Indian Journal of Natural Products and Resources
Vol. 6(4), December 2015 pp. 261-267
Origanum majorana L. -Phyto-pharmacological review
Prerna* and Neeru Vasudeva
Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Guru Jambheswar University of Science and Technology, Hisar, Haryana, India
Received 7 September 2014; Accepted 5 August 2015
Origanum majorana L. (Family Lamiaceae) is a frost tender perennial undershrub, native to Cyperus and naturalised in
Mediterranean regions, particularly found in temperate regions of the Himalayas. Its usage for flavour and aroma dates back
to ancient times. Traditionally, the leaves of marjoram are used for its medicinal properties to cure insomnia, gastritis,
asthma and nervousness. Now-a-days, it is in great demand to be used in aromatherapy. Although various bioactive
constituents are reported in aerial parts of the herb, but isolation of volatile oil and identification of its constituents has been
the area of focus of the researchers. This article is compilation of traditional uses, phytochemical and pharmacological
knowledge of the herb.
Keywords: Lamiaceae, Origanum majorana L., Marjoram, Phytoconstituents, Pharmacological activity.
IPC code; Int. cl. (2015.01)− A61K 36/00
Origanum L. is one out of 200 genera in the family
Lamiaceae (mint family) of 3500 species spread all
over the world. Most of the species are aromatic and
they grow wild in the Mediterranean basin1-4. The genus
consists of over 44 species, 6 subspecies, 3 botanical
varieties and 18 naturally occurring hybrids and
includes several types of oregano as well as sweet
marjoram (O. majorana L.) and dittany of Crete
(O. dictamnus L.)5. The name ‘Oregano’ has originated
from Greek words óros’ means mountains and ‘ganos’
means light/joy and thus commonly known as ‘joy of
mountains’ due to their beauty and abundance on the
Mediterranean mountain sides.
The genus is characterized by large morphological
and chemical diversity. Forty nine taxa divided into
10 sections, belong to this genus are locally
distributed around the Mediterranean. In particular,
3 taxa are restricted to Morocco and Spain, 2 occurs
in Algeria and Tunisia, 3 are endemic to Cyrenaica, 9
are restricted to Greece and Asia minor, 21 are found
in Turkey, Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon and are locally
distributed in Israel, Jordan and Sinai Peninsula. The
morphological variations within the genus results in
the distinction of 10 sections, consisting of 49 taxa
(species, sub-species and varieties)6-8.
Origanum majorana L., formerly known as
Majorana hortensis Moench is a tender perennial herb
of ‘Origanum’ genus9. It is commonly known as
sweet marjoram and native to Cyperus, Antolia
(Turkey) and naturalised in parts of Mediterranean
region especially Egypt10. It is cultivated all over the
world in different parts of India, France, Hungry and
United States for its flavour and fragrance. Marjoram
was initially used by Hippocrates as an antiseptic
agent. It is a well-liked home remedy for chest
infection, cough, sore throat, rheumatic pain, nervous
disorders, cardiovascular diseases, epilepsy, insomnia,
skin care, flatulence and stomach disorders11-13. In
different parts of the India, it is known by various
names: Hindi – Marwa; Bengali – Murru; Tamil –
Marru, Maruvu; Kannada – Maruga; Malyalam –
Maruvanu ; Kumaun – Bantulsi; Deccan – Murwa.
Sweet marjoram being native to Asia, was found in
Europe as favourite of the Greeks and Romans14. It is
commonly grown in India and distributed widely in
temperate regions of the Himalayas from Kashmir to
Sikkim at altitudes from 500-1200 m.
Cultivation, collection and propagation
Marjoram is mainly cultivated for its aromatic
leaves (both green and dry) for culinary purpose.
Though, it’s a perennial herb, it is treated as an annual
under cultivation. It generally requires dry, warm,
well-drained fertile garden loamy soil. Sometimes it
can even thrive on chalk. It grows well under wide pH
INDIAN J NAT PROD RESOUR, DECEMBER 2015
ranges from acidic, neutral to basic soils. It requires
nearly full sun and can be grown in semi-shade
(light wood land) or no shade, being drought tolerant.
Sweet marjoram dries out rather quickly. It requires
well-drained soil and frequent watering. Sweet
marjoram, being a frost-tender herb should be grown
outdoors as an annual and replanted in the spring. It is
propagated by seeds and cutting. Seeds are sown in
the plains in October and in the hills from March to
the middle of June15. Seeds can be sown in pots
initially and then transplanted in the field 20-25 cm
part in rows, spaced 30 cm apart. At higher elevation,
sometimes propagation is done by cutting. The crop is
harvested in three to four months. The tops are cut at
the time of flowering and dried in shade. Volatile oil
content of the leaves is maximum when the plant is
harvested before seed formation. It flowers from June
to September and the seeds ripen from August to
September. The flowers are hermaphrodite and are
pollinated by bees15.
Origanum majorana L. is a bushy half hardy
perennial sub shrub that grows as annual. It is cold
sensitive, frost tender aromatic herb that grows up-to
30-60 cm height. It has descending multi-branched
reddish square stems that spill over to create a
mound. The stems are straight having weak, hairy,
round and green with red speckles16. Leaves are
smooth, simple, petiolate and ovate to oblong-ovate,
grey green in colour arranged opposite to each
other on a square stem. The texture is extremely
smooth due to presence of numerous hairs. They are
0.5-1.5 cm long and 0.2-0.8 cm wide, with obtuse
apex, entire margin, symmetrical but tapering base and
reticulate venation16. Marjoram have tiny, two lipped,
tubular, white or pale pink flowers with grey green
bracts that bloom in spike like clusters from mid to late
summers (June to September). They are less than
0.3 cm long and arranged in burr-like, 1.3 cm long
heads. Flowers are hermaphrodite in nature17. Seeds are
minute, oval, dark and brown in colour that ripens from
August to September. It has sub–cylindrical,
longitudinally wrinkled tap roots with transverse
fissures; 0.2-0.6 mm in diameter. The outer surface of
root is dark brown while light brown internally with
several long rootlets and root scars are also present.
Fractures being long, irregular and fibrous having
aromatic odour and non-bitter18 (Plate 1).
Diacytic type stomata are present in leaves,
uniformly distributed with presence of veins, vein
islet and vein terminations at the surface. Polygonal
cells are present on upper epidermis while numerous
covering trichomes on outer. The covering trichomes
are multicellular, uniserrate, pointed and thin walled.
Leaf shows cuticularized epidermis consisting layers
of compactly arranged chollenchyma followed by
vascular bundles whereas; the mesophyll exhibited
only palisade cells and spongy parenchyma.
Collenchyma tissue consists of thick walled round
parenchyma cells and xylem fibers16. Stem of the herb
is circular in transverse section consisting of a thick
Plate 1—Aerial parts of Origanum majorana L.
PRERNA & VASUDEVA: ORIGANUM MAJORANA L.-A REVIEW
cuticle. The epidermis is composed of single layer
rectangular cells and 5-6 layers of closely packed
polygonal parenchyma cells form the cortex.
Phloem fibres and phloem parenchyma are clearly
distinguished. Two cell thick medullary rays along
with xylem vessels, xylem parenchyma and prominent
parenchymatous pith is present at the centre. Root
section is circular in outline consisting of 2-3 layers of
rectangular cork cells with 6-7 layers of closely packed
parenchyma forming cortex. Xylem elements consist of
xylem vessels and xylem parenchyma. The medullary
rays are composed of 2 cell thick rectangular cells.
Phloem present outer to the xylem and pith absent18.
Sweet marjoram is characterized by a strong,
spicy and pleasant odour and flavour19. Analysis of
herb reported presence of especially volatile oil as
major constituents, due to its aromatic nature.
Various phytochemical tests revealed the presence of
terpenoids, flavonoids and tannins in ethanol extract
whereas saponins and carbohydrates were present in
stem and root water extract, respectively. Alkaloids,
glycosides and proteins were absent in both of the
extracts (root and stem)18. Essential oil from
O. majorana contains terpinen-4-ol (31.15 %),
cis-sabinene hydrate (15.76 %), p-cymene (6.83 %),
sabinene (6.91 %), trans-sabinene hydrate (3.86 %)
and α-terpineol (3.71 %) as the main constituent20.
The most prominent components of O. majorana20
were carvacrol (65 %) and thymol (4 %). Fig. 1
shows structures of terpinen-4-ol, trans-sabinene
hydrate, cis-sabinene hydrate, α-terpineol, p-cymene,
thymol, sabinene and carvacrol, respectively.
Fig. 1—Major phytoconstituents reported in Origanum majorana L. essential oil
INDIAN J NAT PROD RESOUR, DECEMBER 2015
The oil obtained from the aerial parts of the plant is
reported to contain monoterpenoids, sesquiterpe-
noids10,20, terpenic esters i.e. linalyl-acetate, terpenyl-
acetate, geranyl-acetate21, phenol-methyl ethers i.e.
trans-anethole20, tri-terpenoids, oleanolic acid and
ursolic acid9,21. Gallic acid, caffeic acid, p-coumaric
acid, ferulic acid, apigenin, trans-2 hydro cinnamic
acid are the phenolic compounds obtained through
ultrasonically assisted extraction technique from
water, 60 % methanol, 60 % acetone, and ethyl
acetate/water extract23. Cavaciol and thymol are the
phenols present in the oil. The plant is rich in
polyphenols such as arbutin, 6-O-4-hydroxybenzoyl
arbutin, and 2-hydroxy-3-(3,4- dihydroxyphenyl)
propionic acid, isolated as moderate antioxidants24 .
Catechin, rutin (quercetin 3-o-rhamnose glycoside),
quercetin and eriodictyol are the flavonoids reported
in different extracts of water, 60 % methanol, 60 %
acetone and ethyl acetate26. Amentoflavone is a
flavonoid which has been determined by reversed
phase HPLC in two different varieties of O. majorana
L. Luteolin-7- diglucoside, apigenin-7-glucoside,
and diosmetin-7-glucuronide, 6-hydroxyluteolin and
6-hydroxyapigenin glycosides, arbutin, methylarbutin
are present as flavonoid glycosides in marjoram22.
Aqueous and methanol extracts from sweet marjoram
contain multiple compounds e.g. phenolic derivatives
(phenolic acids, flavonoids as apigenin, luteolin,
quercitin and their glycosides as rutin or isovitexin25.
β-Sitosterol is reported in the aerial parts of the
plant22. Linolenic, linoleic and oleic acid are the fatty
acids present in its leaves26. Vitamin A and C are
reported in the leaves and floral parts of marjoram
herb26. Caffeic acid, carnosic acid, carnosol, labiatic
acid and rosmarinic acid are various types of tannins
found in aerial parts of the herb27.
Marjoram was initially used by Hippocrates as an
antiseptic agent. It was introduced in the middle ages
in Europe and Greece. To the ancient Greeks, it was
‘amarakos’, a symbol of love, honour and happiness.
Aristotle reported it as an anti-poison. In the old
Egypt, marjoram was used to disinfect and preserve
food and its oil was massaged on the forehead and in
the hairs. Dioscorides named it as “sampsouchon”.
The people of Europe used to rub the leaves of the
herb on oak pieces of furniture and floors to get
fragrant glow over it. Traditionally, the leaves of
marjoram are employed to cure diabetes, insomnia,
catarrh, asthma and nervousness28. Dried marjoram,
its volatile oil and the extracts have been applied in
the flavouring of various foods, particularly soups,
sauces, meat, fish, canned foods, liqueurs, vermouths
and bitters29, 30. Herb of sweet marjoram has been
included in the formulations of patented shashlik
sauces31. As a medicinal plant, it has been
traditionally used as stimulant and in tonic
preparations. From the earliest time marjoram has
been used as an aromatic adjunct30 and reported to be
useful in asthma, hysteria and paralysis32. Marjoram
has been traditionally used for the treatment of
gastrointestinal disturbances, cough and bronchial
diseases. It is used in mouthwashes for oral hygiene
and also applied topically to relieve symptoms of
common cold, such as nasal congestion33. An infusion
made from the fresh plant was used to relieve nervous
headaches by virtue of camphouraceous constituent
present in the oil and externally applied in bags as a
hot fomentation to painful swellings and rheumatism,
as likewise for colic. The sweet marjoram has also
been successfully employed externally for healing
scirrhous carcinoma of the breast34. It is a home
remedy for chest infection, cough, sore throat,
rheumatic pain, nervous disorders, cardiovascular
diseases, epilepsy, insomnia, skin care, flatulence and
stomach disorders11-13. The leaves of the plant are
used fresh or dried and highly esteemed as a
condiment for seasoning food, garnishing salads and
in flavouring vinegars, they are also used in poultry
seasoning. Dried flowering tops are used for sachets
and potpourris. The aromatic seeds were used in
confectionery and French confitures. The oil of
marjoram has been used since ages in external
application for sprains, bruises, stiff and paralytic
limbs and toothache and as hot fomentation in acute
diarrhoea32. In aromatherapy, essential oil made from
marjoram bolsters the mind and spirit and relieves the
feeling of grief and loneliness. It is used for easing
sore muscles and swollen joints while stimulating
peristaltic movement of the digestive system for bad
appetite as well for menstrual cramps.
Pharmacological activities and uses
The ethanol extract of the leaves of marjoram
showed antioxidant and free radical-scavenging
activity using colorimetric assays. The extract
exhibited a marked inhibitory effect in 1,1-diphenyl-
2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) scavenging assay35. The
PRERNA & VASUDEVA: ORIGANUM MAJORANA L.-A REVIEW
ethanol extracts of both stem and root has shown
in vitro antioxidant activity, respectively using
spectrophotometric method by DPPH, H2O2 free
radical scavenging, metal chelating and ferric
reducing power assay. Both the extracts showed
potent antioxidant activity in all models. The IC50
values were found comparable with ascorbic acid and
the reducing ability of root ethanol extract was found
to be high compared to stem ethanol extract36. The
ethyl-alcohol, n-hexane and aqueous extracts obtained
from leaves and flowering tops of two marjoram
herbs from Hungary and Egypt showed antioxidant
activity in vitro by spectrophotometric and
chemiluminometric methods using DPPH and Rancimat
method. The Egyptian herb and its aqueous extract was
better antioxidant compared to Hungarian ones17.
The extract of leaves has shown anti-anxiety
effects on rats in open maze model at intraperitoneal
dose of 200 mg/kg b.w. The effect was dose
dependent and comparable to diazepam37.
Different extracts of leaves have shown
anticonvulsant effect on rats using the
Pentylenetetrazole (PTZ) and maximal electroshock
(MES) test at two different doses of 250 and
500 mg/kg, i.p. each. The chloroform extract
exhibited maximum reduction in the duration of
seizures, compared to the control group38.
Methanol extract of the leaves showed antidiabetic
activity in streptozotocin-induced mice through
various in vitro and in vivo assays. O. majorana has
shown significant effects on in vitro inhibition of
Advanced Glycation End product formation. The
effect was more than the standard antiglycation agent,
The ethanol extracts of both stem and root showed
anti-gout activity in potassium oxonate induced Swiss
albino rats at oral dose of stem (200 mg/kg b.w.) and
root (400 mg/kg b.w.) extracts, respectively.
The effect was dose dependent and found significant
in decreasing uric acid, creatinine, ESR, MDA and
increasing reduced glutathione level36.
The ethanol extract of the aerial parts of marjoram
has shown anti-mutagenic effect against
cyclophosphamide induced mutation in mice at the
minimum effective dose 125 mg/kg. The effect of
marjoram extract was found to protect any changes in
RNA, DNA and protein contents in the liver and
testes of treated mice as compared with the control40.
The hydrodistilled volatile oil and methanol extract
of the leaves showed ulcer healing properties in
streptozotocin-nicotinamide induced diabetic rats at
three different doses (100, 200 and 400 mg/kg, p.o.).
The effect was dose dependent and more effective
than glibenclamide and comparable to ranitidine17.
The essential oils (EOs) derived from leaves
showed antibacterial effect on various bacteria
(Bacillus cereus, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus
coagulase, Enterobacter spp., Proteus spp.,
Acinetobacter spp., Klebsiella spp. and Pseudomonas
spp.) in agar diffusion assay and using S. aureus,
E. coli, K. pneumoniae and Pseudomonas spp. by
using dilution techniques of Kirby-Bauer method41-46.
The ethanol and water extract of O. majorana L. have
shown antimicrobial activity against Gram positive
and Gram negative bacteria and its possible food
applications by minimum inhibition concentration
estimation. Ethanol extract had high inhibition effect
against bacteria comparable to water extract47.
The EOs obtained from the marjoram leaves have
shown antifungal activity against Aspergillus flavus
and A. parasiticus, by observing their growth and/or
mycelial inhibition through comparison with the
standard dish (without oil)46-48. Various extracts of the
leaves namely, n-hexane, aqueous ethanol, ethanol
ammonia extracts showed in vitro antifungal effect
against six Candida sp. yeast strains by the disk-
diffusion method. The n-hexane extract had shown
highest antifungal activity44.
The volatile oil and various extracts of the leaves
namely, n-hexane, aqueous ethanol, ethanolic ammonia
extracts have shown in vitro anti-protozoal effect
against single protozoan species Pentatrichomonas
hominis by the disk-diffusion method44.
The EO of leaves showed insecticidal activity
against fourth instars of Spodoptera littoralis and
INDIAN J NAT PROD RESOUR, DECEMBER 2015
adults of Aphis fabae L. and Aspergillus spp. by
topical application assay and residual film assay48,49.
The EO showed ovicidal and adulticidal activities
against insecticide-susceptible and pyrethroid/
malathion-resistant Pediculus humanus capitis
obtained from human head lice. The EO and its
constituents particularly linalool, (-)-terpinene-4-ol
and r-terpineol were found useful as fumigants
with contact action in the control of P. h. capitis
adults and eggs50.
Flavours and fragrances have been part of our daily
life since ages. Medicinal and aromatic plants are
increasing in demand in several fields such as agro-
alimentary, cosmetic, perfumery and pharmacy.
Origanum species are rich in aromatic constituents
and widely known for its taxonomic value and
essential oils. Despite its economic importance,
genetic variability and potential, Origanum is one of
the underutilized genus. The present review
enlightens the rich history of its use in traditional
medicine all over the world along with its botanical
description, phytochemistry, pharmacology explored
so far. Phenols and flavonoids present in the essential
oil of the herb may be responsible for its diverse
pharmacological activities. The summarized
information may prove to be useful tool for
researchers to carry out further study and explore
other scientific aspects of the herb.
We are sincerely thankful to all the members
of Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Guru
Jambheshwar University of Science and Technology,
Haryana, India for their support.
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