Savory, the Herb of Love

Lead Image
What You'll Need
Plant containers
Pruning scissors
Airtight container
Garlic, bay, and lemon
Mozzarella cheese

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.

Medicinal Uses

bowl of herbs

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.

Culinary Uses

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.