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Sweet Marjoram

( Originally Published 1933 )



ORIGANUM MAJORANA, L.

Knotted Marjoram, Annual Marjoram

Perennial in the south Annual in the north

The sweet marjoram is native to the Mediterranean region and the Orient, but not in the tropics. It is now cultivated in southern Europe, Arabia, and Spain and by the Jews in North Morocco as a condiment. It is one of the most pleasantly scented herbs to have in the garden. The whole plant is of a dainty texture, glaucous, velvety to the touch, and bearing little green balls from which the flowers come.

Root. It is fibrous and spready.

Stem. The main stem is square and purplish-brown, but the side branches are round, wiry, and tinted reddish. In my garden it grew to from eight to twelve inches high.

Leaf. The leaves are rounded at the tips, elliptically shaped, from one-eighth to three-eighths inches long. They are covered with down, as is the whole plant, are in opposite pairs, at right angles to the pair above, and of a soft textured gray-green.

Flower. The flowers come at the end of July and have a peculiarly formed inflorescence. It consists of a tiny green, nobby, velvety growth, "the knots," about one-eighth of an inch across. These knots are single or in groups of several and stand on their own stems, which rise from the leaf axils along the stems, and at the tips of the stems, too. Each knot is four-sided, made up of tiny, sepal-like leaves, each folded over the next like a shutter, and out from each leaf of the shutter comes the tiniest of creamy, untidy flowers, a few at a time.

Seed. The seed is tiny, brown, and has no scent.

To me the plant smells of pine, spice, and heliotrope. Poucher, the perfumer, says the scent is reminiscent of nutmeg and mint, but quite characteristic. When fresh, the leaves have a sharp, aromatic, pleasant, bitter, and camphory taste; when dried it is delicious, like a perfume.

HISTORY AND LEGEND

The sweet marjoram was grown as a potherb by the Egyptians, and Hippocrates praised origanum. The Greeks and Romans crowned young married couples with it; in Crete it was the symbol of honor, and in Sicily is said to possess the gift of banishing sadness, in India it is sacred to Siva and Vishnu. Ibn Baithar mentions it, and Ibn Al Awam says when it is used for seasoning meat it removes the bad odor of corruption. Culpeper says it is much used "in all odoriferous water, powders, etc., that are for ornament or delight."

USES

The juice was formerly used to clean furniture.

Medicine. The fresh leaves and flowers in a tea were thought to open obstructions, and to be tonic and stimulating. The oil distilled from the leaves and flowers is tonic and carminative, and taken internally is said to hasten the eruption of measles and scarlet fever.

Perfume. The oil from the plant is very fragrant and exceedingly powerful, resembling the attars from certain of the thymes, and has been present in perfumes and unguents from the earliest times and today is used for perfuming French soaps more than the English, also for scenting hair pomades.

Food. In many parts of the world the leaves are used as a seasoning and when mixed in the food are said to assist the digestion. In Germany sweet marjoram seasons sausages, hence its name Wurstkraut, or sausage herb; in Italy sweet fritters made with spinach are flavored with it, and it figures as a dressing for roast chicken, as a garnish, and also in the salad bowl.

CULTURE

It is best to start the seeds indoors in a cold frame or hothouse and transplant the seedlings to the garden after danger from frost is over. In my garden the plants grew on a sunny, dry, well-drained exposure, and did well. One might stir the ground, and feed a little, if one keeps cutting the leaves too severely, to help it to continue to produce. Sweet marjoram is a charming pot plant. Although when growing in the ground the stems stand up quite straight, in a pot they droop over the sides most gracefully. The leaves of the potted plants, however, are not nearly as fragrant as those grown out-of-doors. The seed germinates in two weeks.

Harvest. Just as the flowers appear, the leaves and flowering tops are cut. The leaves are stripped off the stems and dried in the shade.



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