savory-how to grow it and use it in the kitchen

August 2, 2021

Just What Is Savory?

Use savory for its peppery thyme flavor. The plant itself is low growing, green and decorative, with tiny blossoms and graceful, narrow curving leaves.

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. They drank a Savory flavored vinegar to avoid problems like scurvy and travelers’ tummy.

Savory Plant

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

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. She, as you remember, was Shakespeare’s mom. We met a woman whose job was to wear Tudor clothing and cook meals in the house’s kitchen. She said that she was making a “potager” a meat and vegetable stew. It smelled very enticing so we asked what was in it. She said 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? 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.

Savory-Thyme Like Flavor And A Pepper Source

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. They 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
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. Botanical Latin-A Little Help.

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

Here is how to bring your herbs indoors for winter use.

Winter Savory-this one is Satureja-Montana. Winter Savory is a perennial and hardy as far north as zone 5. Here is how to find your USDA plant hardiness zone.

. You will find the flavor of the perennial plant to be similar. Here, however, is its limitation, it is a bit more bitter and the leaves themselves are slightly wider and tougher to eat.

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

It can work very well 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. Adding the winter savory this way makes it useful.

Recipes Using Savory

Try this website for 40 recipes using Savory. There is 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
Herbes De Provence

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

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. You will want to recreate the slightly piney, spicy, 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.

How To Grow Your Own Savory

Planting Savory

It is far easier to find young starter plants, as the seeds are slow to germinate. We are planting to eat and speed does count. Plant in well-drained, soil with plenty of organic matter. Plant about 12-18″ apart. Perennial Savory is a slightly larger plant,.

Light, Water, and Feeding

Savory performs best in full sun and with regular water, as you would any herb. Once established, it is drought tolerant. This is a smaller and decorative plant; use it in your display garden if that is where you have space. 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 ablut 5-6″ tall. This is a fast growing plant which can become top heavy. Maintain the plant by constantly harvesting to keep the plant compact and bushy. You may need to stake the plant.

Mulch the perennial Savory for the winter with a thick layer of mulch, leaves or straw. Remove the mulch in spring after the danger of frost is over.

Pests and Diseases

You should see very little activity of either. Poor drainage can cause problems of rot and occasionally aphids will attack. You will see aphids as tiny dots on the underside of leaves and they will leave a telltale sticky substance. 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.

You will find tha the pungent scent of Savory will actually protect other garden plants from pest attacks.

Companion Plants For Savory

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

Planting In Containers

This should be a successful container plant. If adding to a large container combine with plants requiring similar growing conditions. Full sun, lovers which appreciate drainage and not excessive water will work best. These will be plants like sage and thyme. Mint, an agressive 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.