How does it feel?
Marjoram has a warm, mildly bitter and pungent, aromatic taste with sweet pine and citrus flavours. Its flavour and aromatic profile is preserved well when the herb is dried, unlike other herbs in the mint family such as oregano and basil.
What can I use it for?
Marjoram is a popular kitchen herb used in Mediterranean cuisine. It is closely related to oregano with which it shares many common medicinal actions, yet it has its own unique properties. These aromatic kitchen herbs have a wide variety of health benefits for use in home herbalism. Kitchen herbs like marjoram can be invaluable allies to treat simple conditions, for which one may usually reach for the medicine cupboard.
Marjoram is rich in aromatic compounds which have effects on the digestive system, helping to support digestion and the assimilation of nutrients. It is also sometimes used forsymptomatic relief of mild spasmodic digestive complaints such as bloating and flatulence.
Marjoram’s antibacterial and skin healing properties make it an excellent ingredient in a balm for grazes, cuts and minor wounds. It is sometimes used to treat irritated skin around the nostrils such as is sometimes experienced when under attack from a seasonal infection. For these applications it can be infused into a carrier oil and solidified with a solid wax (e.g. beeswax) to be applied as an ointment to the affected area.
Marjoram can be drunk as a tea to help reduce the symptoms of a common cold. It works by calming inflammation, reducing congestion, it has antimicrobial properties and also directly addresses the headaches that are often associated with congestion in the sinuses. It can also be used as an ointment applied to the chest for respiratory congestion and coughs as well as to treat muscle aches and pains.
A slightly warmed olive oil infusion of marjoram is a traditional remedy for ear infections. This can be made up using homemade marjoram oil infusion (see recipes below). It is applied as 1 drop directly into the ear or rubbed around the ear. One must ensure that any homemade medicinal preparations are made using sterile equipment to avoid introducing further infection.
Into the heart of Marjoram
Marjoram is a bitter, cooling medicine. It has moderately more pungent qualities than that of its close relative oregano. Marjorams cooling properties come from its ability to improve liver function by direct action of its bitter compounds. As the liver is a primary organ of metabolism – any herb that stimulates or supports its function will improve the elimination of inflammatory toxins – thus reducing heat.
Bitter cooling herbs are also often associated with heart-regulating and calming qualities. Marjoram also has a dynamic action on the cardiovascular system as a vasodilator it relaxes and opens the channels of circulation allowing the blood to perfuse into the tissues more effectively (5).
Due to this action, it can be used as part of a formula for hypertension (high blood pressure) (5), particularly where it is related to constriction and tension throughout the cardiovascular system. A herbalist would approach the treatment of hypertension to address any causative factors such as stress, obesity and smoking. They would also likely work with a herbal formula that includes cardioprotective herbs as well as nervines and adaptogens (herbs that support and protect the systems of the body most affected by stress).
Marjoram has a direct effect on a branch of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). There are two branches of the ANS- parasympathetic (PSNS) and sympathetic (SNS). Put simply their roles are as follows; the PSNS regulates ‘rest and digest’ functions, whereas the SNS controls blood pressure, heart and breathing rate- and essentially the stress response- i.e. the fight or flight.
Marjoram is parasympathomimetic – meaning that it activates the PSNS. It is also sympatholytic- reducing overactivity of the SNS (5). The imbalance in the autonomic nervous system often leans this way due to prolonged stress hormones which can leave the nervous system in a state of dysregulation and overactivity (5).
Due to this effect on the nervous system, marjoram may be incorporated into a treatment approach to address symptoms of sympathetic excess – such as digestive and sleep issues as well as anxiety and agitation. It has a calming effect due to its balancing effect on the ANS. For the same reason, it may help with spasms of sympathetic origin (stress) as well as for epigastric tension (over the stomach), headaches, migraines, hypertension, tachycardia (rapid heartbeat) and palpitations- all of which symptoms are directly associated with sympathetic excess.
Marjoram has a very ancient reputation as a medicinal herb. The Greeks used it extensively, both internally and externally. It was referenced for use as an antidote for narcotic poisons and to treat convulsions and dropsy.
Among the Greeks, if Marjoram grew on a grave it indicated the happiness of the departed, and among both the Greeks and Romans, it was the custom to crown young couples with Marjoram with other herbs like Bay (1).
What practitioners say
Sweet marjoram has various pharmacological properties which have undergone research, including antioxidant, antibacterial, hepatoprotective, cardioprotective, antiulcer, anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and antifungal activities (2).
In modern herbal medicine, Marjoram is often used for gastrointestinal disorders and to improve the overall function of the digestive system. Some of the effects of marjoram include an increase in acid and pepsin (an important digestive enzyme) secretions which increase the activity of digestion in the upper digestive tract. Marjoram also has anti-ulcer activity and mucus-protecting effects (2).
Marjoram is identified as a powerful and diverse antibacterial, anti-fungal, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory agent. Aromatic compounds (volatile oils) in marjoram are largely responsible for its potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activity (2).
Like its close relation to Oregano, Marjoram has antimicrobial activity. A herbalist may use marjoram as part of a treatment approach for simple infections either in a tincture blend, as a tea or for topical infections (including fungal) on the skin. A herbalist would likely combine marjoram with other more potent antibacterial herbs such as garlic, ginger and echinacea (4) depending on the specific constitution and circumstances of the patient.
Marjoram is sometimes used in cardiac disease and dysrhythmia (an abnormal or irregular heartbeat). A number of mechanisms may be responsible for these applications of marjoram such as that it has antiplatelet and cardioprotective activities via its effects on nitric oxide (a physiological compound that dilates the blood vessels) and lipid peroxidation (a process under which oxidants such as free radicals attack lipids ) in heart tissues (2).
Marjoram has some traditional references for its ability to restore hormonal balance and to regulate the menstrual cycle. Marjoram is also indicated in vaginitis and PCOS (polycystic ovarian disease) which can be related to its ability to assist in hormonal balance by reducing androgen hormones such as DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone, an adrenal androgen hormone) (2, 3).
Herbalists may use marjoram to help with nervous system imbalances associated with the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Marjoram is specifically parasympathomimetic, meaning that it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS).
It also directly reduces overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system which is often a physiological reaction to prolonged exposure to stress hormones. Such symptoms would includepalpitations, hypotension, anxiety, hyperactivity, hypervigilance, reduced digestive function and sleep disturbances. More explanation on ANS activity of marjoram can be found in ‘into the heart of’ (5).
There are currently few human clinical trials on marjoram. However, there are a number of in vivo/ in vitro studies that focus on a number of its compounds which demonstrate a variety of its effects. A number of these studies have been included below to demonstrate the mechanism of action for some of the medicinal actions of marjoram discussed in this monograph.
Animal studies are not condoned by herbal reality, however for the purpose of including research from which some understanding of therapeutic actions can be confirmed, some animal studies have been included herein.
A marjoram review
A review of studies carried out on marjoram discuss various pharmacological properties, including antioxidant, antibacterial, hepatoprotective, cardioprotective, antiulcer, anticoagulant, anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative, and antifungal activities (2).
Hormone balancing and PCOS
A randomised, double-blind placebo controlled pilot study was carried out to investigate the effects of marjoram tea on the hormonal profile of women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (3). The study included 25 patients who were either assigned to receive marjoram tea or a placebo tea twice daily for 1 month.
The study found that marjoram tea significantly reduced DHEA-S (dehydroepiandrosterone an adrenal androgen hormone) and fasting insulin levels in comparison to the placebo group. The study concludes that marjoram has beneficial effects on the hormonal profile of PCOS women because it improved insulin sensitivity and d the levels of adrenal androgens (3).
Antibacterial and anti-fungal properties
A review of studies on marjoram’s essential oil fraction demonstrated significant antimicrobial and antifungal activity. A range of 25 bacterial and 5 fungal species, as well as food borne bacteria associated with food poisoning, have been found to be susceptible to marjoram essential oil.
The most susceptible organisms were Beneckea natriegens, Erwinia carotovora and Moraxella sp. as well as fungal Aspergillus niger. Staphylococcus aureus (which is most associated with food poisoning) being least affected (4).
Did you know?
Genus name probably comes from the Greek words oros meaning ‘mountain’ and ‘gamos’ meaning ‘joy’. This reference is due to the native habitat of marjoram in mountain areas where it is appropriately referred to as ‘joy of the mountain’.
Marjoram is a perennial herb, with creeping roots, sending up woody stems about a foot high, branched above, often purplish green leaves. The leaves are opposite, petiolate, about an inch long, nearly entirely hairy beneath. The flowers grow in corymbs, with reddish bracts, a two-lipped pale purple corolla, and a five-toothed calyx. It blooms from the end of June, through August. There is a variety with white flowers and light-green stalks, another with variegated leaves.
- Sweet marjoram
- Pot marjoram
- Knotted marjoram
Marjoram is safe to use in normal quantities as found in food. However, some sources advise against the use of the origanums (such as marjoram) during pregnancy due to their potentially uterine stimulating effects.
Marjoram is not recommended in medicinal doses for children or infants.
- Tea (infusion)
- Fresh or dried herb
- Tincture (1:5 45%): Take between 2-3ml in a little water up to twice a day.
- Infusion: To make an infusion place 1 teaspoon of dried material in one cup of boiling water, infuse for between 10- 15 minutes. This should be drunk hot up to 3 times a day.
Plant parts used
Aerial parts (leaf and flower)
- Volatile oils: Monoterpene hydrocarbons, including α and β-pinene, camphene, sabinene, α- and β- phellandrene, ρ-cymene, limonene, β-ocimene, γ-terpinene, terpinolene, α-terpinene, carvone, citronellol, Linalool, linalyl acetate, α-terpineol, trans- and cis-carveol, thymol, anethole, geraniol, and carvacrol.
- Phenolic compounds: Vanillic acid, gallic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, syringic acid, p- and m-Hydroxybenzoic acid, coumaric acid, neochlorogenic acid, protocatechuic acid, chlorogenic acid, cryptochlorogenic acid, caftaric acid are phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, sinapic acid, vanillic acid, ferulic acid, caffeic acid, syringic acid, p, m-hydroxybenzoic acid, coumarinic acid. Arbutin, methyl arbutin, vitexin, and orientinthymonin. With hesperetin, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol, naringenine, eriodictyol, diosmetin, luteolin, and apigenin being the most abundant flavonoids detected in marjoram and kaempferol-3-O-glucoside, quercetin-3-O-glucoside, narigenin-O-hexoside, and rutin as flavonoid glycosides identified in marjoram (2).
Marjoram is indigenous to Cyprus, the Mediterranean, Turkey, Western Asia, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Levant. It grows most commonly on the dry slopes and rocky places, occasionally in partial shade.
Marjoram is not yet included on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants database.
Habitat loss and over harvesting from the wild are two of the biggest threats faced by medicinal plant species. There are an increasing number of well-known herbal medicines at risk of extinction. We must therefore ensure that we source our medicines with sustainability in mind.
The herb supplement industry is growing at a rapid rate and until recent years a vast majority of medicinal plant produce in global trade was of unknown origin. There are some very real and urgent issues surrounding sustainability in the herb industry. These include environmental factors that affect the medicinal viability of herbs, the safety of the habitats that they are taken from, as well as the welfare of workers in the trade.
The botanical supply chain efforts for improved visibility (transparency and traceability) into verifiably sustainable production sites around the world are now certificated through the emergence of credible international voluntary sustainability standards (VSS). Read our article on Herbal quality & safety: What to know before you buy and Sustainable sourcing of herbs to learn more about what to look for and questions to ask suppliers about sustainability.
Marjoram’s flavour and aromatic profiles are preserved well when dried – unlike other herbs in the mint family such as oregano and basil.
Herbal Medicines are often extremely safe to take, however it is important to buy herbal medicines from a reputed supplier. Sometimes herbs bought from disreputable sources are contaminated, adulterated or substituted with incorrect plant matter.
Some important markers for quality to look for would be to look for certified organic labelling, ensuring that the correct scientific/botanical name is used and that suppliers can provide information about the source of ingredients used in the product.
A supplier should be able to tell you where the herbs have come from. There is more space for contamination and adulteration when the supply chain is unknown.
How to grow
Marjoram is easy to grow indoors and outdoors in temperate regions.
Seeds can be sown indoors in the spring to plant out once the risk of frost has passed. Seeds can be sown directly outdoors once the soil has warmed up in late spring but seedlings are slow to grow and are easier to manage when sown in pots or trays. Sow on the surface and press into the soil.
Marjoram is a tough perennial which can grow in poor soils and once established requires little maintenance.
Marjoram infused oil
Herbal-infused or ‘macerated’ oils are a wonderful way to preserve herbs for topical use. They are also quick and incredibly simple to make and diverse in their applications.
There are a number of different methods to make herbal oils both for use in medicine and for culinary use. This method is called the solar infusion and relies on a warm sunny window.
Herbal-infused oils can be used neat, made into salves or ointments and also blended into creams, so they are a fantastic base from which to explore other herbal preparations. For best results use dried herbs (fresh herbs add a water element to oil, which can lead to spoiling), there are different methodologies for fresh herb oils.
Carrier oils that are ideal for topical use include sunflower and olive oils, both excellent carriers whilst offering some resistance to oxidation and rancidity. The most simple way to make an infused oil is as follows.
Herbal-infused oil instructions:
- Add dried herbs in a dry, sterilised container and cover with your chosen carrier oil, usually the oil should sit 1 inch above the top of the herbs.
- Use a spoon to press and mix the herb/ oil so that all surfaces of the herb matter are coated and no air bubbles remain.
- Place a square piece of natural waxed paper or greaseproof paper on top of the jar, then seal the jar with a tightly fitting lid.
- Place the jar in a sunny window for between 4- 6 weeks to infuse. The warmth of the sunlight will help to extract the compounds from the herbs into the oil. Stir or shake the mixture every few days.
- When the infusion time is up, line a sieve with muslin cloth (folded to layer up) and filter the mixture into a clean bowl. Gather the corners of the cloth up and squeeze firmly, squeezing as much oil from the herb as possible
- Cover and let aside overnight in a cool, dark location to allow for any herb sediment to settle at the bottom of the jar. You can also strain the oil through an unbleached coffee filter to remove fine sediment.
- Pour the oil into dry, sterilised, dark-coloured glass bottles. You can add a couple of drops of Vitamin E into your final oil to slow the oxidisation process, giving the oil a shelf life of around 1 year.
- Label your infused oil, and store in a cool, dark place.
You can learn to make a variety of herbal preparations in our “making herbal remedies” section
- Marjoram infused oil (not to be confused with essential oil)can be bought or made at home (see our article on simple home herbalist recipes for more details on how to make an infused oil).
- Marjoram essential oil (10-15 drops)
- Beeswax (unfiltered pellets or solid form)
Marjoram ointment can be used directly on the skin to treat all manner of skin inflammations and in first aid for minor cuts and grazes. Marjoram is also useful for slow healing wounds as well as to treat fungal infections of the skin. This balm can be used as and when needed, up to 3 times a day.
- Using a double boiler/ Bain Marie or a water bath method, on a gentle heat. Add your infused oil into the clean pan.
- Add around 8- 12 % beeswax (of the total infused oil quantity i.e. 100ml infused oil should have approx 10- 12g of wax) and gently stir with a silicone or wooden spoon until the wax has fully dissolved into the oil. Remove from the heat.
- You can add an essential oil at this stage if desired; approx 10 drops (depending what is being used). Essential oils act as a preservative but also help to assist circulation and better absorption into the skin.
- Slowly pour the mixture into a clean, dark glass jar. Cover but do not close the lid firmly until the balm has fully set/ solidified.
- Label your jar and close the lid firmly. Store in a cool, dark place. Balms/ Salves/ Ointments should last for unto a year.
- www.botanical.com. (n.d.). A Modern Herbal | Marjoram, Wild (Oregano). [online] Available at: https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/m/marwil20.html [Accessed 6 Sep. 2023].
- Bina, F. and Rahimi, R. (2016). Sweet Marjoram. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine, [online] 22(1), pp.175–185. doi:https://doi.org/10.1177/2156587216650793.
- Haj-Husein, I., Tukan, S. and Alkazaleh, F. (2015). The effect of marjoram (Origanum majorana) tea on the hormonal profile of women with polycystic ovary syndrome: a randomised controlled pilot study. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, 29(1), pp.105–111. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12290.
- Deans, S.G. and Svoboda, K.P. (1990). The antimicrobial properties of marjoram (Origanum majorana L.) Volatile Oil. Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 5(3), pp.187–190. doi:https://doi.org/10.1002/ffj.2730050311.
- Kenner, D. and Yves Requena (2001). Botanical medicine : a European professional perspective. Brookline, Mass.: Paradigm Publications.