How to grow savory?

Growing Savory In Your Garden

Growing savory (Satureja) in the home herb garden isn’t as common as growing other kinds of herbs, which is a shame as both fresh winter savory and summer savory are excellent additions to the kitchen. Planting savory is easy and rewarding. Let’s look at how to grow savory in your garden.

Two Types of Savory

The first thing to understand before you start planting savory in your garden is that there are two kinds of savory. There is winter savory (Satureja montana), which is a perennial and has a more intense flavor. Then there is summer savory (Satureja hortensis), which is an annual and has a more subtle flavor.

Both winter savory and summer savory are tasty, but if you are new to cooking with savory, it is generally recommended that you start growing the summer savory first until you feel comfortable with your cooking savory.

Tips for Growing Summer Savory

Summer savory is an annual and must be planted every year.

  1. Plant seeds outdoors right after the last frost has past.
  2. Plant seeds 3 to 5 inches apart and about an 1/8 of an inch down in the soil..
  3. Allow plants to grow to a height of 6 inches before you start to harvest leaves for cooking.
  4. While savory plant is growing and when you are using fresh savory for cooking, use only the tender growth on the plant.
  5. At the end of the season, harvest the entire plant, both woody and tender growth, and dry the leavesher of the plant for so that you can use the herb over the winter as well.

Tips for Growing Winter Savory

Winter savory is the perennial version of the savory herb.

  1. Seeds of the winter savory plant can be planted indoors or outdoors.
    1. If planting outdoors, plant the seeds right after the last frost
    2. If planting indoors, start the savory seeds two to six weeks before the last frost.
  2. Plant seeds or transplanted seedlings into your garden 1 to 2 feet apart and an 1/8 inch down in the soil. The plants will get large.
  3. Use the tender leaves and stems for fresh herb cooking and harvest the leaves from woody stems for drying and use later.

Other Tips for Growing Savory

Both kinds of savories are from the mint family but are not invasive like many other mint herbs.

Savory, the Herb of Love

Savory, an herb rich in tradition and legend, has such a fine taste that a whole class of cookery is attached to it. How many times have you heard the phrase “a savory stew?” Savory is used in herb combinations, such as Herbes de Provence, a French combination of herbs used for seasoning. It also has healing properties and has been used for centuries for a variety of ills. It should be noted that there are two distinct varieties of savory: summer and winter.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Karen Thurber adds, “Summer Savory is an annual, completing its life cycle in one year. Winter Savory is a perennial, Zone 6. It grows 18 to 24 inches tall.”

History of Savory

The old English word “saverey” was derived from the Latin “satureia.” Roughly translated, it means “satyr’s herb.” It has been associated with love potions for centuries. The famous French herbalist Maurice Mességué suggested savory instead of ginseng to help couples restore happiness in the bedroom. It has long been used to restore the sex drive. Romans used savory as a medicinal and culinary herb long before they discovered pepper. They used it as a medicinal herb for bee stings, and as an aphrodisiac. When the Romans brought savory to England, it was used there for poultry stuffing instead of a medicinal herb.

The early colonists brought savory to America to use as an aid for indigestion. A lot of the old cookbooks discuss savory and its uses.

As a medicine, savory is used for treating several ailments. Summer savory is most often used for healing. The active ingredients of savory are carvacrol, p-cymene, and tannins. It is an astringent and mild antiseptic. As a tea, it can control diarrhea, stomach aches, and mild sore throats. In Europe, it is often taken by diabetics to reduce excessive thirst. Rubbing a sprig of savory on an insect bite will bring instant relief. An ointment made from savory works well for relief of minor rashes and skin irritations. Summer savory is also believed to increase sex drive while winter savory decreases it.

Savory is best known for its culinary powers. Both summer and winter savory are used in cooking. Summer savory has a peppery taste much like thyme, while winter savory has a more piney taste. Savory blends well with basil, bay leaf, marjoram, thyme, rosemary, and other herbs. It is said that the taste of savory brings all these herbs together for a unique flavor.

Savory is popular in teas, herbed butters, and flavored vinegars. It complements beef soup and stews, chicken soup, eggs, green beans, peas, rutabagas, asparagus, onions, cabbage, and lentils. Many use savory when cooking liver, fish, and game. Winter savory, which has a stronger presence, works well with game that has a notable flavor.

Growing Savory

Savory is best grown from seed and cuttings. It grows well in sandy loam soils with a pH balance of 6.8. Savory likes full sun, so plan your herb garden accordingly.

Summer savory is a bushy annual with finely haired stems. There are about 30 species of savory, but summer and winter are the best known. The savory plant is highly aromatic. It’s woody at the base and forms a compact bush about 1 to 1½ feet in height. Leaves are soft and linear, and about 1 inch long. They are grayish, turning purple in late summer. Savory flowers in mid-July, with white or pale pink has ¼ inch blooms grouped in terminal spikes.

TIP: Karen adds, “Summer Savory readily self-seeds and can come back year after year. Allow a few flowers to go to seed in your garden and you will be rewarded with more summer savory the following season.”

Savory seed germinates quickly. Plant in flats at a depth of 1/8 inch and then transplant the seedlings after all danger of frost works best. Space the plants about 10 inches apart, and keep the plants well watered for optimum growth.

TIP: Karen advises, “Seeds require some light for germination, so be sure not to cover them deeply with soil.”

Harvesting and Storage

You can begin to harvest savory as soon as plants reach 6 inches in height. Keeping the plant pruned back ensures a continued harvest. When they insist on flowering, cut the whole plant and put it on a screen or paper in a warm shady place. When dry, strip the leaves and store them in airtight jars or tins. When the seed begins to turn brown, harvest them for next year’s planting.

TIP: Karen suggests, “To speed the drying time of herbs, try chopping into small pieces and laying them on a screen. Once they are dry, put them in an airtight container and save for later use.”

Cooking With Savory

Mince fresh summer savory leaves and combine the leaves with garlic, bay, and lemon for a good marinade for fish. Make baked mozzarella sticks by cutting the cheese into squares, dip in eggs, and dredge in breadcrumbs with minced savory leaves. Bake in an oven at 450 degrees Fahrenheit until the cheese just begins to melt.

The savories have been used in cooking for more than 2,000 years. As a medicinal herb, it has many uses. As an aromatic, it has few peers. They can both be grown in your herb garden this year.

Winter Savory
Botanical Name: Satureja montana

Winter savoury is an evergreen perennial that forms a low growing mound to 40 cm high and wide. The lilac or white flowers extend up above this in terminal spikes. The small summer flowers are 2 lipped and have purple spots on the lower lip. The dark green leaves are 1-2 cm long, opposite, lanceolate to ovate and wider at the tips. As a matter of comparison, Winter Savoury is a bushier plant than Summer Savoury although leaf cover is still quite sparse in both.

The botanical name is Satureja montana and the plant is native to the warm temperate regions of the Mediterranean, Europe and Russia. The Romans used this plant for cooking and introduced it to Britain during the time of Caesar. There are over 30 species of Savoury plant, including Summer Savoury, Lemon Savoury and Pink Savoury which are all in our catalogue.

It is likely that the genus name comes from the Turkish ‘sater’ and the Hebrew Za’atar. However, there are indications that the plant was named by the Roman Pliny, who may have created the name from the word ‘satyr’, which means half man and half goat. The English word ‘savoury’ is influenced by numerous derivations from the Latin Satureia/Satureja. In Middle Eastern countries there are many herbs which are used in spice blends that are given the name Za’atar, so they not regularly distinguished from each other. This can make it difficult to identify names and origins of some herbs from these regions.

Growing Conditions

Winter Savoury requires at least half a day of full sun and warm, dry conditions. This plant will perform best in poor to average rocky soils and has average to low water needs. A well-drained soil is essential and soil that is too rich will be detrimental to the plant. Winter Savoury becomes semi-dormant in winter and the branches loose leaves. In spring they will come back in to leaf and establish new growth. All the savoury plants are quite easy to grow and perform well as border plants or in cottage style gardens. They also grow well in containers. Propagation may be via cuttings in late spring, seed or by dividing the roots. Plants may become ‘worn out’ over time, so they may need to be replaced every few years.

Culinary Uses

Winter Savoury is an excellent culinary herb and may be used for any recipe that calls for savoury. It has a strong, spicy flavour and a strong herbaceous aroma. It may be used for white sauce, mushrooms, meat and legume dishes, white potato salads, in stuffing and vinegars, soups and herb breads. It is similar to Summer Savoury but is said to be have a more bitter taste. Although the herb has a strong flavour much of it is lost during prolonged cooking. Both plants have been in use for hundreds of years often found side by side in the herb garden.

Medicinal Uses

There are varying reports on the usefulness of Winter Savoury as a traditional medicine plant. Some say that it was not used at all, whereas other reports indicate that it has stronger action than Summer Savoury. Both are rich in essential oils including carvacrol and thymol, which is antiseptic. Medicinal use has included antiseptic, carminative, aromatic, digestive, expectorant, menstrual disorders, treatment of colic, gastroenteritis, nausea, cystitis, bronchial congestion and sore throats. Rubbing a sprig of leaves on insect bites and stings from bees and wasps is said to provide immediate pain relief. An ointment made from the oil is used to provide relief for arthritic pain. Harvest the leaves in summer when the plant is in flower and oil content is highest.

Other Uses

Winter and Summer savoury are thought to be good companion plants for beans and roses. The leaves may be dried and use in pot pourii.


What is Savory?

The primary use of savory is in cooking, and the two savories were among the strongest cooking herbs available to Europeans until world exploration and trade brought them tropical spices like black pepper.

The savories have been used to enhance the flavour of food for over 2,000 years. Savory is an herb so bold and peppery in flavor that since the time of the Saxons it has come to denote not only the herb itself, but is synonymous with tasty and flavourful foods.

Savory has a reputation as an aphrodisiac. The genus’s Latin name, Satureja, is attributed to the Roman writer Pliny and is a derivative of the word for “satyr,” the half-man, half-goat with the insatiable sexual appetite). According to lore, the satyrs lived in meadows of savory, thus implying that it was the herb that made them passionate. This belief persisted over the years, and even the noted French herbalist Messeque claimed savory was an essential ingredient in love potions he would make for couples. As a boy his father told him it was “the herb of happiness.” For hundreds of years, both savories have had a reputation for regulating sex drive. Winter savory was thought to decrease sexual desire, while summer savory was said to be an aphrodisiac. Naturally, summer savory became the more popular of the two!

During Caesar’s reign, it is believed that the Romans introduced savory to England, where it quickly became popular both as a medicine and a cooking herb. The Saxons named it savory for its spicy, pungent taste. According to some sources, it was not actually cultivated until the ninth century.

The Italians may have been among the first to grow savory as a kitchen herb. It is still used extensively in their cooking and makes an especially good companion to green beans and lentils. Winter savory shrubs made popular hedges in Tudor herb and knot gardens and in shrub mazes. The seventeenth-century herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that the savories were valuable for their “heating, drying and carminative , expelling wind from the stomach and bowels, and are good in asthma and other affections of the breast.” It was regarded as a promoter of regular menstruation and as a tonic for the reproductive system. Culpeper said that “it is much commended for pregnant women to take inwardly and to smell often unto.” He also recommended savory as a cure for deafness.

In California, most people have heard of Yerba Buena, the original name for the city of San Francisco. Few probably realize that the “good herb” (as the name translates to) is actually a variety of savory: Satureja douglasii. This low-growing, creeping perennial is native to the Pacific coast, thriving where it finds rich, moist soil. The early settlers learned to dry the herb and drank it as a tea to cure a variety of ailments, thus earning its name “good herb.”


The savories are members of the genus Satureja, which comprises about 30 species. Summer savory (S. hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana) are the best known. Summer savory is an annual with a branching root system and bushy, finely hairy stems. The entire plant is highly aromatic. Winter savory is a hardy semievergreen perennial. It is woody at the base and forms a compact bush. It has a heavier aroma, while that of summer savory is sweeter and more delicate. Both species are native to the Mediterranean region; naturalized in North America.

Cooking with Savory

Savory’s wonderfully distinct piquancy brings an agreeable tasty element to relatively mild foods without overpowering them. The classic blend fines herbes and the traditional bunch of herbs for casseroles, bouquet garni will often contain savory.

Savory complements egg dishes, whether chopped finely and added to scrambled eggs and omelets, or treated as a garnish with parsley. Beans, lentils and peas all benefit from the addition of savory in almost any situation. Its robust flavor holds up well in long, slow-cooked dishes such as soups and stews. Savory combines well with breadcrumbs for stuffings. Most commonly used as a seasoning for green vegetables, savory has a special affinity is for beans.

Use summer savory, with its more delicate flavour, for tender baby green beans, and winter savory to enhance a whole medley of dried beans and lentils. It is no coincidence that the German word for the herb is Bohenkraut, meaning bean herb, as one of the components of the herb naturally aids the digestion of these sometimes problematic legumes.

Summer savory is the most delicate of the familiar varieties, both in taste and in character. It is an annual that requires light, rich soil and full sun, conditions that make it ideal for growing indoors. It will reach a height of about 1 1/2 feet and produces whorls of tiny white to rose flowers in late summer. The slender pale green leaves grow sparsely along delicate reddish stems. The stems themselves are square in shape, letting us know that they are related to the mint family. This is also evident in the aroma of the summer savory: a mixture reminiscent of both mint and thyme. Because the leaves are so tender they can be added fresh to salads or used as a toothsome garnish.

One efficient way to preserve that fresh, summery flavor is to bottle the herb in vinegar at the height of the season. The ancient Romans were reported to have used savory vinegar as one of their main condiments as well as using savory liberally in their sauces. Savory also dries well. Once dried and chopped, it is an integral part of many herb mixtures, such as Herbs de Provence. This blend of Mediterranean herbs brings out the best in stews, vegetable dishes, pizza toppings, and shines as a seasoning for roasting meats, fowl, and fish.

Winter savory is a coarser variety. Often used as a hedging plant in knot gardens of the Tudor era, it is a dense perennial shrub that grows to a height of 15 inches in well drained soil and full sun. The plant produces fragrant white to lilac colored blossoms that are attractive to bees. Virgil encouraged the planting of savory near one’s beehives because of the wonderful flavor it adds to the honey. The leaves of winter savory are bright green, narrow, and tough. They are best used for dishes that require long cooking, such as stews, or added to the water when cooking dried beans so that there is enough heat and moisture to break them down. This not only releases the flavorful oils, but also softens the leaves so that they are palatable. Winter savory is often used in stuffing, with vegetables, as a seasoning for fowl, and in making sausages. In fact, it is used today in the commercial preparation of salami.

Both of these varieties of savory have a peppery bite to them, although the summer savory is milder. It has been suggested to use this herb as a seasoning for salt-free diets as the strong flavor makes food more appealing.

Substitute for Savory

For winter or summer savory you can substitute with thyme which is stronger. Or, combine thyme with a pinch of sage or mint.

Health Benefits of Savory

While both varieties are used in cooking, Summer Savory has a much longer tradition of medicinal use.It has long been reputed to be a general tonic to the digestive tract and as a powerful antiseptic. Branches of savory were tossed onto fire to create an aromatic disinfectant. Even today, because of its pungent oils, it is commonly used in toothpaste and soaps. Active compounds of the savory leaf include volatile oils (carvacrol, p-cymene, alpha-thujene, alpha-pinene, beta-myrcene, beta-caryophyllene, terpinene, and thymol), and tannic acid. The carvacol and p-cymene content of this herb give it a mild antiseptic effect. The tannin content is responsible for savory’s astringent qualities, making it a popular choice in the relief of diarrhea.

The herb has also been used as a gargle for sore throat. As a digestive aid, savory is used in cases of indigestion and flatulence. It is often added as a spice to dishes containing beans for this reason. The most common medicinal use of savory today is in the treatment of gastrointestinal enteritis, the inflammation of the intestinal tract. In some folk cultures, savory has been used to increase libido.

Scientific Name

Satureja Hortensis Satureja Montana
Fam: Labiatae (mint)

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