A close relative of sharply-pungent oregano, aromatic sweet marjoram — also known as knotted marjoram due to its production of small, tightly clustered, pale or dark pinkish-purple flowers, or “knots” — is a traditional culinary herb and folk remedy that was especially favored by the ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks, who utilized it in their food, fragrances, medicines, and cosmetics. Introduced into Europe in the Middle Ages, sweet marjoram became a favorite ingredient in body splashes and bathwaters. Being a prized “strewing herb,” the plant was placed on the earthen floors of homes to subdue disagreeable odors and help repel insects and vermin. All you have to do is crush fresh marjoram leaves between your fingers and take a whiff of its pleasing scent to understand why the tenacious, warm, pungent, woody-sweet, softly spicy-camphorous aroma was so popular hundreds of years ago and remains so today.
Photo by Stephanie Tourles
I like versatile herbs, and sweet marjoram does not disappoint! Having seen use as a culinary spice, tea, decoction, and compress, it has long been recognized as valuable medicine for myriad complaints, including digestive upsets, intestinal cramps, menstrual problems, nervous disorders, respiratory infections, sprains, stiff joints, bruises, muscular and rheumatic pain, fungal conditions, anxiety, and insomnia.
Steam-distilled from freshly dried leaves and flowers, the essential oil is a convenient way to employ the many benefits of sweet marjoram, and it’s one of my preferred oils for addressing general arthritic pain, rheumatism, sore or stiff muscles, muscle spasms, menstrual cramps, gout, and migraine headaches with neck tension. Its deeply soothing, warming action brings almost instant relief to all muscle and joint conditions.
As with most oils extracted from culinary herbs, sweet marjoram essential oil is effective for digestive problems, as well as intestinal cramps, infantile colic, and irritable bowel syndrome. When using it in a massage oil blend for anything to do with the digestive system, remember to massage the belly in a clockwise direction (this instruction applies if you are massaging someone else’s belly, not your own), beginning at the navel and spiraling outward, ending at the top of the left thigh, to encourage the digestive process to move in the normal direction. Note: If you are massaging your own belly, massage in a counter-clockwise direction.
Being an amazingly effective relaxant, sweet marjoram is an excellent oil to use if you have trouble winding down after getting into bed or if you suffer from insomnia. Place a few drops in your bedroom diffuser and turn it on 15 to 30 minutes before retiring. The soothing fragrance will lull you into restful sleep before you know it.
A good substitute for sweet marjoram essential oil, especially with regard to treating digestive upsets and muscular and joint pain, is Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile, syn. Anthemis nobilis). They share many of the same properties, and both are gentle enough for use with infants when properly diluted.
Psychological Benefits: Sweet marjoram essential oil is quite tranquilizing to the central nervous system and positively wonderful for easing nervous exhaustion, anxiety, irritability, restlessness, agitation, a racing mind, and other stress-related conditions, including premenstrual and menopausal tensions. It promotes a sense of peace and stability.
Essential Properties In A Nutshell: Powerful, warming muscle relaxant and antispasmodic; analgesic; deeply tranquilizing to the central nervous system and beneficial for insomnia and stress-related conditions; exceptional sedative; potent digestive agent; offers impressive immune support; strong respiratory antiseptic, countering many infections resulting from a bad cold or flu; calms a “tickly” cough. A specific for young children, the elderly, and those with sensitive skin in need of healing with a soft touch.
Safety Data & Usage Information: Generally nontoxic, nonsensitizing, and nonirritating, with possible dermal sensitization in some individuals. Avoid in cases of low blood pressure. Excessive use may significantly lower libido, cause drowsiness or extreme lethargy, or have a deadening or stupefying effect on the mind.
Always dilute essential oils properly – according to age, health, medication intake, and skin condition – prior to application. My book, Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide, is a good reference, complete with safety guidelines and dilution charts.
The following recipe highlights the therapeutic nature of sweet marjoram essential oil with regard to its ability to greatly ease migraine headaches. This was my go-to blend when I used to suffer from debilitating premenstrual migraines. It worked like a charm!
Photo by Mars Vilaubi (c2018) used with permission by Storey Publishing
Migraine Melt-Away Blend
Migraine headaches are downright torturous! They have many triggers, from stress, hormonal flare-ups, and food allergies to high altitudes, barometric pressure changes, and bright sunlight, and they are often accompanied by nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Ugh – the sooner you can find relief, the better!
This formula combines essential oils with analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and antispasmodic properties to deliver powerful, effective pain relief with a gentle relaxing hand. The scent is rather strong but not overwhelming – aromatherapy at its finest, indeed! If your migraines persist, please see your health-care provider. Safe for folks 12 years of age and older. This is an aromatherapeutically concentrated formula, so use only as directed.
• 35 drops sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana)
• 35 drops peppermint (Mentha piperita)
• 30 drops rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis ct. cineole or non-chemotype specific)
• 25 drops eucalyptus (Eucalyptus globulus)
• 25 drops lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
1/4-ounce dark glass bottle with a screw cap or orifice reducer cap
To Make The Blend: This will be your stock bottle from which to make various applications. Combine the marjoram, peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, and lavender essential oils in the little bottle. Screw the top on the bottle and shake vigorously for 2 minutes to blend. Label the bottle and set it in a cool, dark location for 24 hours so that the oils can synergize.
Store at room temperature, away from heat and light; use within 2 years. DO NOT store the bottle with a dropper top, as the strong vapors will degrade the rubber tip. Store only with a screw cap.
To Use In A Nasal Inhaler Tube: Remove the cotton inhaler wick from the tube. From your stock bottle, add 24 drops directly to the wick and allow it to absorb the entire amount. Insert the wick inside the inhaler tube and tightly cap the bottom of the inhaler with the plug. Place the inhaler tube inside its cover and screw tightly to close; add a tiny label.
Inhale as needed to bring relief. For best results, exhale through your mouth, not your nose. Depending on how often you open the stick, the medicinal properties will wane and the scent weaken. If your stick is easy to reopen, simply add more drops to the wick to recharge and reuse.
To Use In A 10 ML Roll-On Application Bottle: Add 16 drops of the blend to the bottle, then add approximately 2 teaspoons of jojoba or fractionated coconut oil. Cap and shake vigorously for 2 minutes. Label the bottle and set it in a cool, dark location for 24 hours so that the oils can synergize.
To apply, roll a little onto each temple, the base of the neck, and the forehead region. Massage in well. Next, roll some onto one palm, rub your palms together to warm the oil, then close your eyes and inhale the vapors from your cupped hands. Breathe slowly and deeply for a few minutes. Avoid direct contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. Repeat several times throughout the day, as needed, until your migraine melts away!
Yield: 1/4 ounce (7.5 ml)
Recipe excerpted from Stephanie Tourles’s Essential Oils: A Beginner’s Guide (c 2018 by Stephanie Tourles). Used with permission from Storey Publishing.