Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae), Origanum majorana L.

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

Marjoram, Origanum majorana L., is a tender perennial herb native to North Africa and southwest Asia and naturalized in southern Europe. Formerly classified as Majorana hortensis Moench. and also sweet or knotted marjoram, the plant reaches a height of 0.5 meters and has small, gray-green, ovate leaves, pink or purple flowers, and erect, glabrous to tomentose stems. Marjoram is cultivated in France, Greece, Hungary, the United States, Egypt, and several other Mediterranean countries.

The reported life zone of marjoram is 6 to 288Cdeg;C with an annual precipitation of 0.5 to 2.7 meters and a soil pH of 4.9 to 8.7 (4.1-31). The plant is adapted to well-drained, fertile loam soils. The cold-sensitive plant cannot survive northern climates. For cultivation, marjoram is both seeded directly and transplanted into fields. Harvesting is generally accomplished at full bloom and can be done two or three times per year, depending upon the growing region. Plant material is often dried in drying sheds to avoid direct sunlight and thus preserve the green color and the aroma.

The essential oil obtained by steam distillation contains terpen-4-ol, -terpinene, -terpineol, -terpinene, cis-sabinene hydrate, linalool, and several other compounds (1.5-51, 1.5-142). Dried marjoram, imported into the United States has been reported to contain thymol and carvacrol (6.4-101). Marjoram seeds contain about 37 percent fixed oil (6.1-60). An oleoresin is also available.

The highly aromatic leaves and flowering tops are used fresh, dried, and ground to flavor salads, stews, stuffings, soups, eggs, vegetables, fish, meat, and sausages. Fresh leaves are added to vinegars, and seeds are added to confections. Marjoram has been used in bouquet garni. Leaves and flowering tops are used in sachets and potpourris (14.1-16). Oil is used in place of plant material and in perfumes and cosmetics. The plant has been noted to exhibit antioxidant and antifungal properties (1.8-8, 6.4-104, 11.1-126). Marjoram is sometimes grown as an ornamental plant.

As a medicinal plant, marjoram has traditionally been used as a stimulant and tonic. As a folk remedy it has been used against asthma, indigestion, headache, rheumatism, and toothache. Marjoram has been employed in the treatment of cancer (14.1-16). The plant exhibits some antifungal activity (11.1-126).

There are a wide range of ecotypes and chemotypes of marjoram, and the plant is often confused with other Origanum species. Pot marjoram, Origanum onites L., is a short perennial with papillose, hirsute stems, ovate leaves, and white or purple flowers. Formerly classified as Majorana onites (L.) Benth., this plant is native to southeast Europe, Turkey, and Syria. Wild marjoram refers to several plants, generally of Origanum species that are collected and used as oregano. Thymus mastichina L., a native of Spain and North Africa, is the source of the an essential oil known as Spanish wild marjoram oil (14.1-8).

Marjoram and pot marjoram are both generally recognized as safe for human consumption as natural flavorings/seasonings, and marjoram is generally recognized as safe as an extract/essential oil (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982]).

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997