Marjoram

(Origanum vulgare) A divination game played with marjoram, with other herbs, was a St Luke's Day (18 October) charm: "Take marigold flowers, a sprig of marjoram, thyme, a little wormwood; dry them before a fire, rub them to powder. Then sift it through a piece of fine linen; simmer these with a small quantity of virgin honey, in white vinegar, over a slow fire; with this anoint your stomach, breasts, and lips, lying down, and repeat these words thrice:

In dream let me my true love see.

This said, "hasten to sleep, and in the soft slumber of night's repose, the very man you shall marry shall appear before you." (Dyer. 1889). In Greece and Rome, young married couples were crowned with marjoram. It was said, too, that the sheets of lovers should be perfumed with marjoram (Boland. 1977). Virgil says that when Venus carried off Ascanius to the groves of Idalin she laid him on a bed of marjoram.

There was a saying that marjoram would only grow on a grave if the dead person was happy (Wiltshire) (Cf DITTANY). People were wary of it in Portugal, for there was a saying there that if you use your nose to smell it, your nose would drop off. Always stroke it with your hand, and smell that (Jacob). A very strange belief of older times was that a tortoise fortifies itself with marjoram before starting a fight (Jacob). This probably came from another, even older, belief that the tortoise immediately made for marjoram when it had eaten a viper, to purge itself (Albertus Magnus). In Morocco, they apparently used to burn marjoram on the Midsummer fires, presumably as a censing agent. Midsummer marjoram was also kept as a medicine. Coughs are cured by burning the herb and inhaling the smoke, which will also cure eye diseases. The stalk is lit and the eye regions touched with the glowing tip. Jaundice was also treated like this (Westermarck).

Marjoram is much used for flavouring. For example, it is put into home-brewed ale to give it a flavour; freshly gathered flowering tops would be used for this (Rohde. 1936), though they actually become sweeter as they dry (Mabey. 1972). Another use was as a dye plant; made from the flowering tops it gives a dark reddish-brown colour, but it fades quickly (Rohde. 1936).

In medicine, the infusion is given for whooping cough, and is used as a mouthwash for inflammation of the mouth and throat (Flück). The Anglo-Saxon version of Apuleius also recommended it for coughs, by the simple treatment of eating the plant (Cockayne). Marjoram tea was a Wiltshire remedy against infection of the lungs and chest (Wiltshire); it was actually a general tonic, right up to the 19th century (Rohde. 1936). A tisane, or tincture, of marjoram will act as a sedative to prevent sea sickness (Leyel. 1937).

It has often been included in indigestion remedies, and widely used in that way (for example, see Argenti & Rose). Certainly, the decoction used to be an Irish remedy for indigestion and acidity (Egan). In the 18th century, Hill was prescribing an "infusion of the fresh tops [to] strengthen the stomach, and [it] is good againsy habitual colic". A long time before Hill, the herbal of Rufinus advised: "Vinum decoctionis eius digestionem confortat; dolorem stomaci et intestinorum excludit" (Thorndike), which is virtually exactly the same.

The Pennsylvania Germans cured scofula by wearing marjoram roots as a necklace. They would dig the roots, cut them crosswise, and thread an odd number of pieces.The necklace had to be removed on the ninth day, and other pieces of root threaded on. This was repeated twice, and each time they had to be buried under the eaves (Fogel).

Marrubium vulgare > WHITE HOREHOUND Marsdenia condurango > EAGLE VINE MARSH GENTIAN

(Gentiana pneumonanthe) The flowers are used to make a blue dye (Usher), and it has the usual gentian medicinal uses, though the early ones are a bit unusual. Gerard, for instance, reported that "the later Physicians hold it to be effectual against pestilential diseases, and the bitings and stingings of venomous beasts". One of the Saxon leechdoms, translated by Cockayne, advised the use of this plant (under the name 'marsh maregall') if "a worm eat the hand". The patient was required to "boil marsh maregall, red nettle, dock, ... in cow's butter. Then shake three parts of salt on. Shake up, and smear therewith. Lather with soap at night".

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