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
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.
ESSENTIAL OIL OF OREGANO
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.