A half-hardy annual 8 in. (20 cm) tall, rather bushy, with small greyish green slightly hairy leaves, and round green ‘knots’ from which tiny pinkish flowers come from June onwards. Origin, North Africa, introduced 1573. O. vulgare is a native plant of chalk downland, commonly called Oregano.
Sweet and unusual aroma to the leaves, which are much used, both fresh and dried in cooking; especially good for flavouring sausages. Also used in perfumery and has mild antiseptic qualities, due to the thymol content.
It was used a great deal by the Greeks and may well have been introduced by the Romans though the official date is much later. Culpeper said that ‘it is so well known that it is needless to give any description of it’, so it must have been in every garden in the 17th century. Now much used in Italy.
Sow seed outdoors in rows 12 in. (30 cm) apart, in mid May, earlier in warm sheltered gardens, and thin to 10 in. (25 cm) apart. Provide a sunny place, and fertile, medium soil. Seedlings are slow to grow; weeding is important. Good for pot cultivation, but pot marjoram (0. onites) will be needed for winter use. This is perennial, but less well flavoured. Trim hard back in late summer and pot up in autumn.