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Origanum vulgare

Mint / Dead-Nettle Family [Lamiaceae]  

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10th Aug 2012, limestone area, Lathkilldale, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD
Here growing on limestone on dryish soils. The taller upright pale plants are a Mullein, possibly Hoary Mullein which is present there.

10th Aug 2012, limestone area, Lathkilldale, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD
Tends to sprawl a bit.

10th Aug 2012, limestone area, Lathkilldale, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD
Many in the wild are sprawling, like these examples, but some have flower spikes much more upright.

30th June 2016, ind. waste ground, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Specimen with more upright flower spikes. The pale-pinkish flowers are yet to open; only the reddish sepals are apparent.

30th June 2016, ind. waste ground, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The flower spikes are many-branched.

10th July 2009, Borrowdale Valley, Lake Dist. Photo: © RWD
Leaves on upper part of plant are simple broad lanceolate and almost opposite, occurring at the place on the stems where an opposite pair of flowering branches, which is why the leaves are not quite opposite each other, there are branches in the way!

31st July 2007, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Lower down the stem flowering branches are absent, allowing leaves to be truly opposite. The two leaves also have a pair of smaller leaflets coming off the leaf stem, so are at right-angles to the end lobe. Moreover, these side lobes may also have smaller side-lobes themselves, as they do here. The leaves are slightly toothed and the stems dark-red or brownish and either round or square (some parts of the stem are square, others round). Leaves and stems hairy.

31st July 2007, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are pinkish when open, but dark purple in bud.

31st July 2007, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
Unopened flower buds pink with a spherical end.

15th July 2005, Silverdale, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The flowers are pink and zygomorphic, with a large petal at one end split into 3 divergent lobes, the central longer than the side-lobes (like those on Wild Thyme) and another petal opposite it, but shorter and split into 2 very shallow lobes.

21st Aug 2004, Hampsfell, Cumbria. Photo: © RWD
Showing the beetroot-red bracts cradling each flower.

10th Aug 2012, limestone area, Lathkilldale, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD

30th June 2016, ind. waste ground, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
Opened flowers mixed with the bracts of as-yet unopened flower.

30th June 2016, ind. waste ground, Ellesmere Port, Cheshire. Photo: © RWD
The hairy, beetroot-red bracts around a flowerbud yet to open.

8th Aug 2012, nr. Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
This stem is noticeably square with a pair of opposite leaflets, the leaves being alternate up the stem on one side of the stem or the other, quadrature. The leaf margins are virtually toothless, having only marginally sinuous edges.

10th Aug 2012, limestone area, Lathkilldale, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD
Like the flowers of Wild Thyme, they have tapering tubes at the rear which emerge from beetroot-red calyx tubes which are concolorous with the beetroot-red bracts. Calyx tube best seen on top, right, have 5 short teeth. 4 long stamens with beetroot-red T-bar anthers protrude from bisexual flowers, but they are much shorter and sterile in female flowers.

26th Sept 2011, limestone area, nr Chelmorton, White Peaks. Photo: © RWD

8th Aug 2012, nr. Salthill Quarry, Clitheroe, Lancs. Photo: © RWD
The single style bears a forked stigma (left).

Photo: © RWD
The central flower has the full complement of 4 long anthers and a central style with just discernible stigma.

Some similarities to : Large Thyme (Thymus pulegioides), but Large Thyme grows only to half the 50cm height typical of Marjoram.

Distinguishing Feature : The strong oregano smell of the leaves when rolled between the fingers.

The leaves of Marjoram (or oregano) are used as herbs in cooking, especially Italian cooking such as spaghetti bolognese, pizza and tomato dishes. They have a strong aromatic odour. The dark purplish bracts of the flowers yield a reddish dye.

The essential oil derived from Marjoram is a powerful antiseptic and is also used in room fresheners and fragrant aerosol sprays.

Estragole is a slightly toxic isomer of Anethole (found in Sweet Cicely and Aniseed), only the position of the double-bond has changed. Estragole is present in only a few hundred ppm quantities within the plant. It is present in much greater concentrations (up to 75%) in the essential oils of Basil and Tarragon. Estragole is used in perfumes and flavourings, but its further use is being re-appraised; it is suspected of being both carcinogenic and genotoxic; it has been shown that Estragole can give animals tumours.

Marjoram also contains Camphor present at 2% concentration in the essential oils of Marjoram.

Marjoram is a strongly aromatic perennial to half a metre in height, possibly to be included in shrubs or undershrubs. Habitat is dry grassland usually on lime. Many cultivars of Wild Marjoram are grown as herbs in gardens.

Note that the Genus name Origano has a different spelling to the common name Oregano

There is also another herb with a similar name, Pot Marjoram (Origanum onites) which is a rare casual in the UK and is originally from North |Africa and South West Asia. The only visual difference between Wild Marjoram and Pot Marjoram is that the flower is split almost the way down on one side and thus it consists of just a single lip.

There is another Oregano variously called Pot Marjoram, Sweet Marjoram or Knotted Marjoram (Oreganum majorana) [which has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with   Majorana Neutrinos]. Pot Marjoram has a flower which differs significantly from those of Wild Marjoram in that the calyx is split almost in two almost to its base on one side. The flowers still have 3 lips on one side, but which are more triangular. The lip opposite them is a single triangle that is as wide at its base as the other petal with 3 lips. And there are four flowers together in an almost symmetrical rectangular bunch. Also, the flowers are white, not pale pink. Pot Marjoram is very rarely found in the UK as a casual; it is native to North Africa and SW Asia. It is cultivated for its aromatic leaves for use in cooking and salads. The leaves are also steam-distilled to extract the yellowish essential oil (which darkens to brown as it ages).

But the name 'Pot Marjoram' has also been hijacked and is used for other cultivated species from the Origanum genus. Pot Marjoram should not be confused with Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)

Wild Marjoram is found locally on dry, poor, limey soils on verges, woodland rides, scrub, rough grassland, hedgebanks and naked ground. The flowers are sometimes white instead of pale pink.

Adonis Blue


All of the Sabinine compounds below, as well as Sabinine itself, have a close structural relationship with the corresponding Thujanes, Thujones and Thujols (they all have a 3-membered ring fused to a 5-membered ring) and all are toxic to some degree. It is all to do with that highly-strained 3-membered carbon ring, they are liable to break. These Sabinenes are present in Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana), which is used culinarily and is slightly different to the one depicted here, Wild Marjoram (Oregano vulgare) which is strongly phenolic due to the presence of both Carvacrol and of Thymol. But your Author thinks all are probably present in both of these Marjorams, but at differing concentrations.


cis-Sabinene Hydrate Acetate is an ester and together with cis-Sabine Hydrate (below), are thought to be responsible for the special flavour of Marjoram. The concentration of the acetate varies depending upon phenotype; one phenotype has a high 19% concentration of this acetate whilst the other has but 2% concentration, with the former resulting in a more desirable Marjoram.

trans-Sabinene Hydrate and cis-Sabinene Hydrate. The cis-form is considered to result in a more desirable aroma and flavour.

  Origanum vulgare  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Lamiaceae  

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Origanum vulgare

Mint / Dead-Nettle Family [Lamiaceae]  

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