Marjoram was called "joy of the mountains" by ancient Greeks and believed to be the favorite herb of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Marjoram was formed into the crowns of Greek brides and grooms wore. Legend also held that you'd dream of your future spouse if you anointed yourself with marjoram before going to bed.
Marjoram is a perennial member of the mint family, often grown as an annual. With dense, shallow roots, the plant can get bushy and it has square stems covered with tiny hairs. The two most popular varieties are sweet marjoram and wild marjoram (more commonly known as oregano). Sweet marjoram is native to southern Europe, northern Africa and southeast Asia. It grows 1 to 2 feet tall and has white, purplish or pink flowers. (the blossoms are tiny knot-like clusters)
Once used to fight asthma, indigestion and even toothaches, it has no proven medicinal value except for antifungal properties. Marjoram was once hung around homes to freshen the air. In France, people put it in closets and chests. It is also a fragrant addition to potpourri or sachets, marjoram is also used as a scent for soap and perfume.
Though marjoram has a strong scent, its favor is fairly delicate. Avoid losing its flavor by adding to your dishes toward the end of cooking. When dried, the flavor becomes stronger, so use dried more sparingly than fresh. Especially popular in French cooking, marjoram enhances the flavor of many foods, including fish, poultry, lamb, beef, sausage, green vegetables, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, potatoes, mushrooms, eggs and tomatoes. Flavor up a salad and add a fresh sprig of marjoram. It also goes well in stews, soups, cheese spreads, stuffings and salad dressing. Marjoram complements other herbs such as bay leaf, thyme, basil, garlic and onion.
Marjoram seeds are small and slow to germinate, start indoors in early spring and transplant outdoors after the danger of frost has passed. Plant groups of three seedlings in a well-drained sunny location. Make sure weeds don't crowd them. When the plants are ready to bloom the second time, cut them to 1-inch tall. In fall, divide the roots and bring some inside for winter use and replanting in the spring. It's important to snip off marjoram blossoms to keep the stems from getting woody. This also encourages side growth. When drying leaves, avoid sunlight to preserve color and flavor and store your dried leaves in an air tight container.
One tablespoon of fresh marjoram equals 1-teaspoon dried marjoram, a basic rule for most herbs. Remember, herbs should never overwhelm a dish. The purpose of any seasoning is to provide an accent that enhances the flavor. Colors should be bright, not faded, and a good sniff will tell you about their pungency.
Savory Steak Rub
1-tablespoon dried marjoram
1-tablespoon dried basil
2-teaspoons garlic powder
2-teaspoons dried thyme
1-teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
3/4-teaspoons dried oregano
Combine all ingredients and store in a covered container. Rub over steaks before grilling or broiling. Makes 1/4-cup, enough to season 4 to 6 steaks.