Know Your Essential Oils: Marjoram Essential Oil In-Depth*
You probably know sweet marjoram from its use in cooking and you may have grown this short, bushy perennial in your herb garden. The small white to purplish pink flowers attract hordes of bees and butterflies, making a patch of marjoram a delightful spot to pull up a lawn chair and rest for a while. It’s not a “show-stopper”, like roses or lilies, but it’s nonetheless one of my favorite garden herbs and it thrives with little effort in most soils in sunny to partly sunny locations with good drainage. In my zone 6 garden, sweet marjoram is one of the last plants to succumb to frost as winter arrives.
Sweet Marjoram’s Latin name, Origanum majorana, tells you that it’s related to oregano (Origanum vulgare) and that the two are actually members of the same genus. Although the leaves of marjoram and oregano are used almost interchangeably in cooking, their essential oils have notably different actions and uses.
Sweet marjoram is native to the Mediterranean, Egypt and North Africa but it thrives in other locations as well and is widely distributed around the world. The biggest producers of the essential oil are Egypt, France, Hungary, Spain, Tunisia, Morocco, Bulgaria, Serbia/Montenegro (Yugoslavia) and Iran. When purchasing the essential oil, be sure not to confuse Sweet Marjoram with products marketed as Spanish Wild Marjoram, which is actually a species of thyme (Thymus mastichina).
FOLKLORE AND HISTORY
This modest little plant holds an honored place in the myths and ancient medical practices of the Mediterranean region. Its species name, “majorana”, comes from the Latin root word “’major”, which means “greater”. In ancient times, “major” was a term that was attached to plants that were believed to increase longevity and sweet marjoram was highly regarded in the ancient world as an herb with strengthening and life-extending properties. In Greek mythology, sweet marjoram was considered sacred to Aphrodite, who used it to treat her son Aeneus.
The ancient Greek physicians used marjoram herb (not the essential oil) as a remedy for poisoning from hemlock and snake bite, but please don’t try to use it in that way because I’ve found nothing to substantiate those claims. They also made a pomade of it for nervous disorders and in the Middle Ages, Hildegard of Bingen recommended it for leprosy. Culpepper described marjoram herb as a remedy that “helpeth all diseases of the chest which hinder the freeness of breathing”and today it’s regarded by aromatherapists as one of the best essential oils for bronchitis, and colds. The old herbals say that marjoram tea suppresses sex drive and, in the past, it was widely consumed in monasteries for that purpose. While I’ve found no modern research studies to support that conclusion, my own experience with Marjoram essential oil is that it has a strongly calming, almost sedating action that puts me right to sleep if I use it at night.
MARJORAM ESSENTIAL OIL EXTRACTION
Marjoram essential oil is produced by steam distillation of the dried flowering herb, including leaves, stalks, and flowers.
MARJORAM ESSENTIAL OIL PHYSICAL AND AROMATIC PROPERTIES
Marjoram essential oil is a pale yellow to amber mobile liquid with a warm, herbaceous, slightly bitter aroma in which middle notes predominate. It blends well with lavender, rosemary, bergamot, cypress, sweet orange and eucalyptus essential oils.
WHAT AROMATHERAPISTS HAVE SAID ABOUT MARJORAM ESSENTIAL OIL
Modern aromatherapists often use the essential oil of marjoram for respiratory issues and alone or in blends, it’s claimed useful for easing coughs, colds and congestion. Patricia Davis, in her book Aromatherapy: An A-Z (1988) says this of marjoram essential oil:
“Used as a steam inhalation, it will clear the chest and ease respiratory difficulties very quickly. A hot bath containing 6 drops of marjoram will often prevent some of the secondary miseries arising from the common cold.” (Note: before adding to the bath; mix those 6 drops with a tablespoon of whole milk or whipping cream or vegetable oil; since vegetable oil will make the tub slippery and leave a ring, my personal preference is to use whole milk or cream.)
Davis also notes the sedative properties of Marjoram essential oil and cautions against using too much since it can have a stupefying effect. Indeed, if you follow Davis’ advice about adding 6 drops of it to your bath, be prepared to fall off to sleep afterwards.
Marjoram essential oil is often described as exerting a warming action, both on the body and the mind. It’s said by aromatherapists to be useful when applied topically for sore, tight muscles, for stomach cramps and constipation, and for menstrual cramps. Inhaled or applied topically, it’s been reported to exert calming effects that are useful for sleeplessness. It is reported to work well in some of these applications when used jointly with lavender essential oil.
Aromatherapists who apply essential oils within the framework of classical Chinese Medicine claim that Marjoram essential oil brings its heat and warmth into all aspects of our being. They say that it breaks up the kind of emotional stagnation associated with over-thinking and can spark a renewed interest in life in those who have felt overwhelmed. It may be a good choice for those whose temperament is characterized by emotional “coldness”.
In classical Chinese Medicine, marjoram herb and essential oil are associated with the Earth phase and considered good for digestive issues. In the wider sense, as an essential oil of the Earth phase, marjoram may help a person give and receive both physical and emotional nourishment.
Used externally in reasonable amounts, marjoram essential oil is not toxic, irritating or sensitizing. It can be overly sedating if used to excess and is best used in small amounts and for short periods of time. I recommend avoiding this essential oil if you’ll be driving or engaging in some other activity where drowsiness might pose a danger. Some authors say that it is best avoided in pregnancy.
by Dr. Joie Power, PhD.
Click Link Below To Shop Artisan Aromatics MARJORAM Essential Oil:
*The above article is an excerpt from the April 2019 issue of the Artisan Aromatics Newsletter.
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