photo  of Oregano oil and plant
Oregano oil and plant

Synopsis ~ We are discussing the high carvacrol culinary Oregano called ‘Greek or  Italian Oregano’. Many different members of this grouping are called Oregano. To get what you want, know the difference, the correct name, and the uses of each.

OREGANO/MARJORAM – the names of confusion

By Jeanne Rose ~ 10-2022


COMMON NAME/LATIN BINOMIAL ~ OREGANO IS ORIGANUM VULGARE, and it has many varieties and chemotypes. The word Oregano is also used for like-named cousins and even other genera, such as some types of  Marjoram and Thyme.


Many of the Oregano and Marjoram types were in a kit I once made to help people to learn the difference between the Oregano, Thyme, and Marjoram types. Here are some of the most well-known.

_____1. OREGANO OR WILD MARJORAM, Origanum vulgare. This one is simple, not as flavorful or pungent as the Greek Oregano variety called hirtum.

_____2. OREGANO OR GREEK OREGANO, ORIGANUM VULGARE subsp. HIRTUM  and usually CT (chemotype carvacrol), aka O. vulgare heracleoticum. Formerly listed botanically as Origanum heracleoticum, it has a strong herbaceous scent, and the taste burns the mucous membrane from the strongly tasting and scented phenol, carvacrol. The main component is up to 75% carvacrol from the leaves, stems, and flowers. This signature chemical is responsible for the sharp, pungent flavor of the culinary Oregano. [Organoleptically, this particular Oregano is light gold to red in color, clear, non-viscous, with a scent intensity of 6-8, and has an irritating taste].

This variety acts as a disinfectant, preservative, and anti-bacterial; infusions made from Greek Oregano have a wide range of purposes, from a simple cleansing mouthwash to reducing bloat, stomach cramps, and coughs.

            Greek Oregano is a very spicy herb. [Its parent, Origanum vulgare, has little flavor and no taste in culinary preparations and is often commercially grown and offered incorrectly as Greek Oregano. This plant is often also known as Wild Marjoram and is a highly invasive plant with a pink flower.]   Origanum vulgare hirtum is the true Greek Oregano with a very intense bite that can numb the end of your tongue when fresh. Like all culinary Oreganos, the flower of Greek Oregano is white.

_____3. OREGANO, ORIGANUM VULGARE VAR.COMPACTUMis a small compact mound of leaves with an appreciated flavor, white to pinkish flower, and is steam-distilled for its essential oil [pale yellow to gold, clear, non-viscous, 5-8 intensity, depending upon the amount of carvacrol].            

photo of Greek Oregano flowers
Greek Oregano flowers

MARJORAM is in several genera, including Origanum and Thymus

  ____ 4. Marjoram, Origanum majorana [the oil has very little color, clear, non-viscous, 6, herbaceous]

_____ 5. Sweet Marjoram, Origanum majorana [the oil has very little color, clear, non-viscous, 5, herbaceous, even fruity]  …  See https://jeannerose-blog.com/marjoram/

_____ 6. Sweet Marjoram CO2, Origanum majorana, is reddish, with a stronger, more definitive odor.

_____ 7.  Pot Marjoram or Cretan Oregano, Origanum onites. I love this plant for its scent.

_____ 8. Spanish Marjoram, Thymus mastichina. See the entry above. This is also called ‘sweet Marjoram’. This oil is herbaceous (no camphor note) with a sweetness of fruit and some citrus [very little color, clear, non-viscous, the intensity of 4. Components are 50% cineole, camphor  & camphene.   

_____ 9. Spanish Oregano. Thymus capitatus. This oil is vegetative, fungal, herbaceous, and spicey. Also sometimes called Turkish Oregano, which adds to the confusion of these like-named plants and oils. The components are thymol, alpha-amyrin, carvacrol + beta-Caryophyllene. Thymus essential oil inhibits the growth of both Botrytis cinerea and Penicillium italicum. SEM observations also indicated that the mycelia of both fungi were severely injured by applying T. capitatus essential oil. It kills mosquitoes. [SEM = Scanning Electron Microscopy]


THYME called Thymus.

_____ 10. Spanish Oregano and also called Spanish Thyme, Thymus nummularius is called pizza Thyme.

_____ 11. Sweet Thyme, French White Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, also Thyme English Red Thyme has a fruity, green, herbaceous, spicy scent; the oil is very light gold, clear, non-viscous, 4 in intensity.

_____ 12.Thyme Spanish Red Thyme, Thymus vulgaris, has a spicy, herbaceous, green, hot dark red, clear, non-viscous, and strong intensity.                    

_____ 13. Thyme CT Borneol, Thymus satureioides. The scent is green, herbaceous, and woody, and the oil is red, clear, and non-viscous, 6, with a vegetative taste.                    

_____ 14. Thyme CT linalool, Thymus vulgaris CT linalool. The scent is herbaceous (no camphor note) and with floral and fruity notes. The essential oil is steam-distilled from the clover-dried herb, and the herb originates in either Hungary or France. It is produced with minimal pesticides or organically grown. The scent is of the oil strongly sweet-herbaceous, and fresh. Thyme linalool is regulating and a tonic, so useful for mood swings, mental inconsistency, and energy fluctuations and is used like Tea Tree. This oil is versatile, and when used in dilution, it helps to cleanse and disinfect the skin for those prone to frequent or recurring infections.

_____ 15. Thyme CT p-cymene from  [Bosnia & Herzegovina] Thymus vulgaris CT paracymene  

_____ 16. Thyme CT thymol, Thymus vulgaris CT thymol                            

_____ 17. Spain White Serpolet, Wild Thyme, Thymus serpyllum


_____ 18. Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens) was one of the herbs listed in the Aztec herbal of 1552, written in the Aztec language Nahuatl. The Nahuatl name for the herb was ahuiyac-xihuitl, which means “fragrant, savory herb.” In one formula, it was included with other herbs and fluid of choice in a hot foot bath to be used “against lassitude.”

a page From the Badianus Manuscript showing Mexican Oregano and a formula for lassitude.
from the Badianus Manuscript – 1552

Traditionally Mexican oregano was used for digestive issues such as colic, indigestion, and flatulence, for motion sickness, for menstrual cramps, to induce menstruation, for earaches and toothaches, and for upper respiratory infections and coughs. It’s also used as a common culinary spice. A common Latin American spice blend, adobo, usually includes oregano. – Bevin Clare

FAMILY ~ Lamiaceae, also called the Mint family, has fragrant and flavorful leaves and flowering tops.

COUNTRIES OF ORIGINS ~ Oregano, called Turkish, Greek, or Italian Oregano, is native to the hills of the Mediterranean countries and western Asia and has naturalized in many parts of Mexico and the United States.


HARVEST LOCATION ~ Prima Fleur carries Origanum compactum, organically grown in France.

ENDANGERED OR NOT ~ “Wild Oregano is a perennial plant of the Lamiaceae family and is native to the Mediterranean Basin; it grows naturally only in southern Spain and northern Morocco, where it can be found on rocky hillsides.  Due to overharvesting, the species is severely endangered in its native regions” and habitat. ‑‑ Biolandes, an essential oil and perfumery company.

            Origanum compactum L. (Lamiaceae) is one of the most important medicinal species in terms of ethnobotany in Morocco. It is considered a very threatened species as it is heavily exploited. Its domestication remains the most efficient way to safeguard it for future generations.7


GENERAL DESCRIPTION OF PLANT HABITAT AND GROWTH ~ The true culinary Oregano, aka Greek or Italian Oregano, Origanum vulgaris hirtum is a woody perennial flowering herb, with white flowers, vigorous and very hardy, with hairy foliage. Other types of Oregano with less intense flavor have pink flowers and are not so hairy.

close-up photo of hairy leaves of Greek Oregano, variety hirtum.
hairy leaves of Greek Oregano, variety hirtum.

Greek Oregano is a very spicy herb. The parent, Origanum vulgare, has little flavor and is a culinary zero but is often grown commercially and incorrectly offered as Greek Oregano. This plant is also often known as Wild Marjoram and is an extremely invasive plant with a pink flower.   Origanum vulgaris hirtum is the true Greek Oregano with a flavor so intense it numbs the end of your tongue when fresh. Like all culinary Oreganos, the flower of Greek Oregano is white and with an “excellent reputation for flavor and pungency, as well as medicinal uses, strong, archetypal oregano flavor (Greek kaliteri: the best).”1

a photo of Origanum vulgare var compactum flowers
Origanum vulgare var compactum flowers

The Oregano used in aromatherapy, body care, and in diffusers is usually Origanum vulgare var compactum. It is grown in France and Morocco, where it is called Zaatar, and it is used as an aromatic medicinal plant. This is a compact, bushy perennial that forms a low mound (10 inches wide by six inches high) of soft leaves and attractive sprays of white to pinkish-white flowers. It grows well in full sun in average, dry to medium, well-drained soils. These tasty leaves love heat and are drought-tolerant. It does not do well in areas of high humidity. Cut back in the spring to encourage new growth. Apparently, the leaves are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses.

[Oregano is not safe for cats, (dogs, or horses), according to the ASPCA. This herb, unlike basil, sage, and thyme, should not be administered to cats orally or topically. It doesn’t matter if the plant is fresh or dried; it’s toxic. Phenols and terpenoids are poisonous essential oils for cats found in oregano.3]


~  There is a solvent-extracted absolute and a CO2 produced scent from the leaves. The leaves are usually either steam-distilled or solvent extracted.  The steam-distillate is the usual product.

            YIELD of Steam Distillate ~ is 1.2%

Essential oils showing color of oil with Oregano compactum with dark yellow oil.
Essential oils showing the color of oil


Sensory qualities of 3 essential oil of genus Origanum
Sensory qualities of 3 essential oil of genus Origanum


For this purpose, a wide evaluation of the existing variability all over the Moroccan territory was tested. The essential oils of 527 individual plants belonging to 88 populations collected from the whole distribution area of the species in Morocco were analyzed by GC/MS. The dominant constituents were carvacrol (0 – 96.3%), thymol (0 – 80.7%), p-cymene (0.2 – 58.6%), γ-terpinene (0 – 35.2%), carvacryl methyl ether (0 – 36.2%), and α-terpineol (0 – 25.8%).4

            As you can see, there is a significant chemistry variation in this native environment.





            Environmental factors, the terroir, plays a huge role in the chemistry of Oregano. Within varieties on various islands, chemistry can change significantly. Temperature, humidity, soil type, day length, climate, altitude, amount of available water, etc. The chemical composition also depends on the season and vegetative period of the plant.These all make up the terroir.

a complex chart showing many types of Oregano, Thyme, and Marjoram, chemistry, what their sensory characteristics are, and uses.

All rights reserved 2007. No part of this article may be used without the prior permission of Jeanne Rose© http://www.jeannerose.net

Let us start out with the fact all plants called Oregano are in the Origanum genus and that most plants called Marjoram are either in the Thymus or Origanum genus.  In the past, Marjoram used to have its own genus. Now Oregano is the genus, and Marjoram or Sweet marjoram (Origanum majorana) is only one variety or species of over fifty types of the genus Oregano. Pot marjoram (Origanum onites) is another species, but even this causes confusion, sometimes being called Cretan Oregano because of its place of origin. In Spain, there is Thymus nummularius, and in Mexico, there are Lippia graveolens (see photo above of page from Badianus manuscript); both are sold as Oregano and used in place of Oregano. One last example of how it all is jumbled: Origanum vulgare, or what is taken for common Oregano, is also known as wild Marjoram or Thyme.

Yes, it is confusing, and in this group of plants, it is very helpful to also know the place of origin and the chemotype as well as the scientific name.

            Both Marjoram and Oregano are steam inhalants to clear the sinuses and relieve laryngitis. “The combination of carvacrol and cymene in this oil results in an increased antibacterial effect on the growth and a synergistic effect on the viability of Listeria. There is monocytogenes in low concentrations. It can be used to preserve foods or cosmetics. … “Know the Latin binomial – to be assured”2

For more information on the uses of the Marjoram/Oregano/Thyme essential oil and Hydrosols,

see 375 Essential Oils & Hydrosols by Jeanne Rose.


Oregano has been used for a long time by the Moroccan population for medicinal properties and food preparation purposes. This application is not wide because of its bitterness, despite the pleasant odor. The taste is very intense, quite unpleasant, and intensely bitter, so its culinary application is limited to the region of origin, such as Morocco, where It is mainly used as a culinary condiment and primarily employed in popular medicine for the treatment of ailments such as dysentery, colitis, bronco-pulmonary issues, gastric acidity, and gastrointestinal diseases. O. compactum is also used as a preservative for the melted butter item called (smen).6  Smen is salted aged and fermented butter that is made in Morocco.

APPLICATION/ SKINCARE ~ I only use the high carvacrol-containing Oregano oil for the skin in a preservative formula for lotions and creams. Here, it is in a low enough percentage that it will not cause irritation.

For the full article, please refer to http://www.jeannerose.net/articles/Preserve_Lotion_Water.html

Preserve Formula

The following formula should be used at 1.5%, that is, 1.5 ml to a 4 oz. jar:  
Too much Cinnamon? – Reduce the amount
     2 ml  Oregano CT carvacrol
     2 ml  Palmarosa with geraniol
     1.5 ml  Cinnamon leaf
     2 ml Thyme [50%  paracymene and 50% Thymus vulgaris with thymol] 
A formula to preserve cosmetics

DIFFUSE/DIFFUSION for Oregano ~ I strongly suggest that you do not diffuse this high carvacrol oil into your home. Save it for its strong medicinal properties.


EMOTIONAL/ENERGETIC USE ~ Saturday, October 1, was a special day for me. The previous Tuesday, I had been introduced to a new bottle of sparkling wine/champagne that was delicious and new to my tastebuds, and it came from a winery in my state called Lichen Estate. This champagne (it’s California, so it is really sparkling wine) stunned me with its deliciousness. I tried it first at Waterbar in San Francisco.  I came home and got on the phone and called Lichen Estate, and had an informative discussion with Doug, the owner. This call initiated a long conversation about this and that and an order from me to obtain some of their delicious wine. It arrived in record time, and I invited a journalist from the S.F. Chronicle, Tony Bravo, to share a bottle with me. I chilled the 2013 Cuvée. When he arrived on Saturday, we had to mask up as I had just inhaled and dropped some of the Oregano oil with high carvacrol all over me and the house. This essential oil filled my house with its odor and my nose with pungency, and the intensity of the carvacrol made me slightly delirious.  I started to speak very loudly and laughed rather insanely.  The champagne? Well, I had chilled the Cuvée, and we decided to taste it in different types of Riedel glassware and plain wine glasses and pulled out six to taste from.  We also closed ourselves into the kitchen, which speaks well for not having an open floor plan, as the Oregano scent was exuberantly manifesting itself in the rest of the house.  The champagne had a pleasing and attractive odor and a fine and delicious taste. But both together? It was like drinking champagne in a pizza oven.

            Emotionally –  the wine was delicious, and when we finished the bottle, the scent in the house was calmer and more of the culinary plant odor rather than the intensity of the essential oil. I felt happy, and the scent was very homely, as if I was back in the home of my Italian godmother and eating some of her delicious homemade pasta.


HYDROSOL & another Oregano Tomato Tale ~ I have had the opportunity to distill Oregano, and not knowing the extreme variability of this plant at the time, I was amazed at the dark red hydrosol that was obtained.  This was in Grand Rapids, MI, in 2009 with my Distillation class at the home of Linda Beyer. This hydrosol was intensely pungent, tasting and smelling.  I took an 8 oz. bottle home with me and used it over the next few years as a cold and flu preventative and a therapeutic treatment. Of course, it has to be diluted with water or juice, about 1 teaspoon of hydrosol per glass of liquid or juice; this dilution is best to soften the pungency of the Oregano hydrosol.  This would be taken 4-6 daily at 4-hour intervals while awake.  It certainly worked very well, indeed.

two hydrosols of Oregano

PLEASE NOTE: A true hydrosol should be distilled explicitly for the hydrosol, not as a co-product or a by-product of essential oil distillation. The plant’s cellular water has many components most are lost under pressurized short steam runs for essential oil or by using dried material. We recommend that the producers precisely distill a product using fresh plant material.

CULINARY USE of Oregano ~ Oregano is used in cooking to flavor soups and sauces, pizza, meatballs, and many other foods. Cultivars traded as Italian, Sicilian, etc., are often a hardy sweet marjoram hybrid (O. majorana or O. majoricum), and the southern strongly Adriatic, O. v. subsp. hirtum and sweet marjoram (O. majorana). They have a reputation for sweet and spicy tones with slight bitterness and are prized for their flavor and compatibility with various recipes and sauces.5


HISTORICAL USES ~ Use of Greek oregano dates back to ancient Greece, where it was said that it was created by the love goddess Aphrodite, who grew it in her garden atop Mount Olympus as a symbol of joy. It was commonly planted around homes to ward off evil spirits.

            Despite the heavy association of Oregano with Italy, Oregano likely originated in Greece. Ancient Greeks used to let their cattle graze on fields of Oregano in the belief that it produced tastier meat. Even the name Oregano comes from the Greek, meaning “joy of the mountain.”

KEY USE ~ The oil of Disinfection.



  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregano
  2. Aromatherapy Course – Home & Family
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Origanum compactum Benth: A Review on Phytochemistry and Pharmacological Properties • Abdelhakim Bouyahya1,etc.• Biochemistry-Immunology Laboratory, Department of Biology, Faculty of Sciences, Mohammed V University, Rabat, Morocco
  5. Wikipedia,  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oregano
  6. 5. Med. Aromat. Plants, Vol 5, Issue 4, 1000252
  7.  Chemical Polymorphism of Origanum compactum Grown in All Natural Habitats in Morocco, Kaoutar Aboukhalid, etc.• https://doi.org/10.1002/cbdv.201500511


Mabberley, D. J. Mabberley’s Plant-Book, 3rd edition, 2014 printing, Cambridge University Press.

Rose, Jeanne.  375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols.  Berkeley, California: Frog, Ltd., 1999

Rose, Jeanne.  The Aromatherapy Book: Applications & Inhalations.  San Francisco, California:

Herbal Studies Course/ Jeanne Rose & Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1992

This work is sponsored and supported by Prima Fleur Botanicals.



Precautions to remember for all plants and their parts.
Cowboy boot growing Oregano
Cowboy boot Organo

Thank you for reading and your comments.