Sweet marjoram (botanical name Origanum majorana) is one of the more delicately flavored cousins of oregano. Sweet marjoram is a soft perennially growing herb that is actually cultivated in the form of an annual in the gardens in the northern hemisphere. This herb is considered to have its origin in North Africa, India and the Middle East and usually grows up to a height of 25 cm to 60 cm (10 inches to 24 inches). Sweet marjoram is an attractive plant with a somewhat luxuriant, expansive habit that makes it a gorgeous hanging plant and is perfect for rock gardens and borders.
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Sweet marjoram grows copiously; they are small, spherical, and wooly-haired and have grayish-green leaves that grow opposite to each other. The herb has a sugary, spicy aroma and essence.
The stem of this herb is square having a purple hue and several thin boughs. The root of sweet marjoram is also slender and has numerous side branches. The herb produces bunches of delicate white hued or pink blossoms that appear on the spikes at the terminals of the branches during the later part of summer and early fall. Prior to their opening, the buds of the flowers look like knots. Therefore, this herb has earned the common name 'knotted marjoram'.
Sweet marjoram can be cultivated in pots as well as containers, indoors as well as outdoors. All parts of the herb, excluding the roots, the leaves, soft stems and flowers of sweet marjoram are edible.
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Sweet marjoram has a number of therapeutic uses. In conventional folk medicine, this herb was used in the form of a therapy for headache, toothache, indigestion, asthma, rheumatism, flatulence, earache, epilepsy as well as to provide relief from the labor pain. The oil extracted from the herb was used in the form of a cream for healing bruises, sprains and also to induce sweating among people suffering from measles.
In effect, the herb sweet marjoram is basically used in the form of a culinary herb. However, the herb is also valued therapeutically owing to its antispasmodic and stimulant properties. Sweet marjoram is an excellent common tonic that is used to cure several different problems related to the digestive as well as the respiratory tracts. Compared to oregano (botanical name Origanum vulgare), this herb has a more potent effect on the nervous system and it is also considered to lessen libido or sex drive. Since sweet marjoram has the aptitude to induce menstruation, this herb should never be used medicinally by women during pregnancy. However, they may use small amounts of the herb in culinary, as it has been found safe for such use. Sweet marjoram possesses antiseptic, chologogue, carminative, diuretic, diaphoretic (a medicine that induces perspiration), emmenagogue (a medicine that promotes menstruation), stimulant, stomachic (any medication that is good for the digestive tract), expectorant and gentle tonic properties.
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As a medicinal herb, sweet marjoram is used internally to treat conditions such as tension headaches, nervousness, insomnia, bronchial complaints, trivial digestive problems as well as agonizing menstruation. Here is a word of caution. Sweet marjoram should never be given to pregnant women. This herb is also used externally for treating muscular aches, arthritis, stiff joints and sprains. Sweet marjoram is harvested immediately after the plant begins to blossom and may be used fresh as well as dried. More often than not, sweet marjoram is therapeutically used as an essential oil - approximately 400 grams of the oil can be obtained from 70 kilograms of the fresh herb. The essential oil of sweet marjoram is also used in aromatherapy.
Sweet marjoram enhances the essence of majority of dishes and it is a favourite support in any kitchen, especially when the chef is in two minds regarding the herb that he or she ought to use. In fact, this herb is deceivingly strong and, hence, it ought to be used in moderation.
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The tender shoots and leaves of sweet marjoram may be added to salads as well as vegetable recipes that require carrots, cauliflower, mushrooms, spinach, peas, cabbage and summer squash. In addition, you may also use sweet marjoram while preparing tomato sauces, pizza as well as pork and beef dishes. Sweet marjoram may also be added to soups, sausages, stews, omelettes, meat pies, seafood, stuffing and poultry for seasoning. It is important to note that if you are adding sweet marjoram to any hot dish, it should only be done during the final 10 minutes of cooking.
Sweet marjoram is also used in the commercial preparation of several edibles. For instance, the leaves, soft stems and flowers of this herb are commercially used to add essence to dressings, syrups, liqueurs, vinegar as well as sauces. The seeds of sweet marjoram are used in beverages, condiments, candy and processed meat.
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It may be noted that majority of the herbs can be preserved better by freezing compared to drying them up. However, compared to any other herb, sweet marjoram keeps hold of its fragrance even after being dried. You may use sweet marjoram in eggplant parmesan, spaghetti sauce as well as lasagna - if effect, this herb can be used with any food product that has anything to do with tomatoes. Sweet marjoram is considered to be an indispensible herb while preparing turkey stuffing. In addition, this herb is a vital flavouring while preparing German sausages and is also extensively employed in Italian, French and Portuguese cuisines.
Besides its use for medicinal and culinary purposes, sweet marjoram is also employed in craft works, for instance, this herb may be added to potpourris and included in sachets for the linen as well as wardrobes.
Sweet marjoram thrives well in rich and light soil that has a proper drainage. This herb has the aptitude to tolerate a pH range of 4.9 to 8.7 and has a preference for complete sunlight. However, it can also tolerate light shade and thrives in partial shady locations.
Sweet marjoram is propagated by its seeds, which need to be sown indoors around six to eight weeks prior to the last spring frost date in your area. The seeds ought to be sown in a depth of 6 mm (1/4 inch) or even less. During the germination period, ensure that the soil is always maintained evenly moist.
The young seedlings should be planted at a distance of about 15 cm to 20 cm (six to eight inches) away from each other. When the plant is in the process of vegetative phase of growth, the plants grown outdoors need regular watering. To promote branching as well as a bushy growth, it is advisable that you pinch back the plant tops.
Sweet marjoram plants are vulnerable to fungal diseases, root rot, aphids, spider mites and leaf miners. In addition, they also have an inclination to damp-off during the early phase of spring.
It has been found that sweet marjoram grows well indoors during the winter months. In order to grow this herb indoors, pot the sweet marjoram plants in arid, well-drained, sandy soil during the fall and water them properly and subsequently let the soil to dry - but ensure that the soil does not dry up between two watering sessions. The potted plants ought to be put in a place that receives full sunlight since this herb needs a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight every day. To encourage growth of new leaves, you need to pinch off the flower buds. You may put the indoor plants in their permanent positions outdoors when the last spring frost in your area has passed.
Sweet marjoram has a need for an arid, warm, properly drained soil, but does not have any problem in growing on any other type of soil; in effect this herb may also grow well on chalky soil. Sweet marjoram has a preference for a somewhat alkaline soil conditions. More often than not, sweet marjoram is cultivated in the form of a culinary herb; there are a number of name varieties of the herb. Normally, the sweet marjoram plants do not endure the cold winter months when grown outdoors and, hence, they are generally grown in the form of annual plants, despite being of perennial temperament. According to different reports, growing the sweet marjoram plants overwinter is possible in areas having cold winters provided thick mulch is applied to the roots before the onset of winter.
Sweet marjoram is considered to be an excellent companion plant as it helps to enhance the flavour of other plants growing in the vicinity. The pink hued flowers of this herb are extremely eye-catching to bees. The crushed leaves of sweet marjoram exude an aroma which has slight resemblance to thyme, but rather more sweetened with balsamic connotations. In India, people consider the sweet marjoram to be a holy plant. Species belonging to this genus are seldom, if ever, disturbed by leafing through deer.
Sweet marjoram is mainly propagated by its seeds, which need to be sown early in spring when the temperature is between 10°C and 13°C. Generally, it takes anything between two and four weeks for the seeds to germinate. Prick the seedlings individually and pot them separately when they have grown large enough to be handled. The young plants may be put in their permanent positions outdoors during the early part of summer. In addition, you may also sow the sweet marjoram seeds in situ (in their permanent location) during April or the early part of May. While the seeds may take a longer time to germinate when sown in situ, they generally grow well.
This herb may also be propagated by the division method, ideally undertaken in March or in October. Propagating sweet marjoram by division is extremely simple and you may make large divisions and plant them straight away into their permanent positions outdoors. However, it is advisable that you grow the smaller divisions indoors in individual pots in a cold frame in a partial shade till they become well established to be planted in their permanent positions outdoors during the later part of spring or early phase of the summer.
Often sweet marjoram is also propagated by means of the basal cuttings of young unproductive shoots. This process is very simple and ideally undertaken in June. The shoots are harvested along with copious underground stem when they have grown approximately 8 cm to 10 cm above the ground. Subsequently, the shoots are planted in individual pots and positioned in partial shade in a cold frame or greenhouse till they have started to root properly. The young plants may be put in their permanent positions outdoors during the summer.
Chemical analysis of sweet marjoram has revealed that this flavoured herb encloses several chemical amalgams, including camphor, borneol and pinene.
The leaves of sweet marjoram may be collected any time, but only after the plant has grown up to a height of about 15 cm to 20 cm (6 inches to 8 inches).
The leaves and stems of sweet marjoram should be harvested for drying soon after the formation of the flower buds or immediately prior to blossoming, at what time the flavour of the herb is at its maximum. The stems should be cut near to the ground and fastened in bunches. Subsequently, dangle the stem bunches in a warm, arid and shady place for them to dry up. The dried up leaves should be stripped from the stems and kept in sealed containers and put in a place where there is no light. Dissimilar to several other herbs, the flavour of sweet marjoram intensifies when the plant dries up.
The best way to preserve the dried leaves of sweet marjoram is to freeze them in oil or butter.
Culinary oils having herbal flavours may be employed in vinaigrettes or marinades, applied lightly over fish and meat before grilling or sprinkle in the Italian styles over chubby roasted pieces of baguette. While it is ideal to use virgin olive oil or light sesame oil for this purpose, you may also use additional 'healthy' oils like walnut or sunflower oils, which also work wonderfully. It is important that you label the oils you prepare at home in order to help you know the content of each bottle. You may provide an additional appealing dash to the herbal flavoured oils and also increase their essence by adding a fresh stem of the herb prior to sealing the bottles. The ingredients for making the herbal flavoured culinary oil are listed below.
Make use of a grinder or mortar to grind the herbs into a paste. Include a few drops of oil and beat the combination to prepare a cream and, subsequently, add the remaining oil little by little. Transfer the blend into a clean, dry container, cover it firmly and allow it to infuse for about two weeks. While the combination is left to infuse, you need to shake it once or twice every day. Finally, filter the combination into a clean bottle, seal the bottle tightly, paste a label and store it for use when needed.