Sweet Marjoram: A Super Spice!
By Krista DeKuyper | September 13, 2018 |
Welcome to this ninth article in our “Healthy Spices” series. The spice that is “on the menu” today is sweet marjoram, an aromatic herb that is very healthy for us and also tastes great.
Like many other spices, marjoram has a fascinating history. According to Greek mythology, the goddess Aphrodite loved marjoram and was the first to cultivate it. For this reason, marjoram was one of the earliest herbs used for wedding wreaths!
What is Marjoram?
Marjoram, also called “sweet marjoram” or “knotted marjoram”, is a perennial plant that grows up to 12 inches in height.1
Marjoram has small light-green leaves as well as small white flowers when the plant is in bloom.
The botanical name for marjoram is Origanum majorana, which translates to “joy of the mountain”.
Marjoram actually belongs to the same genus as oregano, and in some middle eastern countries it is referred to as “wild oregano”. As such, marjoram technically belongs in the oregano family of herbs.
The crushed leaves of marjoram plants are the herb that most people have in their spice racks at home.
Marjoram also exists in concentrated forms such as essential oils and tinctures.
Historical Uses of Marjoram
It is believed that marjoram originated in the Mediterranean and Asia Minor areas.2
It was used extensively by the ancient Greeks and Romans, who believed it was a natural treatment for various poisons, convulsions and edema.
It was also thought that marjoram was a love spice, probably due (at least in part) to the belief that the goddess Aphrodite herself grew this aromatic spice. As such, it was common for young women to wear a bag of marjoram around their neck. It was even used as an ingredient in love potions.
Marjoram eventually became popular in England, where it was used in the making of beer and ale before hops became popular. It was also added to snuff as well as tobacco.
It was also common to see marjoram being grown by a graveside, the belief being that this would help you to be happy in the afterlife.
One final interesting tidbit of historical information: one reason that it is referred to as “sweet” marjoram is because dairy farmers of old believed that cows and goats that grazed on marjoram would have sweet milk that wouldn’t sour quickly!
Nutritional Properties of Marjoram
Marjoram is a great source of vitamins A, C, K and B6.
It is also a good source of phosphorous, potassium, dietary fiber, iron, manganese, magnesium, copper, calcium and folate.
For a full description of marjoram’s nutritional properties please go to the SelfNutritionData web site.
Medicinal Properties, Health Benefits of Marjoram
The following are just some of the medical properties and health benefits of this amazing spice, marjoram:
- Anti-Inflammatory: Marjoram is a potent anti-inflammatory, and as such can help to alleviate asthma, headaches (including migraines), sore muscles and fever.3
- Antioxidants and Heart Health: extracts of marjoram are known to be potent anti-oxidants, and it also known to be a vasodilator (helps to widen and relax blood vessels). As a result, marjoram is beneficial for the cardiovascular system, and can help to lower high blood pressure (note: first see the Cautionary Notes section at the bottom of this article, especially if you are pregnant or breast feeding).
- Antimicrobial: marjoram in its dried leaf and extract forms have antimicrobial effects. Essential marjoram oil has been found to inhibit pathogenic fungi and bacteria.4
- Menstrual Cycle Regulation: marjoram helps to restore hormonal balance and regulate menstrual cycles. It reduces dehydroepiandrosterone-S (DHEA-S) levels, and has also been proven to be useful in treating polycystic ovary syndrome.5
- Expectorant: marjoram is an expectorant, which helps to dispel mucus and phlegm build-ups.
- Antiseptic: marjoram has antiseptic properties, which means it can help to prevent wounds from becoming infected.
- Anticarcinogenic: marjoram ethanol extracts have been shown to be cytotoxic (toxic to) fibrosarcoma cancer cells, promoting the apoptosis (cellular death) of metastatic breast cancer cells.6
- Antispasmodic: marjoram essential oil (one type of extract) can help to ease different types of spasms. E.g. muscle spasms, respiratory spasms, etc.
- Preventing Gastric Ulcers: medicinal doses of marjoram have been shown to inhibit the growth of gastric ulcers.7
Note: there are some web sites that claim there are no “good studies” that prove that marjoram has medicinal properties. These claims are blatantly false. See Marjoram: A Review of Ethnopharmacology, Phytochemistry, and Biological Activities, published in the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health if you would like to see just some of the studies done concerning marjoram.
Cooking with Marjoram
Marjoram has a sweet taste, and is a little milder when compared to the taste of its close cousin, oregano.
Marjoram is a versatile spice, and can be added to many different types of dishes.
It goes great in soups, and can also be used to add flavour to roasted meats (chicken, beef and even pork).
Marjoram can also be added to vegetable dishes (e.g. beans, cauliflower, etc.) as well as tomato-based dishes such as pastas.8
For a bunch of excellent recipe ideas that use marjoram please go to this All Recipes web page.
Marjoram can be a great addition to a garden. Not only does this provide you with all the fresh marjoram that you need, but it also attracts butterflies as well as insects that feed on pests.
Marjoram is also an easy plant to grow indoors.
If planting indoors sow the seeds uncovered at a temperature of 18-24 degrees C (65-75 degrees F for our American friends). The soil should be well-drained and be fairly moist.9
Adding marjoram to foods is safe when it is added in moderate, or “normal” amounts (e.g. a pinch or two or three).10
Caution should be taken when consuming marjoram in medicinal quantities (especially when taken as an extract or tincture).
It MAY BE UNSAFE for pregnant women to take medicinal amounts of marjoram, since this may induce the menstrual cycle and interfere with the pregnancy. In addition, mothers who are breastfeeding should also avoid taking large amounts of marjoram since we do not know how this can affect the health of an unborn child (or even very young children for that matter).
Also take care when applying marjoram essential oil to the skin, especially near the eyes, since this can result in irritation.
We hope you enjoyed this article about marjoram, the sweet super spice that tastes great and is very healthy for us.
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