Marjoram and Oregano:
Herb of the Year 2005

Madeline Wajda
Adams County Master Gardener

Marjoram and oregano are mainly culinary herbs in the organum family. The Greeks gave us the name of this ancient herb - oros ganos -which means joy-of-the-mountain. It grows wild there and in other Mediterranean mountain regions. The warm, sweet-spicy scent is said to have been created by Aphrodite as a symbol of happiness. Bridal couples were crowned with garlands of the plant to promote happiness in their new life together. Plants were placed on tombs to give peace to departed spirits.

The Greeks would use the oil from these plants for a scent after baths, and the Egyptians used it as a disinfectant and food preservative. Those uses have carried on through the centuries. Oregano was used in nosegays by ladies during the Middle Ages. And the plant’s leaves were rubbed over wooden furniture and floors as a fragrant polish.

The marjoram side of origanum has a sweet, mild, flavor and is sold as Sweet Marjoram. It is a tender perennial in our area and most cooks feel it is the best for milder sauces and French cuisine. It rarely survives winters in zone 6. A hardy variety called Wild Marjoram is often sold in nurseries. Unfortunately, while it has lovely flowers, it lacks both taste and fragrance and has little culinary value.

Oregano has a stronger flavor than marjoram and is used in cooking with meats and in sauces where sharp flavors are not overpowering. It is winter-hardy and easy to grow. There are a number of excellent culinary varieties including Italian, Greek, Kaliteri, Herrenhausen, and Hot & Spicy. Hot & Spicy is probably the hottest oregano; it goes well in robust dishes such as chiles and stews.

The flavor of oregano plants varies a good deal. Tasting a leaf is a good way to decide if you will be cooking with this herb or not. Oregano is a great herb to dry as the flavor intensifies after it has dried for a couple of days. When drying oregano, consider mixing a couple of cultivars – such as Greek and Italian – to obtain the flavor you like best.

In addition to its culinary value, oregano is also a great garden or landscape plant. Golden oregano has an excellent golden color while Zorba Red has spectacular red-purple sprays dotted with pure white flowers. Kent Beauty has somewhat trailing branches and pink or purple flowers. Hopley’s Purple has striking purple blossoms.

Most plants in the origanum family grow 20-24 inches high. They prefer a sunny, well-drained location. Marjoram is easily grown from seed in the spring as soon as the ground has warmed up. Oregano is easily propagated by root divisions in the spring or by cuttings. The origanums do not winter well indoors as they are susceptible to spider mites, aphids, leaf miners, and fungal disease.

Marjoram Corn Bread Serves 9

  • 2 tsp. unsalted butter (for the pan)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¾ cup stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 Tbl. sugar
  • 1 cup buttermilk (whole or low-fat)
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 2 Tbl. finely chopped fresh marjoram
  • ¼ cup finely chopped green onions
  • 4 Tbl. unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter an 8 inch square baking pan with 2 tsp. butter. Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt into medium mixing bowl. Stir in cornmeal and sugar. In separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk and eggs. Pour liquid into the dry ingredients and stir just until all the ingredients are moistened. Stir in marjoram, green onions, and melted butter. Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until cornbread is lightly browned and pulls away from the sides of the pan, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly in the pan before cutting and serving.

Greek Shrimp Serves 4

  • 1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 Tbl. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbl. olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Greek oregano
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 16 oz. can whole tomatoes, drained, halved, seeded and chopped
  • ½ cup tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • Fresh oregano sprigs for garnish

Rinse and drain shrimp and toss with lemon juice. Heat oil in large skillet over medium high heat. Add shrimp and sauté until pink. Transfer to plate and set aside. Reduce heat to medium. Add onion to shrimp juices in skillet; sauté until soft – about three minutes. Add oregano and garlic; sauté one minute. Stir in tomato sauce, sugar, and pepper; heat to boiling. Cover and simmer over low heat for 15 minutes. Heat oven to 425. Lightly grease four individual ramekins or baking dishes. Divide tomato sauce and shrimp among dishes. Sprinkle with cheese. Bake 5-8 minutes until sauce bubbles and cheese melts. Garnish with oregano sprigs. Serve immediately.

Read other articles on growing herbs or vegetables

Read other recipes from the garden

Read other gardening articles by Tom or Madeline Wajda