Sage Advice For Herbs: Savory, From Garden To Kitchen

Just What Is Savory?

Use this sage advice for savory, it is a herb you can grow for its peppery thyme flavor. The plant itself is low-growing, green, and decorative, with tiny blossoms and graceful, narrow, curving leaves.

Savory: Its Flavor Profile

While Summer and Winter Savory have slightly different profiles they share a peppery note and are useful in ways similar to other Mediterranean herbs.

For more information on growing and cooking with herbs read this.

A Savory History

If you grow and use either or both Savories, you will be in good company! Virgil said to plant it near your beehives for better-tasting honey. It is a little like Thyme, Mint, and Marjoram; use it as you would those herbs. Roman soldiers were fussy about drinking water on battle marches. We learned that they drank a Savory flavored vinegar to avoid problems like scurvy and travelers’ tummy.

Savory Plant sage advice

This was a good idea when Caesar made you fight like a tiger and dig like a construction crew all on the same trip!

The histories of many herbs are wrapped up in mythology and savory is no exception. Ancient Greek writers had an idea that the satyrs lived in valleys filled with Savory plants. They thought the leaves of the plant made them lusty and it became known as an aphrodisiac.

How Medieval Cooks Used Its Peppery Thyme Flavor

We went to Mary Arden’s farm in Stratford upon Avon. Mary, as you remember, was Shakespeare’s mom. In the kitchen, we met a woman whose job was to wear Tudor clothing and cook meals in the house’s kitchen.

While she cooked, she told us that she was making a “potager” a meat and vegetable stew. It smelled very enticing so we asked what was in it. She answered, that as a wealthy peasant, Mary’s father could afford pepper to flavor the meals. Pepper was a pretty expensive import.

We asked her, well, when you go home and cook your own meals, are they much different than this one? She said (in the context of her character) that her poor peasant family could raise the same food and eat the same meals. But, no pepper! Pepper was way, too expensive for her own family. They did have herbs that would add a peppery flavor to the meals they made.

Savory-Thyme Like Flavor And A Pepper Source

Here is how the poor peasants solved their flavor problem. What we have learned was that English people of that time grew and used two kinds of Savory, one an annual and the other a perennial. The British Isles and all of Europe by Tudor times had access to this pepper-like herb because the Roman armies carried it with them wherever they went.

This is a photo of the garden that William Shakespeare owned after he became a successful writer.

Gardeners of his time used Savory, a low, rounded, pretty herb to outline their garden beds. It would have looked a lot like this.

Knot Garden at Shakespeare's New Place, 
sage from garden to kitchen
Tudor Knot Garden at Shakespeare’s New Place

The Two Plants We Call Savory

The first, and most popular is an annual plant called Summer Savory-Saturneja hortensis. To understand Binomial Nomenclature, what we also call Botanical Latin read this piece. Latin for Gardeners.

Summer Savory is small, with narrow green/bronze leaves and the scent and flavor should be a little piney and with a bit of sweetness. It is the sweetness and delicacy which makes it the more popular of the two. The plant grows less than two feet tall, and it makes a fine container plant and can be grown on your patio or balcony or indoors on a sunny window sill.

If you want to extend your season growing and eating fresh herbs. Here is how to bring your herbs indoors for winter use.

How about Winter Savory; this one is called Satureja-Montana. Winter Savory is perennial and hardy as far north as Zone 5. If you would like to grow it, here is how to find your USDA plant hardiness zone.

The Taste Of Savory

How about the taste? You will find the flavor of the perennial plant to be similar to that of the annual herb. Here, however, is its limitation; it is a bit more bitter and the leaves themselves are slightly wider and tougher in texture.

NameSummer Savory
Satureja hortensis
Winter Savory
Satureja montana
Appearancesmall, narrow leaves, green/bronze – the height of the plant is under 2′wider leaf slightly tougher texture
Flavormild with peppery notesthe more intense, bitter peppery flavor
Growth HabitAnnualPerennial

Savory can work very well in the kitchen and is a popular ingredient in preserved meats. To cook with it add it in moderate amounts in the early stage of cooking and cut the pieces small. Keep some sharp shears in the kitchen for herbs. You will notice that adding the winter savory this way makes it useful.

Recipes Using Savory

Try this website for 40 recipes using Savory. Don’t overlook a quick Bruschetta at the start. Allrecipes.

Here is a recipe for making Herbes de Provence in which Savory is a popular element.

Herbes De Provence sage advice for herbs
Herbes De Provence

Try beans and Savory; beans of all kinds are delicious with Savory. This is Garlic green beans with Savory.

Also, add savory to cooking water to cut the odor of cabbage and other strong-smelling vegetables.

Substitutes for Savory

If you do not have access to Savory and would like to approximate the flavor try one or a combination of these herbs. To create a good substitute you will want to recreate the slightly piney, spicy, and peppery flavor with a bit of sweetness. Use Mint, Thyme, or Sage in combinations that please you. For the mildest flavor add your herbs early in cooking. You can add a little more later if needed.

How To Grow Your Own Savory

Planting Savory

It is far easier to begin with young starter plants, as the seeds are slow to germinate. We are planting herbs to eat and time does count. Dig your savory starter plant into well-drained, soil with plenty of organic matter. Plant about 12-18″ apart. Remember that perennial Savory is a slightly larger plant.

Light, Water, and Feeding

Savory performs best in full sun and with regular water, as you would give to any herb. Once established, it is drought tolerant. Savory is a small and decorative plant; use it in your display garden if that is where you have space. Also, always plant culinary herbs as convenient as possible for the kitchen.

Savory should not require fertilizer, add fresh compost around the plants at midseason.

Maintenance And Harvesting

You can begin to harvest a few leaves early when the plant is about 5-6″ tall. Savory is a fast-growing plant that can become top-heavy. Maintain the plant by constantly harvesting leaves for cooking, this will have the added benefit of keeping the plant compact and bushy. Also, you may need to stake the plant.

Next, mulch the perennial Savory for the winter with a thick layer of mulch, leaves, or straw. When spring comes remove the mulch after the danger of frost is over.

Pests and Diseases

Fortunately, you should see very little activity on the part of either. Poor drainage can cause problems of rot and occasionally aphids will attack. Look for aphids, you will see them as tiny dots on the underside of leaves and they will leave a telltale sticky substance. If you observe signs of aphids, first remove any affected leaves. You can also remove aphids with a strong spray of water from the hose or by using a mix of mild soap and water.

Another benefit is that you will also find that the pungent scent of Savory will protect other garden plants from pest attacks.

Companion Plants For Savory

Plant Savory with vegetables including beans, tomatoes, and onions. You can also plant the perennial herb with other perennials such as thyme, sage, lavender, and hyssop.

Planting In Containers

Savory should be a successful container plant. If adding to a large container, combine your savory with plants requiring similar growing conditions. Look for full sun lovers that appreciate drainage and not excessive water. Good examples are plants like sage and thyme. Mint, an aggressive grower requires its own pot.

Resources For Growing Culinary Herbs

This Article Discusses Culinary Herbs and contains a chart showing the features of various herbs. I hope it helps you select what to grow and how to use the herbs.

How To Extend and Maintain The Herb Garden In The Fall.

How To Grow Herbs Indoors For The Winter.