Savory – Characteristics, cultivation, use and curative effect

Winter savory
Winter savory © Stephan Budke

No other herb is more commonly used with beans than savory. The genus includes various species, of which the summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and the winter savory (Satureja montana) are most commonly found on the market. The taste of both bean species differ only slightly from each other, but in the care and longevity there are some differences.

Profile of Savory:

Scientific name: Satureja spec.

Plant family: mint family (Lamiaceae)

Other names: winter savory, summer savory

Sowing time / Planting time: April – May

Flowering period: June – October

Harvest time: April – June

Location: sunny to full sun

Soil quality: sandy, rather barren soil

Use as a medicinal herb: cough, bronchitis, skin irritation, pimples, diarrhea, Candida infestation

Use as spice herb: bean salad, meat dishes, fish, sauces, potatoes

Plant characteristics and system of savory

Origin and distribution of savory

The cultivated savory have different origins and distribution areas. The summer savory, for example, comes from the eastern Mediterranean, whereas the winter savory (also called mountain savory) is native to southern Europe. However, since both species are cultivated and transported for a long time, both species are now found to be wild in the Mediterranean and Balkan countries.

Today, the plants are also found in the wild in some parts of Germany as well as in Austria and some parts of Tyrol. Most of the crops are found along railway embankments, on fields and on barren soil. Since the 9th and 10th century, especially the summer savory was introduced by monks and cultivated in monastic gardens. It is also a popular herb in Atlantic Canada.

Systematics of savory

Savory species belong to the mint family (Lamiaceae) or more precisely to the botanical subfamily Nepetoideae. They are thus related to other, mostly Mediterranean herbs, such as sage, rosemary or thyme. The genus savory (Satureja) includes about 40 species, with summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (Satureja montana) probably the most well-known. Another species that is occasionally commercially available is the clinopodium douglasii or yerba buena (Satureja douglasii), which is found quiet common in western and northwestern North America (from Alaska down to California).

Look and characteristics of the savory


The summer savory is a one-year, herbaceous plant, compared to the winter savory which can be biennial and perennial. The winter savory is with a maximum of 70 cm (28 inches), usually slightly larger than the summer savory, which reaches stature heights of 55 cm (22 inches).


The leaves of the two species are quite similar. The leaves can be up to 3 cm (1.2 inches) long and usually take a lanceolate form. They are petiolate and opposite arranged. Winter savory leaves are mostly leathery, whereas they are usually rather fluffy and slightly hairy of summer savory. The stem can lignify from below.


During the flowering period, which usually lasts from June to the beginning of October, both the winter and the summer savory form white, blue-violet to pale pink flowers. The flowers are classic split lip-shaped flowers. To fruit ripen the most dark brown seeds develop.

Savory - flowers with bumblebee
Savory – flowers with bumblebee

Savory – cultivation and care

Sowing and cultivation

Savory is a so-called light germinator. In order to grow plants from the seed, the seeds are only lightly pressed onto the soil and placed in a bright place. Optimal is the windowsill. Sowing is best started in April. Outdoors it is planted directly in the ground from the end of May (no more frosts). It is important to note that there is sufficient space between the plants, as savory grows voluminous. About 20 cm (8 inches) distance to the next plant should be sufficient.


Furthermore, savory can be propagated via cuttings or division of the plant on the root ball. However, this step applies only to the perennial winter savory alias mountain savory (Satureja montana). Summer savory is annual, only to grow from seeds.


Both species are suitable for cultivation in the garden as well as for the pot culture in flower boxes or larger containers. It is important that savory is planted on a sunny and warm place and the soil is water permeable and slightly calcareous. Waterlogging has an unfavorable effect on growth and should be avoided. For dense or loamy soils, aggregates such as quartz sand, pumice or zeolite should be incorporated to aid water drainage. Recommended is to add lime occasionally.


Savory is only fertilized at the beginning of the growing season in spring. The herb is adapted to more nutrient-poor locations and is relatively sensitive to over-fertilization. The plant is not in need of much water. It withstands dry phases easier than too humid soil. If the dry surface soil is also dry at a depth of about 2 cm (1 inch), watering is advisable.


Savory, which grows in pot culture, is brought in the winter in the indoor garden or in the cool staircase. Although the perennial mountain savory is evergreen, it is recommended to prune in the spring to encourage bushy growth.

Savory - leaves
Winter Savory – leaves © Stephan Budke

Savory and its use

Savory is a versatile herb that also helps with stomach aches and skin problems.

Savory in the kitchen

Savory is a classic in the spice cabinet. The plant is used both fresh and dried. Unlike many other herbs, it is very aromatic even in the dried version and in good quality, its flavor can be even more intense. The best time to harvest extra flavorful savory is the time just before flowering.

The taste is strong and tart with a slightly spicy note – slightly comparable to a blend of rosemary and thyme; where winter savory tastes more intense than the summer savory.

Savory do not taste like beans, but harmonizes perfectly with beans in any version: bean salad or bean vegetables. But also other vegetables are flavored with it, especially peas, lentils, potato and cabbage dishes. Savory is excellent with lamb and fish dishes, especially if you use the lemon- fresh variety Satureja citridona.

Another use is the preparation of savory curd and butter dishes. For example, it tastes great in home-made herb butter. Worthwhile is the refinement of herbal curds or fresh cheese specialties. Moreover, savory harmonizes very well with other Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, oregano or sage.

In the kitchen, the summer savory is usually used, which tastes slightly milder than the winter savory. In principle, however, both types can be used; The latter sometimes go with hearty dishes.

Since the herb has a fairly strong aroma, it should be used as a spice always very sparingly. When cooking, it can be added right away as the flavors do not get lost.

Savory as a medicinal herb

Even in the Middle Ages savory was a well-known herb, which was mainly used as a supportive food or generally for indigestion. Thus, it was prepared as tea or with honey water. Furthermore, the herb was used for headaches and sleep disorders.

Beans as representatives of the legumes are not always easily digestible. By refining with savory, flatulence and cramps in the stomach and intestine are prevented at the same time. A tea prepared from the fresh or dried herb (brewing time for fresh savory is about 10 min and for dried is about 5 min) has the same anticonvulsant effect and helps against diarrhea. Savory is just as effective at coughing – it is gargled with cooled tea. It has also proven itself in the care of greasy, blemished skin. A facial steam bath with savory regulates production of skin fat and helps to treat inflammatory impurities.

Both savory species have antibacterial properties. In addition, some sources report that summer savory can aid in the treatment of diseases caused by Candida albans and Aspergillus (mlildew).


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buying savory – What to pay attention to?

Fresh savory is usually obtained in pots in most garden centers and hardware stores. Occasionally, it is also found in supermarkets. If you want to enjoy the plant for a long time, buy the perennial winter savory, which is also marketed in the garden trade as mountain savory or under the Latin name Satureja montana. In contrast, the summer savory is only annual and is diying in fall. For use in the kitchen, however, the summer savory is usually used.

Many herbal shops or online shops also offer dried savory. Since the aroma can be conserved quite well, there are hardly any risks in purchasing. Care should be taken that the herbs are packaged in a flavor-sealed container.

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