Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Marjoram - Herb of the Week

This year the Men's Garden Club of Villa Park is having a plant sale we have dubbed "Heirlooms and Herbs."  Catering to the home gardener who wants to grow more of their own food, the plant sale will have several varieties of heirloom vegetables and a nice selection of herbs, in addition to perennial flowers as we have had in the past.

I am on the plant sale committee so I got to pick many of the herbs we will be having.  For our first year with this new theme we are sticking to culinary herbs, but if there is a demand for more medicinal herbs, we may be able to work that in next year.  

The sale will be May 9 and 10, 2015 -- For pre-order or location details check out the Garden Club website.

I decided to highlight one of the herbs you will find at the sale as 
Herb of the Week -  Marjoram Origanum Majorana  

Sweet Marjoram, also known as knotted marjoram has a variegated variety that is also just as tasty.
(Origania vulgare ‘ Aureum’) variegated golden marjoram.

In some cases this plant is considered to be interchangeable or the same as oregano, but although the flavor is similar they are two separate species. In ancient times marjoram was associated with marital bliss.  The Greek called it “joy of the Mountains” and used to in garland and wreaths at weddings and funerals.  It is said to precious to Aphrodite, the goddess of love.  It was a traditional plant to plant on a grave the sweet gentle scent to give comfort to the mourners.  If you anointed yourself with marjoram before sleeping, you would dream of your future spouse.

Generally speaking Wild Marjoram (Origanum vulgare)is known as oregano and although similar to Marjoram is in another family but with a similar taste.

To Grow

Grown as a annual in cool climates, this plant can get 12 inches tall in one season.  It has tiny white flowers in a knot and round pale green leaves, both of which are highly aromatic.  Because marjoram seeds are small and slow to germinate, they are usually started indoors in mid-spring for setting out when all danger of frost has passed.  They desire a sunny location with rich, well-drained soil and space the seedlings in clumps of three, every 6 to 8 inches.  Five clumps are all you need to and average hungry family.  Be sure to weed them carefully as the seedlings are very tiny.

Pinching the plant regularly will give it a bushy shape.  It is hardy only in zone 9 and 10 and even then it is I tender perennial, if you want to propagate for next season, you need to allow the roots to develop so you can dig the plant up in fall and divide it.  You will then bring the plant indoors for winter use and for replanting in the spring.

Because it is a slow grower you generally only get one cutting a year the farther north you live.  A second cutting may weaken the plants ability to winter over.  But is you are treating it as an annual, you do not need to worry about this and can cut as often as you want.  The aroma from the plant is an active pest deterrent so much concern over pests is not needed.

To Use

Unlike many herbs marjoram retains much of its flavor when dried.  Be sure to dry it away from light to preserve the color and flavor.

As a folk remedy, Marjoram has been used against asthma, indigestion, rheumatism, toothache, conjunctivitis and even cancer, but it is doubtful that it has much medical value beyond minor antioxidant and anti-fungal properties.

When used in culinary situations is it like a mild oregano with a hint of balsam.  Leaves and flowers are used fresh or dried.  Use fresh sprigs in salads.  Italian dishes, French sauces and Portuguese cooking all enjoy marjoram as a regular ingredient.  A tasty compliment to beef, veal, lamb, roast poultry and fish dishes it is also a wonder flavor with vegetables like carrots, cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes and parsnips as well as tomatoes.  If is also a great companion herb when bay leaf, garlic, onion, thyme and basil are used.  You cannot make a German sausage without it.

Wild Marjoram, more kin to oregano, was once used as a strewing herb to freshen and protect homes from disease.  Marjoram is also a popular ingredient in bath salts and tub teas.  The scent is soothing and relieves aches and pains and chest congestion.

Dried flower heads make wonderful winter bouquets and can be added to wreaths, especially culinary wreaths.  The tops of the plant can be used to make herbal dyes from a green to an olive color.

Be aware that Marjoram may irritate the uterus if used during menstruation or pregnancy, otherwise there are no restrictions or problems with its use.

Marjoram compliments so many other herbs it is common in seasoning blends and with a variety of dishes. I have many different recipes which utilize marjoram and I only chosen a few to include here!


Bonne Herbes ala Marcy
An adaptation of a blend made by Penzey’s Spices.  (The Backyard Patch uses marjoram in many of its blends including: Chili Blend, Nerve Soothing tea, Herb Cheese Dip, Bouquet Garni, and several others.

1 Tbls. dill weed
1 Tbls. marjoram
2 Tbls. chives
2 Tbls. purple basil
2 Tbls. tarragon
2 Tbls. chervil
1 tsp. ground white pepper

Blend together and store in a lidded container.  It is wonderful on vegetables, and great on potatoes, eggs, chicken and pork.   I even substituted this in my savory herb bread once.

Ribeye with Wine and Herb Marinade 
1 - 4 pound beef rib eye roast
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup lemon juice
2   tablespoons olive oil or cooking oil
1   tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
1   tablespoon snipped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1   tablespoon snipped fresh marjoram or 1 teaspoon dried marjoram, crushed
1   tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1   tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt

Place roast in a plastic bag set in a deep bowl. For marinade, in a mixing bowl combine wine, lemon juice, olive oil or cooking oil, pepper, rosemary, marjoram, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, and garlic salt. Pour marinade over roast. Seal bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 24 hours, turning bag occasionally.

Remove roast from bag, reserving marinade. Place roast, fat side up, on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Insert a meat thermometer. Roast in a 350 degree F oven for 1-1/4 to 2-1/4 hours for medium (160 degrees F) or 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours for well-done (170 degrees F), brushing with marinade occasionally. (Do not brush with marinade during the last 5 minutes of roasting.) Cover with foil and let stand 15 minutes before carving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Herb Dressing  Blend
1 cup dried parsley  
½ cup dried basil

½ cup thyme
½ cup savory
½ cup marjoram 

Mix together dry ingredients and store in an air-tight container. Each time you need a dressing, shake together 1 Tbls.of the herbs mixed with ¾ cup olive oil and ¼ cup vinegar. 

Olive Herb and Goat Cheese Squares
1 sheet puff pastry
1 6 oz can of Large Black Olives
4 oz goat cheese
8 oz cream cheese, softened (Neufchatel is less calories)
1 Tbls fresh marjoram or oregano (1 tsp. dry)
1 tsp. fresh thyme (lemon thyme if you have it) or ½ tsp dried
½ cup chopped tomato
1 Tbls. chopped fresh basil (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350 degreesF. On a lightly floured surface, roll the puff pastry with the rolling pin three to four times in each direction, making the pastry thinner, longer and wider. Cut the puff pastry into 3 inch squares. Place the pastry squares on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.

In a food processor, add the olives, goat cheese and cream cheese. Pulse until well combined.  Then fold in chopped marjoram and thyme. Top the pastry with 1-2 Tbls of the olive and herb mixture.

Bake until the edges of the puff pastry turn a light golden brown, about 15-18 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish and top with tomato and fresh herb. 

I could go on giving recipes with marjoram, but I suggest instead that you use the “search” in the blog (off to the right) and type in marjoram and see what pops up, as this versatile herbs is a go-to for me often!

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