As many aromatherapy students know, there are quite a few essential oils that are often confused, given the similarities in their common English names; one such example is the herb oregano (Origanum vulgare)and the herb sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana). Oregano is alternatively known by the synonym wild marjoram, leading the beginner to aromatherapy into an easily made mistake between the two plants. It is always important to identify a plant by its botanical (Latin name) because of this factor. Here’s a quick look at marjoram and oregano.
Botanical Profile of Oregano
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a member of the Lamiaceae plant family. Its alternative common English names include wild marjoram, common marjoram, joy-of-the-mountain, and European oregano.1 Oregano is a hardy, aromatic, perennial plant which is somewhat bushy, with hairy stems, oval leaves, and pink-purple flowers. Oregano can vary in both scent and appearance depending upon its growing habitat. 2 For example, in the UK, oregano produces pale pink flowers and does not carry such a heavy scent as its Mediterranean cousin.
Oregano grows wild (hence its name wild marjoram) in Europe, central Asia, and the Mediterranean region; in the Mediterranean, it is known as oregano, rather than wild marjoram, but it should not be confused further with Spanish marjoram (Thymus mastichina) or Spanish oregano (Thymus capitatus).
Botanical Profile of Marjoram
Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) is also a member of the Lamiaceae plant family. Sweet marjoram, to give the plant its full name, is also called knotted marjoram. It, too, is a aromatic, bushy, perennial plant, although a little less hardy than oregano. Sweet marjoram may be cultivated as an annual in colder climes; it has oval leaves, a hairy stem, and small gray-white flowers which grow in clusters (alternatively called knots).
Sweet marjoram is native to Egypt, North Africa, and the Mediterranean region.
Herbal Use of Marjoram and Oregano
Early herbalists used both herbs, oregano and marjoram, for their powerful antiseptic properties. In China, oregano was used to treat fever, itchy skin, diarrhea, and vomiting; sweet marjoram is a more gentle herb, and has traditionally been used both as a folk remedy and as a culinary herb. It is known for its soothing and warming properties and has been used to treat respiratory problems, nervous tension, menstrual, and digestive difficulties.
Oregano Essential Oil
Oregano produces an essential oil but it is not commonly used in aromatherapy due to its powerful chemical components; oregano essential oil is predominately made up of phenols, including the constituents of cavacrol and thymol. 3 Avoid use of oregano essential oil during pregnancy; it is also a skin irritant and dermal toxin, making it unsafe to use in direct skin contact.
Oregano essential oil is a middle note essential oil with a similar aroma to marjoram essential oil, although perhaps more herbaceous.
Sweet Marjoram Essential Oil
Sweet marjoram produces an essential oil which is commonly used in aromatherapy; the essential oil is made up of predominately alcohols and monoterpenes. 3 It is analgesic, antiseptic,anti-viral, carminative, sedative, laxative, bactericidal, and a tonic. The essential oil of sweet marjoram is used to treat arthritis, rheumatism, asthma, bronchitis, constipation, headaches, migraines, insomnia, PMS, flatulence, and stress and nervous tension. However, avoid use in pregnancy, as it is considered an emmenagogue.
Sweet marjoram essential oil is a middle note essential oil with a warm, spicy aroma, and a hint of camphor.
Learn More About Essential Oils with Sedona Aromatherapie
If you would like to learn more about essential oils, consider the Sedona Aromatherapie home study certification courses! To learn more, visit the courses home page.
Lawless, Julia 1995 The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils UK: Thorsons
Lawless, Julia 2001 The Aromatherapy Garden UK: Kyle Cathie Ltd
Caddy, Rosemary, 1997, Essential Oils in Colour, UK: Amberwood Publishing Ltd
Author is a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.