The Summer Savory Plant - A Herb for Flavour, Aroma and Health

A summer savory plant
A summer savory plant | Source

Summer Savory - A Flavourful Culinary Herb

Summer savory, or Satureja hortensis, is an annual herb which imparts a strong and delicious flavour to food. Its taste is reminiscent of both oregano and thyme and produces a peppery sensation in the mouth. The herb is a member of the mint family and is very aromatic, especially when it's fresh. It also has potential health benefits.

Summer savory has been popular since ancient times. It has traditionally been used as an expectorant for clearing mucus from the lungs, a medicine to stop diarrhea, a treatment for bee and wasp stings and an aphrodisiac. Today there is scientific evidence that summer savory oil can kill germs. The essential oil obtained from the distillation of the herb contains carvacrol, an antibacterial and antifungal chemical. The herb with the lovely name may therefore be useful for more than just flavouring food.

Winter savory (Satureja montana) has a somewhat similar flavour to summer savory. However, the taste is more pungent and the aroma is more like pine, making winter savory less popular as a culinary herb than summer savory. Some people do enjoy the stronger taste of winter savory, however. Cooking the herb reduces its pungency but can also reduce its flavour.

Summer savory in bloom
Summer savory in bloom | Source

The genus name Satureja may have come from the word satyr. Satyrs were mythical creatures of Ancient Greece. They looked like a man but had the ears and tail of a horse and a notable phallus. In some versions of the myth, a satyr was half human and half goat. Satyrs were said to live in meadows filled with summer savory plants, which acted as an aphrodisiac.

The Summer Savory Plant

Summer savory is native to southern Europe but is grown as a cultivated plant in many parts of the world. Mature plants are twelve to eighteen inches tall. They have narrow, elongated leaves which are normally grey-green in colour but may have a purplish tint. The stems are green when young but often develop a red or purple tinge as they age. The herb produces small white, lavender or pink flowers that are tubular in shape.

Summer savory can be grown in herb gardens, in containers and indoors. Wherever it grows, the plant needs to receive lots of full sunlight. The leaves and stems are tender when young and can be eaten when just picked or after being dried. Like other culinary herbs, summer savory plants are tied in bundles and then hung upside down to dry. Some people add the fresh leaves to vinegar to preserve their flavour.

Winter savory is also native to southern Europe and grown in many other areas. It's a perennial and is hardy to Zone 6 on the United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map, meaning it can survive at a winter temperature down to -10° Fahrenheit.

Winter savory has a more pungent taste than summer savory.
Winter savory has a more pungent taste than summer savory. | Source

Both summer and winter savory belong to the Lamiaceae or mint family. Summer savory is an annual herb while winter savory is a perennial, evergreen plant. Winter savory has stiffer leaves than summer savory and becomes woody as it ages.

Uses of Summer Savory

Summer savory is a wonderful addition to any savory food. It goes well with beans, vegetables, eggs, fish, poultry and meats. It's added to rice, sausages, stuffing and pies and is a great ingredient in soups and stews. Summer savory is also used to make herb cheese, herb butter and herbal teas. I like to sprinkle savory leaves on potato salads and mashed potato. The leaves are sometimes added to potpourris due to their strong fragrance.

Summer savory is a component of the herbal mixture known as "Herbes de Provence". This mixture was originally associated with the region of Provence in France and was made from savory and other herbs that grew locally, such as thyme, basil, fennel, marjoram and lavender flowers. The modern product varies in composition and is often produced in other areas of the world instead of in Provence, but it generally still contains savory.

Herbes de Provence is used to season grilled and barbecued meats and is added to stews and breads. As with all herbs and spices, individuals have their own favourite ways to use thIs tasty mixture of herbs.

Green Beans and Savory

Summer Savory - The Bean Herb

Summer Savory for Bean Digestion

In Germany, summer savory is known as bohnenkraut, which means "bean herb". It's added to beans not only to improve their taste but also to prevent the flatulence that people often experience after eating beans.

Beans don't cause me any problems even when I don't add summer savory to them, so I can't report on the effectiveness of savory for dealing with bean difficulties. I buy canned beans which were soaked before being canned and start by eating small quantities of beans if I haven't eaten them for a while. Both of these strategies help the body to process beans.

Why do Beans Cause Flatulence?

Beans contain raffinose and stachyose, two sugars which belong to a family called the oligosaccharides. Our bodies can't digest these sugars, so they pass from our small intestine into our large intestine unaltered. (Digestion is normally finished and its products absorbed in the small intestine.) Bacteria in the large intestine ferment the oligosaccharides, producing gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane, which we expel.

Like other beans, kidney beans are nutritious but can be hard to digest.
Like other beans, kidney beans are nutritious but can be hard to digest. | Source

Preventing Flatulence from Beans

There are a variety of ways to reduce or prevent gas buildup caused by eating beans. This is good because beans are very nutritious and healthy foods. They really should be part of our diet. In addition to the possible benefit of summer savory, the following techniques can be useful when we want to eat beans.

  • Soaking dried beans in water overnight and then discarding the soaking water before cooking the beans in fresh water is one way to reduce the level of the problematic sugars.
  • If you buy canned beans, check the producer's website to see if the beans are soaked before cooking. This is more likely to be true if you buy organic beans.
  • An enzyme called alpha galactosidase digests the bean sugars and can be bought in grocery stores. Beano is one product that contains the enzyme.
  • Eating small quantities of beans to begin with and then gradually increasing the serving size over time helps many people. The body is often able to improve its ability to deal with bean sugars if beans are consumed regularly.

How to Soak Beans

Antibacterial and Antifungal Action of Summer Savory

As is true in many other herbs and spices, the essential oil of summer savory kills certain bacteria and fungi, at least in laboratory equipment. However, the quantity of essential oil in the intact herb and the amount of the antimicrobial chemical carvacrol within this oil - as well as the amount of another antimicrobial chemical called thymol - vary considerably. The quantities depend on factors such as the variety of savory, the environment in which the plant is grown and the method of drying the herb.

Summer savory oil might be able to act as a food preservative, since in the lab it kills some common bacteria that make food unsafe to eat. It's also been found to kill certain bacteria and yeasts that cause diseases in humans. However, just because a substance is antimicrobial in a laboratory container or in a lab animal doesn't mean that it will also kill microbes in humans. Inside our body, the substance may be ineffective, inactivated, diluted or excreted before it can work.

Interest in other species of Satureja besides summer and winter savory is growing. Herbs have much to offer us in the form of novel taste and perhaps medicinal benefits.

Other Health Benefits of Summer Savory

As is the case with most herbs eaten by humans, summer savory is said to have many health benefits. While these benefits may be real, most haven't been tested by scientists. It's important to keep this in mind when using summer savory medicinally. It's also important to avoid an excessive intake of the herb. The plant is safe to eat in normal food quantities and is a great addition to the diet. Many foods are safe or beneficial in moderate quantities but harmful in excessive amounts, however.

A Container Garden Tour - Summer Savory and Other Herbs

Sow seeds directly into the ground or in flats no more than 1/8 inch deep or just scattered on top of the soil. Space or thin to 10 inches apart.

— PennState Extension (Summer Savory)

Herbs for Health

Although lab tests have shown that many herbs and spices can be very effective at killing bacteria and fungi, without chemical tests we don't know the quantity of antimicrobial chemicals in the version of the herbs or spices that we actually buy or grow. Therefore it's a great idea to add a wide variety of herbs and spices to our food, including summer savory, not only to provide an interesting range of tastes but also to give the best chance of benefiting from germ-destroying chemicals. The herbs will have the added advantage of making food taste delicious.

A Savory Taste Poll

Do you prefer the taste of summer savory or of winter savory?

  • I don't have a preference.
  • I prefer summer savory to winter savory.
  • I prefer winter savory to summer savory.
  • I've only eaten summer savory so I can't make a comparison.
  • I've only eaten winter savory so I can't make a comparison.
  • I haven't eaten either form of savory.
See results without voting

© 2012 Linda Crampton

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Comments 22 comments

mwilliams66 profile image

mwilliams66 4 years ago from Left Coast, USA

On a trip to France a few years ago, I picked up a bag of Herbes de Provence. I buy it to this day (the blend I buy is produced in France) and use it in so many of my dishes. There was always a flavor that I could not put my finger on. Thanks to this wonderful hub I finally know what it is.

You have produced yet another fantastic hub Alicia. Excellent use of photos and video. I'm going to have to pin this one!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the lovely comment and the pin, mwilliams66! I love Herbes de Provence, too, but I buy the form in my local supermarket. I'm sure it's not as good as a blend from France!


mwilliams66 profile image

mwilliams66 4 years ago from Left Coast, USA

I buy mine through Williams Sonoma. You can get it online.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the information, mwilliams66. I'll investigate the website that you've mentioned.


drbj profile image

drbj 4 years ago from south Florida

I've never tried, to my knowledge, summer nor winter savory, Alicia, but now after all this interesting information you have provided, you know I ill have to give it a try.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, drbj. Thanks for commenting. Hopefully you'll enjoy adding either type of savory to food. They are interesting herbs!


Movie Master profile image

Movie Master 4 years ago from United Kingdom

This is not a herb I am familiar with, I don't think I have ever tried it - I am keen to try growing it, thank you for the information and voted up.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the comment and the vote, Lesley! I don't think savory is as well known as herbs such as sage and thyme, but it's well worth trying.


teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 4 years ago

I don't believe I have every heart of this herb. I will have to try it sometime. You mentioned it kills bacteria and that is worth the try. Thanks for the information.


kashmir56 profile image

kashmir56 4 years ago from Massachusetts

Hi Alicia, I have not tried summer or winter savory but will be looking for it so i can try it. Thanks for all this great and useful information within this well written hub . SHARING !


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, teaches. Yes, summer savory oil has been shown to kill bacteria in lab tests, although how effective the intact plant is in our bodies isn't known for certain. It's a great herb for adding extra taste to food, though, and I think that it's a good idea to use herbs and spices liberally to maximize the chance of receiving health benefits from them!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the comment and for sharing the hub, Tom! I appreciate your visit. Where I live I can get dried summer savory in the supermarket, and I plan to grow savory this summer.


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

This is an herb I have never tried growing but we have used the dried summer savory and have Herbes de Provence on our pantry shelves and use it. I do grow mint, sage, chives, garlic chives, thyme, oregano, basil, parsley and rosemary...although our rosemary is not looking very good at the moment. Presently I have it in pots as our sprinkler system gave it too much water. Still trying to find just the right spot for it to thrive and stay healthy on a year round basis. I also have a bay laurel bush so use fresh instead of dried bay leaves. We love cooking with many different types of herbs.

Interesting and useful hub and intend to SHARE. Thanks!


Rusticliving profile image

Rusticliving 4 years ago from California

AliciaC, I LOVE summer savory! I use it all the time in my stews and sausage mixtures. Very nice hub and very well executed! I feel like a kid in a candy store with all these wonderful recipes! Very well done! Lisa


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

I love the sound of all the herbs that you grow, Peggy! What a wonderful collection. I plan to expand my herb garden this year - it's so nice to be able to pick fresh herbs just before eating them. Thank you for the share - as always, I appreciate it very much!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Lisa! It's nice to meet you. I don't make stews very often, but when I do I always add herbs. My favorites at the moment are savory, sage and oregano. Herbs and spices add such a wonderful range of tastes to food!


RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

Not being familiar with savory I appreciate this well-done hub very much! Sounds like a must have for my herb garden. I wonder if I've eaten something seasoned with it but did not know what I was tasting.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit and the comment, RTalloni! Yes, it is very possible that you've tasted savory in food before, even though in many areas it doesn't seem to be used as much as other herbs. It's very popular in certain countries, though!


toomuchmint profile image

toomuchmint 4 years ago

Great hub Alicia! I planted a savory in my herb garden after visiting the National Arboretum a few years ago. It's such a wonderful plant, but I always wondered what to do with it.

Now I know - beans, beans and more beans.

Thanks for the useful information!


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 4 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Thank you for the visit, toomuchmint. I appreciate your comment!


question 2 years ago

Can the entire summer savory plant be eaten safely? Thanks.


AliciaC profile image

AliciaC 2 years ago from British Columbia, Canada Author

Hi, question. The flowers, leaves and the young and tender stems of summer savory are edible. The stems become woody with age and aren't so pleasant to eat, although they're not dangerous. The roots are stringy and are generally avoided by cooks.

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    Linda Crampton (AliciaC)1,248 Followers
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    Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honours degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.



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