By Rick Gush, Urban Farm contributor
Friday, December 30, 2011
Photo by Rick Gush
Fresh marjoram from my Italian garden.
Regarding marjoram, I’m convinced and confused of a few things. (Here in Italy, we call it majoranna, or Mah-Joe-Rhan-Naah.) I’m convinced that it is one of my favorite seasonings because I use a lot of it, but I’m not completely sure what it is that I’m growing. I’m well aware of the conventional wisdom that says oregano and marjoram are very close cousins, oregano often being called Origanum vulgare and marjoram, Origanum majorana. For the past 10 years, I’ve grown two similar-but-different plants in the garden, one of which I call marjoram and the other, oregano.
However, literature — both printed and online — on these two plants contain a great many statements contradictory to what I know in my own little world. For example, on the Wikipedia page for marjoram, there are two photos, the first of which not being the marjoram that people in Italy grow; it looks more like my oregano. As far as I’m concerned, marjoram always has more rounded leaves, while oregano, of which I think there are a lot of different types, has more pointy and angular leaves.
I’ll also argue with the Wikipedia entry in regard to harvesting marjoram. The article states that the tops should be cut as the plants begin to flower, and then dried in the shade. In Italy, don’t do those two things. We harvest from the marjoram plants all year round and usually use it fresh. I harvest one 4-inch-long stem at a time and, using scissors, it takes me five minutes to put together a bundle of a few-dozen stems. I use some of the marjoram fresh and then keep using the stems until they are all gone. We don’t pay much attention to how dry they are.
To use the herb, I strip the leaves off the little stems by sliding it between my fingers. My marjoram plants produce flowers, but I don’t think the flowers are nearly as strongly flavored as the leaves are.
For the oregano, we do use the flowers. We cut bunches of the oregano flowers while they are blooming in late summer and then use the dried bunches of flowers during winter. Oregano flowers are much more colorful than marjoram’s, and the marjoram flowers are strange, four-sided, striped, geometric-looking things, while oregano flowers look a bit more like a regular mass of flowers.
I am not crazy for the frequent affirmation that marjoram is sensitive to cold. The last few days have touched 25 degrees Fahrenheit over here, but I harvested very nice marjoram this morning, and the plants all look just fine.
In the spring every year, I buy a few new marjoram plants, which are clumps of perhaps two-dozen small plants growing in a 6-inch pot. I tried growing some single plants, but the little individual fellows never get big enough to merit a hearty harvesting. The oregano grows much differently and ends up being a floppy grower that re-roots along the stems to produce a thick — and sometimes unruly — mat of growth. The natural tidiness of marjoram clumps is why a lot of Italians grow their own marjoram — either in pots or the garden — but very few actually grow their own oregano.
We have a half-dozen marjoram clumps scattered around the garden but I think we should have even more. There is no doubt at all how much I like the seasoning, and I use marjoram on everything from steamed vegetables to cooked meat, to salad mixes and, of course, on any sort of pizza or pasta dish. Yummy!
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