Sweet marjoram is a versatile herb that can add zest to your garden and kitchen. It has a mounded, spreading habit with many slender, trailing stems that display small, fragrant, gray-green leaves. It does produce small heads of nonshowy flowers, but to retain the best leaf flavor you must shear flower buds before they open. Though closely related to oregano (Origanum vulgare), sweet marjoram has a sweeter, less pungent flavor that’s prized in many Mediterranean cuisines. It can be used fresh or dried; unlike some other herbs (like tarragon), sweet marjoram retains much of its flavor when dried.
Common name: Sweet marjoram
Botanical name: Origanum majorana
Plant type: Perennial sub-shrub usually grown as an annual.
Zones: 9 to 11
Height: 1 to 2 feet
• Sun: Full sun
• Soil: Well drained loam or sandy, gravelly soil
• Moisture: Average to dry
• Mulch: None
• Pruning: Shear flower buds before they open, if desired.
• Fertilizer: None or, in low nutrient soils or containers, apply dilute fertilizer solution monthly.
Pests and diseases
• Plant in a container or hanging basket and place on a deck or patio near the kitchen, so you can grab a handful while cooking.
• In herb gardens, sweet marjoram’s gray-green foliage combines well with the silvery foliage of sage and the bright green leaves of parsley and chives.
• This herb is frost-tender, so harvest stems for drying before the first frost in your area.
All in the family
• Sweet marjoram is a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), a large family that includes many familiar herbs and ornamental plants.
• Culinary herbs in the mint family include rosemary, mint, basil, oregano, marjoram, sage, lemon balm, and thyme.
• Ornamentals include salvia, bee balm (Monarda spp.), Stachys spp. (including betony, lamb’s-ears, and heal-all), lavender, coleus, catmint, and obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana).
• Many (though not all) mint family plants have square stems.
Where to buy
• Harris Seeds, Rochester, NY, 800-544-7938, www.harrisseeds.com
• High Mowing Organic Seeds, Wolcott, VT, 802-472-6174, www.highmowingseeds.com
• Pantry Garden Herbs, Cleveland, MO, 816-899-2536, www.pantrygardenherbs.com
• Richters, Goodwood, Ontario, Canada, 800-668-4372, www.richters.com
(Text by Nancy Rose, photo courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden)