Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana) is closely related to oregano but not as cold hardy. It is a Mediterranean plant native to Cypress and southern Turkey. The Greeks and Romans regarded sweet marjoram as a symbol of happiness. In ancient Greece, it was woven into garlands worn by brides and grooms to guarantee marital happiness.
It was not used as a medicinal plant. Instead it has been consistently been used as culinary herb through the centuries. The flavor contains both pine and citrus notes. It has also been used as an edging in the garden thanks to its low stature and neat growth habit.
Sweet marjoram is hardy in zones 7 through 9. In northern climates it is grown as an annual or brought indoors for the winter. South of zone 9, it dies from the heat of the summer. The plants grow to 12- to 24-inches tall. They need full sun and well-drained soil.
The flowers are very different from oregano flowers. They are small and knot-like. Sweet marjoram is sometimes called “knotted marjoram” because of the unusual shape of its flowers.
Most gardeners buy plants because sweet marjoram is difficult to grow from seed. Seed can be started indoors six weeks before your last frost date. Germination will be low, in the 50 percent range. Seedlings should start to appear within 1 to 2 weeks. Plant your seedlings in your garden after all danger of frost.
You can also propagate sweet marjoram by cuttings. Some gardeners take cuttings in late spring or early summer rather than bringing the entire plant indoors in the fall. Cuttings should be made from stem tips that show no flower buds. Cut off three inches and strip off all the leaves except 6 to 8 at the very top of the cutting. Place your cuttings in moist seed starting mix. Do not allow them to dry out. They should have enough roots to transplant within 3 weeks. You can begin harvesting 4 to 6 weeks after planting.
Sweet marjoram is used both fresh and dried because it retains its flavor very well after drying. Pinch back the stems to keep the plants full. When the flower buds start to appear, you can cut down the plants to 3 to 4 inches. Don’t worry, it will grow back. You can continue to harvest your plants right up until frost in northern areas.
Drying your harvest is easy. You can gather the stems in bunches and hang upside down in a dark, well-ventilated space or you can dry in your oven or food dehydrator. After drying, store in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dry place.