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Wild marjoram, also known as oregano or Origanum vulgare, is a bushy, semi-woody dwarf shrub native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and Asia. It has upright or spreading stems topped with small purple tube-like flowers in the summertime. The leaves are oval, fuzzy and about 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) in length.
To grow wild marjoram, gardeners should plant it in a sunny, well-drained area. The plant does not do well in very moist soil and might get root rot if it is subjected to soggy conditions. Wild marjoram should be watered sparingly, because it does better when it dries out between watering sessions.
This plant does very well in a hanging basket, which helps reduce moisture in the soil. It should be pinched back periodically to encourage branching. Low, spreading varieties of wild marjoram can be used in borders of herb gardens to flop over the sides for effect.
Wild marjoram enjoys a rich history in Greek mythology. The ancient Greeks believed that the goddess of love, Aphrodite, infused the plant with its sweet, spicy scent as a symbol of happiness. Taking this as a sign from the gods, the Greeks often weaved oregano in with bridal wreaths or placed it at grave sites to send off the recently deceased with a sense of peace.
The Greeks and the Romans realized that wild marjoram had other benefits as well. It began to be valued for what its aromatic leaves could do for flavoring food and for its value as a meat tenderizer. Oregano continues to be one of the foremost spices used in both Italian and Greek cooking. It is a very popular spice, but it tends to lose its flavor rather quickly, so it is best utilized when it is added to a dish during the last few minutes of cooking.
The ancient Greek physician Hippocrates prescribed wild marjoram for various ailments, including respiratory disorders, and it is still used in many herbal preparations. Studies have shown oregano to have anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antioxidant and antiviral properties. It also contains flavonoids, vitamin A and vitamin C.
When wild marjoram is used in holistic medicine, the primary parts used are the leaves. The oil extracted from the leaves is said to be helpful for asthma, dyspepsia, chronic coughing, bronchitis and rheumatism. The leaves also are useful as poultices for boils, sprains and various other aches and pains.