In ancient times marjoram was used in the preservation of meat for its disinfectant quality. As a medicinal herb it was used both internally and externally for stomach ailments.
Sweet marjoram, origanum majorana, is the prettiest of all the marjorams. In cool climates the herb rarely survives the winter and it has to be treated as an annual. The neat, bushy little plant grows up to 12 in (30 cm) high with small, grey-green leaves growing in profusion on the strong woody stems. The flowers bloom from July to September and are small and white, growing closely together in little oblong knots in the axils of the upper leaves. Hence it is often known as sweet knotted marjoram. The whole plant is beautifully fragrant and the sweet spicy flavour makes it a delicious herb to use in the home. There are many other varieties of marjoram, all perennials, which can be used for cooking, but the taste is much stronger and not as delicate as that of the sweet marjoram. The pot marjoram (majorana onites), wild marjoram or oregano (origanum vulgare) and the Greek or showy marjoram (origanum puichellum) are the best known and all are easy to grow, either from seed or by root division in the spring, It is important that pot marjoram is not eaten by those with kidney disorders or by those who are pregnant.
In the kitchen sweet marjoram, with its sweet aromatic taste, is mainly used with meat, adding a delicious flavour when the meat is rubbed with marjoram before roasting. With rabbit and other poultry and game, marjoram helps to make them more digestible. It can be used in small amounts in soups, casseroles and vegetables. It is a fairly strong herb and needs to be used in moderation to bring out other flavours and not to overwhelm them.
Sweet marjoram seed can be sown during April directly in its flowering position in light soil in a warm sunny spot in the garden. The seed takes time to germinate and the bed should be kept free of weeds and gently watered until the plants appear. When large enough the seedlings should be thinned to a handspan apart.
The leaves and flowering tips of the herb are used in the home, the leaves being picked as required throughout the growing season and the whole herb cut down to the ground for drying in July and August. It is dried and stored in the usual way.
* For a stuffy nose or congestion ground dried marjoram can be used in the form of snuff, clearing the nose by inducing sneezing.
Taken in the form of tea sweet marjoram is an effective herb for colds and sore throats.
* To make marjoram tea: Pour 1 cupful of boiling water on to a small handful of fresh marjoram leaves. Leave to infuse for 5— 10 minutes then strain and serve hot. The flavour is improved if a few mint leaves are added and it can be sweetened with honey. Sweet marjoram is an expectorant and is said to relieve coughs, bronchitis and chronic catarrh. The tea can be taken hot or cold as required.
Sweet marjoram also has disinfectant qualities and the infusion made with fresh or dried herb is helpful as a mouthwash for inflamed gums. Use the tea as an infusion lukewarm.
Taken at the onset of a nervous headache a hot cup of sweet marjoram tea is said to reduce its severity.
At the same time a little oil of marjoram or an ointment can be smoothed over the forehead and temples.
Oil of marjoram can be purchased from some homeopathic chemists (pharmacists) and herb shops and is useful in the treatment of minor ailments. It can be used externally to relieve sprains and bruises. The oil will help to ease rheumatic and muscular pains when lightly massaged on the affected area. Alternatively, a simple oil can be made at home.
* To make marjoram oil: Add 1 cup almond oil to 4 handfuls of sweet marjoram in an enamel pan. Bring very slowly to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes or until the leaves are crisp. Strain through a piece of fine muslin or cheesecloth.
If preferred, make an ointment which will be equally effective.
* To make marjoram ointment: Melt 4 tablespoons of pure lard or shortening in a pan and add 1 heaped tablespoon of dried sweet marjoram. Bring slowly to the boil and simmer gently for 15—20 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain and pour into small pots. Cover when cold. The ointment and oil can be used slightly warmed if preferred.
* A pleasant way to ease rheumatic pains is to pick fresh marjoram leaves, warm them up between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water, and apply them directly on to the affected area.
A poultice will provide greater relief for painful joints and rheumatism as it retains the heat for a greater length of time. It is also said to be very helpful in curing a stiff neck.
* To make a poultice: Pick a large quantity of the herb, wash, and pound to a pulp either by hand or in an electric blender. Dried herb can first be softened in a little water before blending. Spread the pulp thickly on to a piece of lint and heat it thoroughly between 2 plates over a pan of boiling water. Apply as hot as possible to the painful spot. It should be left in place for 10 minutes or until relief is obtained and renewed as necessary.
* Green dried sweet marjoram leaves and flowers can be added to mixtures of other dried herbs for potpourris and herb cushions. With its strong refreshing aroma it adds an enduring scent. In a herb cushion it can be mixed with peppermint, lavender and sage, lemon verbena, angelica and woodruff for a clean smelling soothing effect.