Rick Gush
August 26, 2011


Photo by Rick Gush

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Even in the middle of winter, I can cut a few good stems from my marjoram plant.

It seems a bit early; it’s the end of August, and we’ve already hit a wall with the vegetable garden. The cucumbers, squash, tomatoes, beans and corn are all done for the season, so I’m slowly getting stuff arranged for working the beds again in early September, before planting broccoli for the winter.

Our marjoram is doing exceptionally well right now, despite the growth wall our garden has hit. This is my favorite herb, and I put it on everything from salads to casseroles and chicken to fish. We use marjoram’s fresh leaves whenever they are available. Sometimes, we’ll even have a bunch of marjoram stems drying in the kitchen.

I have more than a half-dozen marjoram plants scattered around the garden, so — even in the middle of the winter —there’s always a plant I can cut a few stems from. Right now, they are all growing and flowering like crazy, so I could probably pick 10 pounds of stems if I wanted to.

When I harvest marjoram, I’m careful to select stems that have not had mud splashed on them, and I also avoid any stems that have dragged on the ground. This way, the clean, upright stems do not have to be washed before being shredded and added directly onto prepared food.

We’re also growing marjoram’s cousin, oregano, in a big bed on the western edge of our garden. The taste of the two herbs is fairly similar, but I prefer the marjoram. We don’t use the fresh oregano; we just wait until it goes to full flower at the end of the summer, and then cut a bunch of bouquets of the flowers to bring into the kitchen for our winter herb supply.

While marjoram generally remains a single plant, lasting two or three seasons, oregano is a real crawler: it grows roots on many of the procumbent stems along the outside edge itself. Because of this, oregano can fill a large area within a few years.

The routine around here is as follows: rip out the oregano bed every three to four years, replant with the best shoots and then replant a few new pots of marjoram every year.

Here in Liguria, Italy, we all live in shared, multi-story buildings because there are not enough flat areas for people to have detached, single-family homes. Despite not having a piece of land connected to their home, most people here still garden enthusiastically on their apartment-style terraces.

The main things that Italians grow on their terraces, apart from a few flowers, are cooking herbs. Fresh plants are available at nurseries, supermarkets, florists, and fruit and vegetable markets. The business of selling fresh herb plants here is active year-round.

Oregano is a bit sprawly for container gardens, but marjoram plants, called majoranna, are grown by the millions in 6-inch pots on apartment balconies. Rosemary and, to a certain extent, basil, are also widely grown throughout this region.

All of this herb growing means that almost all Italians have access to fresh cooking herbs, which is a right they take very seriously.

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