Unless you’re a botanist with a few years of experience with herbs under your belt, you might find it easy to confuse oregano and marjoram. Both herbs are native to the Mediterranean and belong to the same genus, Origanum.
They both have oval, flat, and fuzzy green leaves that give off an odor. The flowers of both herbs are purple. However, a close inspection will reveal some significant differences between the two herbs.
Although the leaves of both herbs look similar, marjoram leaves are usually near the tip of the stems while oregano leaves cover the whole stalk. Oregano has a spicy, bold, pungent taste while marjoram has a lighter yet more complex taste that is slightly sweet.
It’s important to be able to tell the difference between marjoram and oregano. This will help you pick the right herb for the right dish. Read more to find out how to distinguish between them and when to use each herb.
Oregano vs. Marjoram: Understanding the Differences
If you look past the similar shape, color, and fuzziness of the leaves, you will discover subtle differences between oregano and marjoram — not just in their appearance but also in their taste, uses, and benefits. When confused, give the leaves the smell test. A sweet and aromatic smell means you’re looking at marjoram while a pungent and spicy odor tells you that the herb is oregano.
Oregano vs. Marjoram: Appearance
At first glance, both oregano and marjoram look almost identical. The leaves are oval, flat, fuzzy, and green. As for the flowers, they have the same purple color,. However, when you take a closer look, you’ll discover a few subtle differences in the appearance of marjoram and oregano. Once you know what to look for, it will be easy to distinguish between the two herbs.
The leaves of oregano have a subtle olive-green shade. They’re spade-shaped than oval, and they have less fuzz on them than marjoram leaves. If the color and shape of the leaves throw you off, look at the distribution of the leaves on the stalk. The leaves of oregano are spaced out and cover the length of the stalk.
The leaves of marjoram are oval and covered with a lot of fuzz. They’re mostly gray-green. The flowers are purple just like oregano blooms. In contrast to oregano, the leaves mostly cluster around the tip of the stalk leaving the rest bare.
Oregano vs. Marjoram: Taste
The taste of the two herbs couldn’t be any more different. It’s not even a subtle difference. It’s very obvious, and you’ll recognize it once you taste a sprig of each herb. This reflects on their uses in cooking as well, as we’ll see below.
Oregano is both spicy and pungent. It’s not the kind of herb you’d want to use too much of in your cooking. A hint of the taste is what you need most of the time. Oregano leaves have a high concentration of carvacrol and thymol, organic compounds that give the herb its distinguishing sharp taste.
Marjoram, on the other hand, is a sweet herb with a pleasant yet complex taste. The leaves are rich in different compounds, which give it a mix of mostly mild flavors. The woody flavor comes from sabinene, the floral aromas come from linalool, and terpinene gives it a citrus taste.
Oregano vs. Marjoram: Uses
Both oregano and marjoram have a long history with culinary and medicinal uses. Even today, the essential oils extracted from both herbs are still widely used to treat different ailments, and you will come across them in spas and health centers. However, since they have different compounds, their uses vary widely.
What Is Oregano Used For?
Oregano goes well with tomato-based dishes. This makes it a staple in Italian cuisine. It adds a strong flavor to marinades, roasted meat, and grilled fish. It also goes well with vegetable dishes when used in small amounts. Fresh oregano leaves are milder than dried ones, and you can use fresh leaves as garnish.
What Is Marjoram Used For?
Marjoram is used in a variety of dishes because of its mild and pleasant flavors. It can be added to stews, soups, sauces, and salad dressings. Marjoram tea has a sweet and aromatic flavor, especially with a dash of honey. The dried leaves give some food products, like German sausages, their trademark taste.
Oregano vs. Marjoram: Benefits
The different compounds that each herb contains impact not only its taste and uses but its benefits as well. The medicinal properties of both oregano and marjoram have been common knowledge for many centuries, and they both are considered the cornerstones of many traditional medicines around the Mediterranean area.
Oregano Health Benefits
Oregano oil has been used as a dietary supplement and was widely prescribed to treat many digestive conditions. The volatile compounds and the pungent flavors helped promote it as an ideal alternative medicine.
Oregano essential oil is known to have antifungal, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. While more studies are needed, oregano also has promising anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well.
Marjoram Health Benefits
The mild and pleasant taste of marjoram as well as the many volatile compounds it contains are behind its reputation as a cure-all essential oil. It has been prescribed for cancer patients and as an aphrodisiac.
It was the go-to medicine for anything from a simple headache to paralysis. Much like oregano, research suggests that the essential oils found in marjoram have numerous beneficial properties.
Can I Use Oregano Instead of Marjoram?
When both herbs are fresh, you can easily use one instead of the other. The fresh leaves of oregano and marjoram are not as pungent as the dry ones. Of course, you’ll notice a difference in taste. Marjoram is mild and pleasant while oregano is earthy and slightly bitter.
How To Substitute Oregano for Marjoram
When using oregano instead of marjoram, less is more. If the recipe recommends 1 teaspoon of marjoram, then you should use half a teaspoon of oregano.
Can Marjoram and Oregano Grow Together?
Both marjoram and oregano are native to the Mediterranean region and they both belong to the same genus. That means they both grow in the same conditions and can be paired together.
However, spacing should be your main concern. Oregano needs a space of at least 12 inches from the nearest plant. If you’re using a planter, make sure it’s large enough to provide this space, and only plant one of each of the herbs.
Is Marjoram a Perennial?
Marjoram is a perennial herb in Zones 7 to 10. It has a high tolerance to cold weather and can easily be grown as an annual if your winters are too harsh. With the right care and maintenance, it will thrive and provide you with abundant sprigs and fresh leaves.
Is Oregano Easy To Grow?
Oregano is a hardy herb with a high tolerance for different types of soil and pH levels. It doesn’t require special conditions and can tolerate even alkaline soil.
Both oregano and marjoram have a similar appearance, and even their blooms look the same. The difference is in the taste of each herb. Oregano has a pungent and earthy taste while marjoram is mild and complex with citrus notes.