Marjoram: Italy’s favorite herb

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

So you’re visiting Italy, and you taste the tomato sauce. What’s that herb? It’s not basil. It’s not oregano.

Travelers always are shocked at Italian tomato sauces. They’re like nothing your mother taught you.

In Italy, the most popular sauce herb is marjoram, an earthy, slightly sweet flavoring. It tends toward a basil aroma with none of its minty overtones. I find some slight complexities of pine and citrus flavors with my herb garden’s variety, labeled simply “sweet.”

American troops returning from Italy after World War II missed the flavor of marjoram in pizza sauce. Still, the herb is pretty much ignored here amid the staples of oregano and basil.

It comes well recommended. The early Greeks and Romans saluted marjoram as the herb of contentment, happiness and love.

Packages marked “wild marjoram” are a different critter. They are an almost exact copy of oregano.

Most marjoram is sold dried, as it is very delicate fresh. The dried can substitute for basil, but use half the recommended amount, as marjoram is strong. The fresh leaves should be added at the end as their flavor is fleeting. Longer cooking will destroy it.

This herb is a Mediterranean native and has trouble growing in planting zones lower than eight. It will not tolerate cool nights. The fix is to grow it in pots and move them to your garage on cool nights. Move the plant indoors in September to extend its season.

Its flavor is best right off the plant, not stronger but brighter tasting. Be careful drying; sunlight will bleach out its natural oils. Dry indoors in an airy place hung upside down.Jim Hillibish is a food writer for the Canton (Ohio) Repository. Reach him at

Italian Marjoram Tomato Sauce

2 cloves garlic, chopped finely

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small red chili, dried

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 medium cans Italian plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 handful marjoram, roughly chopped or 1 teaspoon dried

Mix above except for marjoram and simmer covered for 45 minutes. Add marjoram and simmer for 5 minutes.

Notes: This is fine on pasta, perhaps with meat added. It makes good pizza sauce and is used all-purpose on vegetables and anywhere a tomato sauce is required.

Marjoram uses

Sprinkle on pizza.

Add to soups and stews.

Mix with eggs for omelets or quiche.

Flavor bread and scones.

Use in citrus marinades.

Cook with cauliflower, beans or cabbage to reduce indigestion.