Differences between marjoram and oregano

How to distinguish Origanum majorana and Origanum vulgare

Differences between marjoram and oregano

Marjoram and oregano are two aromatic plants that are used as much as spices and as natural remedies.

These two plants always generate many doubts about what their characteristics are and how to differentiate them. In this article, we will see the reasons for so much confusion.

Why are marjoram and oregano confused?


Photo of marjoram

The first confusion is due to a language issue: in many areas and in different languages, the denomination of both plants gives rise to confusion. Oregano is called in English Common marjoram, and in some regions it is known as bastard marjoram.

On the other hand, marjoram receives names like oregano, or in English it is sometimes called Italian oregano.

Even at a scientific level, botanists once thought that marjoram was a variety of oregano. All this has caused that currently there is a great confusion about these two plants, and even looking for images of them on the internet it is difficult to leave doubts.

Below are the main differential features of both plants, with detailed photos and more information on the subject.

What do marjoram and oregano have in common?

What both plants have in common is that they belong to the family of Labiatae or Lamiaceae. The plants that belong to this botanical family are characterized because all the parts of the plant have a lot of very aromatic essential oils.

Other aromatic spices known as mint, thyme, sage or rosemary belong to this family. It is precisely their content in essential oils that has made them indispensable herbs in the kitchen.

Marjoram and oregano have different flavors, being marjoram the most aromatic and the most appreciated at the gastronomic level. Oregano has a different flavor, and is less aromatic, especially when dried.

How is marjoram different from oregano?

The two flowers can be distinguished by:

  • Distinct aroma: If the leaves or flowers are rubbed with the fingers, it is appreciated that each one has a different aroma. Marjoram is more aromatic than oregano and has a slightly more lemony shade.
  • Leaf shape: At first glance the leaves of both plants are similar, but if we look, the leaves of marjoram are more round, while those of oregano end in a sharper form.
  • Form of the flowers: Marjoram has inflorescences in the form of small ears, and come out of numerous ramifications that the small stems have.

Marjoram leaves

leaves of marjoram plant

Photo of leaves of marjoram plant

Initially the marjoram (Origanum majorana ) was considered as a variety of oregano (Origanum vulgare), but later studies have shown clear differences between these two plants, which belong to the same genus (Origanum) but are different species.

The leaves of marjoram are opposite, whole, oval and petiolate (attached to the stem by petiole). The foliage is tomentose, whitish green, due to a fine hairiness that covers all the leaves. Approximately, they are between 5 and 25mm long and 7mm wide

The most differential feature with respect to the leaves of oregano is that marjoram leaves are more round.

Oregano leaves

oregano leaves

Photo of oregano leaves

The leaves of oregano are also petiolate, with whole or slightly toothed edges, and are covered by tiny glandular hairs, rich in essential oil, which when rubbed, give off a characteristic odor (aroma of oregano).

What differentiates them from the leaves of the marjoram is that they end in a sharper or slightly pointed form, that is, they have oval – lanceolate leaves.

Marjoram flowers

The flowers is another very distinctive part of these plants. Marjoram has different inflorescences than oregano: less dense, in the form of small ears, and come out of the many branches that small stems have. In addition, marjoram flowers are always, or almost always, white.

Oregano flowers

Oregano flowers grow differently from marjoram.

oregano plantoregano flowers
Photo of oregano plant and oregano flowers.

Differences between oregano and marjoram before flowering

Before producing flowers, it is already possible to distinguish oregano and marjoram plants:

Marjoram before flowering

marjoram flowers

Photo of marjoram plant still without flowering (above) and of oregano without flowering (below).

Oregano and marjoram flowers comparison

Oregano has thicker inflorescences, usually shorter than marjoram (although not always); while in marjoram the inflorescences are less dense, in the form of small ears, and come out of the numerous ramifications that the small stems have. Certainly, there are varieties that are difficult to distinguish. Photo of oregano and marjoram flowers:

marjoram inflorescences

oregano inflorescences

Photo of marjoram flowers (above) and oregano flowers (below).

PUNTO ROJO More information on marjoram.

This article was endorsed by Vicente Martínez Centelles - Founder of the web and director. Teacher of natural sciences, expert in plants, natural remedies and botanical photography.
Written by Editorial Botanical-online team in charge of content writing

8 December, 2021

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