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If you’re visiting for the first time, this column explores the nature, history, medicinal and culinary uses of herbs in cuisine in general, and in Italian recipes. If you’re a regular welcome back to The Herb Garden! Today we investigate marjoram, or as it is known in Italian, maggiorana.
Marjoram, a seemingly straightforward, no nonsense herb hails from a family who could be the subject of a twisted Netflix series based on mistaken identity. Its history is bountiful but plagued by indescrepencies as what one has called Marjoram, another has called Oregano. Both herbs have been present for quite some time but when referred to in ancient text, there is no definitive way to know which herb was truly used in that moment. Although it has strong ties and similar uses to its cousin, Oregano, Marjoram stands firmly on its own root as an herb that if you are not familiar with, should be on your radar as of now.
Marjoram, origanum majorana, is a member of the Mint family and was originally cultivated in the Middle East and Mediterranean. There is much discussion as to the validity of its history as the names marjoram and oregano were used interchangeably. However, it is safe to assume that both were widely utilized. In fact early images of the plant (or its cousin) appear on Hittites tablets from the Bronze age. In Ancient Egypt, marjoram oil was used as an antiseptic to treat infections, as well as in the embalming process. The Greeks and Romans, associated marjoram with love and happiness and it was closely linked to their Gods of Love, Aphrodite and Venus respectively. Marjoram was used in both marriage and funeral ceremonies to ensure happiness in life, whether present life or afterlife. And for all the single ladies out there, marjoram was placed in love potions and spells. It was highly believed that if a sprig of marjoram was placed under your pillow while you slept, your future spouse would appear to you in your dreams.
Marjoram has strong and versatile medicinal and health benefits both internally and topically. In tea or inhalant form, marjoram works well for throat inflammation and discomfort or laryngitis. Marjoram has a high source of antioxidants which are beneficial to heart health. It is commonly believed that marjoram aids in relieving indigestion and the irregular menstruation. Marjoram has been linked to having positive effects on diabetes, stress and anxiety, and pain relief. Simply bring water and crushed marjoram to a boil, allow it to steep, and drain. Add honey to taste and you have Marjoram tea. In its essential oil form Marjoram is extremely popular to address the above mentioned health conditions as well as others.
Marjoram, although similar to oregano, distinguishes itself as finer in texture and sweeter in flavor. Although not as strong as oregano, Marjoram can be used in its place if needed. Marjoram plays well with other spices and is used in mixtures such as Herbes de Provence, and Za’atar. However it also holds it own when used by itself. Marjoram is extremely versatile and can be used with most meat, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Due to its milder nature, it is hard to overdo it with this spice therefore giving the cook more control in flavoring. Very common in Mediterranean cooking, in particular Spain and Italy where it’s added to sauces, stews, stuffings, salad dressings, eggs, pasta, rice, and sausage mixtures. Because it is tender by nature, it is best to add marjoram towards the last 5-10 minutes to cooking.
Oils, liquors, and vinegars can be infused with marjoram producing fragrant herbal notes that bring dressings and cocktails to another level.