( Originally Published 1933 )
Pot marjoram is native to Europe and is so hardy it positively ramps over the ground. It smells thymier than sweet marjoram, and is a much bigger, coarser, and hairier plant. It is somewhat straggly with sprawling, leafy stems and pinkish or white flowers, and in certain situations would make a fine ground cover.
Root. The roots are many and shallow.
Stem. The stems are somewhat recumbent, but rise to two feet or more, are leafy, and much branched.
Leaf. The leaves are entire, sometimes slightly hairy on the margins and on the under ribs, rounded at the base, somewhat pointed at the tips; are one inch long, have short stalks, and smell thymey when crushed.
Flower. The flowers come in July and are in many flowered, flat-topped clusters. Each flower is subtended by a little brownish bract and has a three-parted pinkish lower lip and a two-parted upper one, the corolla is longer than the calyx. Two of the stamens are exserted. The flowers are very fragrant with something of the sweetness of Clethra alnifolia, which blooms at the same time, a bit of heliotrope, and an undertone of spice. Some plants bear white flower heads, and some pink.
Seed. The seeds are very small, oval, reddish, or dark brown, and, according to Vilmorin, the germinating power lasts five years.
HISTORY AND LEGEND
This plant is mentioned by Pliny for its medicinal uses, also by Ibn Al Awam and Ibn Baithar. Because of its supposed antiseptic quality it was strewn over church floors at funerals and placed in sick chambers. Origanum is mentioned as being in Adrian van der Donck's garden in Yonkers in 1653. In the Virginia Gazette of 1774 sweet marjoram is recommended as a tea with a little mint. O. heracleoticum and 'O. virens were in American gardens in 1806.
The flowers add a pleasant note to a potpourri.
The leaves were formerly used to dye linen reddish brown and the Russian Cossacks color the wood of their lances with it. The flowers are loved by the bees and improve the taste of honey. Miss Rohde says the marjoram was put into sweet bags to scent the linen. The dried leaves were used in tobacco.
Medicine. The fresh leaves are more valuable than the dried and are made into tea, which is said to strengthen the stomach, cure headaches, and nervous complaints. The oil distilled from the plant is tonic, excitant, emenagogue, and is used for skin diseases, toothache, neuralgia, and in liniments, for rheumatism and bruises.
Perfume. In Provence and Spain the dried flowers only are sent to the perfumer, and produce the "oil origanum," which is made from several species of origanum. The oil of thyme is often called "oil of origanum."
Food. The leaves are condiments, but I found they were not nearly as pleasant or attractive as the sweet marjoram, and do not recommend them.
The plant was sown from seed late in May out-of-doors and did not flower the first summer. It can be grown from seeds or propagated by cuttings and will last for many years. The pink and white flowers are attractive in a some-what weedy fashion, and are so delightfully fragrant that they deserve a place in some corner of the garden, perhaps as a ground cover in a fairly wild space.
Variety. There seem to be about thirty marjorams, and one of these is called dwarf pot marjoram. It is mentioned by Vilmorin who says it makes a good edging plant, that it does not grow taller than twelve to fourteen inches, and always comes true from seed. Perhaps this is the one I grew under the name of Origanum onites, which Dr. Merrill says is a form of O. vulgare. It looks exactly like it and smells the same too, except that the whole plant is smaller, being from twelve to fifteen inches high in my garden. Sown indoors in March, it was transplanted into the garden in May and flowered the first summer. Either it is an annual or not hardy, for it died during the winter.
Other plants came to me under the specific names of O. heracleoticum and O. virens, which, when examined by Dr. Merrill, were reported as being forms of O. vulgare, from which they only differed in size, leafiness, or perhaps in scent.
A golden-leaved one is reported, var. aureum.