of the new spring growth in early May to keep plants compact and tidy.
- If not regularly snipped for kitchen use, oregano and marjoram plants may require a light sheering multiple times over a long growing period. Oregano, especially, becomes woody with leathery leaves at the base if not kept compact.
- To renew soft stems and leaves, cut woody stems near their base in winter or very early spring, leaving a low set of leaves. Vigorous growth resumes in warm weather.
- Oregano and marjoram plants are relatively problem-free.
- Oregano is a hardy herb in Sonoma County, but sweet marjoram will not withstand a freeze and is often grown as an annual. Marjoram may be cut to 1 in. from the ground, potted up, and brought indoors in winter.