In the Herb Garden this week – 25 July 2020

There is always confusion about the distinction between Oregano and Marjoram and those who want to understand the subject better will find much opportunity for further research! The physical similarity of the plants and the difficulty with proper identification have been a historical problem that persists still today so we usually tell visitors to the garden that Oregano tends to be larger, darker and stronger than Marjoram, which is more delicate and lives up to its other name, ‘sweet’.


We know from 18th century seed catalogues that Marjoram was always included by gardeners in the culinary herb garden as it was used to flavour stews and soups but it was an important medicinal herb too. It was used to treat digestive problems, mouth and throat infections, fevers, cuts and wounds, and to soothe bites and stings.


Dr Darwin includes Marjoram in his medicine list in Zoonomia to ‘moderately stimulate the membrane of the nostrils so as to increase the secretion of nasal mucus…’ – presumably he means to help clear a blocked nose! His contemporary, Dr Withering, wrote: ‘A little lint, moistened therewith, and put into the hollow of an aching tooth, frequently removes the pain.’


We now know that the essential oil from Oregano contains the compound Thymol which has antiseptic properties and this explains its wide variety of uses. It is still the basis of many commercial mouthwash products today so Dr Withering was probably giving good advice!


Bees find both forms of the plant irresistible and the photograph, taken in the garden last week, shows a honey bee hard at work. Bumble bees are just as keen and fly in and out all day too.


The plant behind is Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) which makes a lovely July tapestry of herbal colour.

Do come and enjoy it soon.