Sweet marjoram, also known as knotted marjoram, is one of the most popular Mediterranean herbs used for its culinary and medicinal values since ancient times. The herb has the delicate sweet-flavor and mildly pungent (spicy) taste comparatively milder than oregano.
Botanically marjoram is a member of Labiatae family of the genus: Origanum. Its scientific name: Origanum majorana. The Labatiacea family also includes some of commonly known herbs and spices such as dill, anise, fennel, cumin, etc.
Sweet marjoram is native to Asia Minor (Turkey); however, it grows in plentiful all over the Mediterranean and southern parts of the Europe. This herb plant is a small woody-stemmed shrub grows proficiently in well-drained, lime soil. It reaches about 75 cm in height; feature a hairy stem with soft oval shaped dark-green leaves, and tiny pinkish-white flowers.
In general, its leaves are harvested from the plant just after the flower buds form but before flowering. To blanch, hang the harvested stems in a dark, dry room for about 7-10 days, then strip the leaves from the stems and store in air tight container.
Several related species of marjoram grown either for culinary or therapeutic purposes. Pot marjoram (O. onites) has white or pink flowers. Winter marjoram (O. heracleoticum) has the strong flavor similar to that of wild marjoram (O.vulgare).
Health benefits of marjoram
- Sweet marjoram is one of a few very popular herbs, especially in Mediterranean region. It was used in ancient times by the Greeks to make wreaths and garlands and was believed as a symbol of peace, harmony and happiness.
- The herb contains many notable phyto-nutrients, minerals and vitamins that are essential for optimum health and wellness.
- The herb parts contain certain chemical constituents like eugenol sabinene, α -terpinene, cymene, terpinolene, linalool, cis-sabinene hydrate, linalyl acetate, terpinen-4-ol and terpineol. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties.
- Fresh herb has high levels of vitamin C (ascorbic acid); provide 51.4 µg or 86% of RDA per 100 g. Vitamin C is one of the powerful natural anti-oxidant help remove harmful free radicals from the body. Ascorbic acid also has immune booster, wound healing and anti-viral effects.
- Marjoram herb contains exceptionally high levels of beta-carotene, vitamin A, cryptoxanthin, lutein and zea-xanthin. Carotenes, xanthins and lutein are powerful flavonoid anti-oxidants. Together, these compounds help act as protective scavengers against oxygen-derived free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS) that play a role in aging and various disease processes.
- Vitamin A is known to have antioxidant properties and is essential for healthy eye-sight. It is also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin. Consumption of natural foods rich in vitamin A and carotenes are known to help the body protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
- Zea-xanthin, an important dietary carotenoid, selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes where it is thought to provide antioxidant and protective light-filtering functions. It has proven beneficial action against age-related macular disease (ARMD) especially in the elderly.
- Sweet marjoram is one of the richest herbal sources for vitamin K; provide about 518% of recommended daily intake. Vitamin-K has a potential role in bone mass building by promoting osteotrophic activity in the bones. It also has established role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease by limiting neuronal damage in the brain.
- Marjoram herb has a good amount of minerals like iron, calcium, potassium, manganese, copper, zinc and magnesium. Potassium is an important component of cell and body fluids, which helps control heart rate and blood pressure. Manganese is used by the body as a co-factor for the antioxidant enzyme, superoxide dismutase.
- Furthermore, its leaves are an excellent source of iron, contains 82.71 mg/100 g (about 1034% of RDA). Iron is an important co-factor for cytochrome oxidase enzyme in the cellular metabolism. In addition, being a component of hemoglobin inside the red blood cells, it determines the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.
Selection and storage
Sweet marjoram can be grown as a pot herb. Both fresh as well as shade dried herb is used in the kitchens. Fresh marjoram leaves should feature deep gray-green in color and free from yellow discoloration. The leaves are at their best when harvested just before flowering. Dry marjoram leaves and seeds can also be marketed in air-seal packs or containers.
Store the fresh herb inside the refrigerator for extended use. Dried marjoram should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place where it will keep fresh for up to six months.
Wash fresh herb in cold running water or rinse for few minutes to remove any dust or pesticide residues. Dried marjoram leaves are in-fact has a more intense flavor unlike that of other herbs like sage, thyme, etc. In order to keep the fragrance and flavor intact, it is generally added at the last moment in the cooking recipes, since prolonged cooking results in evaporation of its essential oils.
- Fresh marjoram can be used as a flavoring in the preparation of salad dressings, soups, stews, marinades as well as in egg and vegetable dishes.
- The herb gives a pleasant aromatic flavor to vegetables such as spinach, cauliflower, tomatoes, beans, peas, potato and carrots.
- It mixes well with many other herbs and is used with thyme, tarragon, bay leaf, and parsley.
- Sweet marjoram is one of the main additions in sausages, pizza and in poultry stuffing.
- Marjoram tea is popular drink in the Mediterranean countries.
Medicinal uses of marjoram herb
- Marjoram herb parts contain many health benefiting compounds in essential oil such as terpenes, linalool, terpineol, carvocrol, linalyl acetate, ocimene, cadinene, geranyl cetate, citral, eugenol, etc. These compounds are known to have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. Marjoram oil has been used to treat minor ailments like flatulence, muscular pain and rheumatism.
- Eugenol in sweet marjoram (10% of eugenol) has been found to have anti-inflammatory function by acting against the enzyme cyclooxygenase (COX), which mediates inflammatory cascade in the body. This enzyme-inhibiting effect of the eugenol makes it an important remedy for symptomatic relief in individuals with inflammatory health problems like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and inflammatory bowel conditions.
- When taken in moderation, it helps relieve menstruation pain and leucorrhoea. Since it increases menstruation flow the herb should not be taken during pregnancy and in menorrhagia conditions.
- Essential oils in marjoram herb have also been found to have anti-fungal and anti-bacterial functions by inhibiting many pathogenic bacteria like Staphylococcus, E.coli, shigella, proteus, and Pseudomonas.
- Sweet marjoram tea helps relieve nausea, flatulence and is thought to have mild anti-septic functions.
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