Real Food Encyclopedia | Oregano and Marjoram

Oregano and marjoram — although you wouldn’t know it at first — have a deeply entwined history. In fact, the name oregano is often used to refer to marjoram and vice versa. Confused? Don’t be. First, let’s set the record straight. Oregano and marjoram are pretty much the same thing.

Fun Facts about Oregano and Marjoram:

  • The herbs get their distinctive flavor from the chemical compound carvacrol.
  • Apparently grazing goats on wild oregano will impart tastier meat.
  • Sweet marjoram was one of the herbs used in the embalming process by ancient Egyptians.
  • Despite the name Mexican oregano, the pungent Lippia graveolens is not actual oregano. Instead it is more closely related to lemon verbena and used as an ingredient in chili powder.

What to Look for When Buying Oregano and Marjoram

Oregano and marjoram are both of one of over 200 subspecies belonging to the genus Origanum, a member of the mint family. But the oregano that flavors pizza and souvlaki is Greek oregano, aka wild marjoram, aka Origanum vulgare. It’s the stuff generally found dried and for sale in the grocery store spice isle. Marjoram aka Origanum majorana, however, is a sweeter version of oregano, and just as integral to Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisine.

Sustainability of Oregano and Marjoram

As plants go, oregano and marjoram rank low on environmental impact compared to other monocropped plants. In fact, oregano is known for its hardiness in dry conditions and low water footprint — that is if you’re not considering the virtual water used to ship produce long distances to consumers. When possible, try to source your herbs from farmers’ markets to cut down on water footprint associated with food miles. Oregano and marjoram are great plants to use for ground cover, which helps with erosion and retention of moisture. Oregano also wins extra green points because its essential oil can be used as a natural insecticide!

Oregano and Marjoram Seasonality 

Summer and autumn are prime oregano and marjoram time. Look for them in your local farmers’ market. Our season-less modern food system means that herbs are shipped from California, Mexico and Latin America to grocery stores all year round, but we promise, nothing beats the freshest herbs, and that means grown near you.

Oregano and Marjoram and Cultivation

Oregano and marjoram are perennial herbs that flourish in warm sunny weather, revealing their Mediterranean origins. Just like its cousin mint, oregano/marjoram is fairly invasive. Savvy gardeners will plant them in a pot or well drained container with moist soil to keep it from spreading all over the garden.

Marjoram does better in cooler weather than oregano, but both can be grown in northern US states in temperatures no lower than 50 F. Cold weather, however, will cause the herb to lose its distinctive flavor.

Eating Oregano and Marjoram

Storing Oregano and Marjoram

Keep dried oregano and marjoram a cool, dark, airtight container. Fresh herbs will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator once they are harvested. You can store in a plastic container wrapped in a paper towel.

Cooking with Oregano and Marjoram

Oregano and marjoram are a peppy and savory addition to meat, fish, eggs, cheese, vegetables and bread. Basically, tomatoes plus oregano equals a match made in heaven. You can even add it chopped fresh to salads or season homemade salad dressings. While fresh herbs are best, dried oregano is one of the few that keep well and retain flavor. Za’atar, a Middle Eastern condiment of oregano, dried sumac, spices and sesame seeds, bay be the best thing in the world. A dusting of it and a drizzle of olive oil on piping hot flatbed will make you weak in the knees. Marjoram, the more mild-mannered version of oregano, is great with grilled fish and chicken. Marjoram is also one of the many dried herbs that goes into herbes de Provence, a French staple.

Dried oregano packs a more flavorful punch. You can add it while cooking at any time. However, if you are cooking with fresh oregano, the flavor tends to dissipate with heat. Add it to your dish near the end of cooking.

Preserving Oregano and Marjoram

You can dry your own freshly harvested oregano or marjoramHerb ice cubes are also great for later use.

Oregano and Marjoram Nutrition

Oregano and marjoram aren’t exactly vitamin rich. However, it’s praised in alternative medicine circles — oregano specifically — for its antiseptic and antimicrobial properties.