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Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, And Dill

Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, And Dill

Oregano vs. Marjoram

Oregano and marjoram are so closely related that is it often difficult to distinguish between the two. In fact, marjoram is a type of oregano. Both are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and central Asia and were brought to North America by early European colonists. They both are common throughout most of the world although oregano is more commonly recognized than marjoram. Oregano and marjoram were held by ancient Greeks and Romans as a symbol of joy and happiness and were commonly found incorporated into the ceremonies at weddings and celebrations.

The name oregano actually translates as "mountain joy" in Greek because oregano grows wild on the hillsides. Ancient Greeks allowed their goats to graze freely on oregano because they believed that it greatly enhanced the flavor of their meat. Oregano and marjoram look very similar and are characterized as small shrubs with multi-branched, sometimes furry stems. Oregano tends to grow taller and more wildly and has small, green, oval-shaped leaves that are coarse and fuzzy. Marjoram grows more compactly and is distinguished by flower buds at the ends that resemble little green pine cones. The leaves of marjoram are generally smaller in size and more gray-green in color.

Marjoram has a more delicate and sweet flavor and a slightly minty, citrusy taste that is better suited to lighter dishes like chicken and seafood. Oregano has a rich, pungent, somewhat spicy flavor and is best paired with heartier dishes like tomato based sauces and grilled meats. In addition to their culinary uses, marjoram and oregano each have numerous medicinal and nutritive applications. Oregano has strong anti-bacterial and anti-oxidant properties as well as being high in vitamins and fiber. Some of its medicinal uses include treating insect bites, curing coughs, calming asthma, and soothing aching muscles and bones. Marjoram is also a known antioxidant and is used for aiding digestion, clearing the sinuses, and soothing the throat.

All About Thyme

The name thyme comes from the Greek word for "to fumigate" and it is no surprise that one of thyme's many uses is as a natural insect repellent. Thyme is native to the Mediterranean regions of Europe although is grown today throughout the world. It grows as a small shrub, whose woody stems are covered with tiny, elliptical shaped gray-green to green leaves. It has a mild flavor with a hint of clove, although there are numerous varieties that vary in flavor. The most common varieties of thyme are English and French with the English variety being milder in flavor. Other types of thyme include lemon, which has a distinct, lemony undertone; coconut; caraway; and mint.

Thyme sprigs are sometimes used whole but usually the leaves are removed from the stems and chopped. Thyme pairs well with seafood and poultry dishes and is often paired with other herbs for interesting flavor blends. Two classic herb combinations that include thyme are herbs de Provence (which can also contain basil, fennel seed, lavender, marjoram, rosemary, sage, and summer savory) and bouquet garni (a bundle of bay leaf, parsley, and thyme that is tied together and used to flavor soups and stocks). Medicinally thyme is used to soothe sore throats, calm coughs, and aid in the digestive process. It also has strong antiseptic properties and in fact is the main ingredient in certain brands of mouthwash.

The Many Uses of Dill

Dill is an herb native to Southern and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and is hearty enough to be cultivated near the Arctic Circle. Both the seeds and leaves of the dill plant are edible and used for culinary and medicinal purposes. Dill leaves are delicate, feathery, and wispy in appearance and resemble those of fennel. They have an aromatic, sweet flavor that can be overpowering if too much is used. Dill leaves, often referred to as dill weed, pairs well with fish, poultry, potatoes, and other vegetables and is commonly used in the cuisines of Scandinavia and Russia. Dill seeds are much stronger in flavor than dill weed and are similar to caraway in that their flavor is at the same time sweet and somewhat bitter. From a medicinal perspective, dill is known for its soothing properties and is often used in treating stomach ailments and reducing gas.

About the Author

After receiving degrees from the University of Wisconsin and the Culinary Institute of America, Andrea Rappaport moved into a full-time career in the restaurant business. For over 12 years, she worked in various culinary jobs, including as a cook for Wolfgang Puck at Spago, and ultimately as the executive chef and partner of the highly revered San Francisco restaurant Zinzino. For the past seven years, Andrea has worked as the private chef for one family in the San Francisco area, and continues to expand her culinary portfolio by catering, teaching, and consulting.