Native to the Mediterranean region, summer savory is naturalized in southwest Africa, Asia, and North America and is a popular garden plant in temperate and warm areas throughout the world. The plant is a small annual that has widely branched stems and bears whorls of white or pale pink flowers. Used as a food flavoring for more than 2,000 years, summer savory tastes like a cross between thyme and mint.
The genus Satureja, which includes 30 species of annuals, perennials, and subshrubs, is so often included in pea and bean dishes that Germans call the herb bohnenkraut, which means “bean herb.” Its genus name is derived from the Latin word satyrus, meaning “satyr,” because summer savory is reputed to be the food plant that gave these mythical creatures their sexual powers.
Common Name: Summer Savory
Description: Bushy, fine stems, up to 18 inches tall; soft, gray-green leaves attach directly to stems in pairs; small white or pale pink flowers in groups of three to six; highly aromatic
Flowering: Midsummer through frost
Parts Used: Leaves
Range/Habitat: Native to the Mediterranean region, naturalized in Africa, Asia, and parts of North America
Summer savory is milder in flavor than its perennial relative, winter savory (Satureja montana). In recipes, summer savory is a heavier substitute for mint and a lighter substitute for sage. It adds a piquant flavor to soups, meat and fish dishes, beans, eggs, and pâtés. It also complements tomato sauce, potatoes, eggplant, asparagus, squash, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Use the herb sparingly, though — a small amount goes a long way.
Like many culinary herbs, summer savory helps improve digestion and relieve intestinal gas. This is one reason it is so often added to bean dishes, which can cause this problem. It is also used in herbal medicine to treat nausea, colic, menstrual disorders, and to ease muscle spasms and alleviate lung congestion. Summer savory contains astringent and antibacterial properties, making it a useful remedy for diarrhea.
Caution: Summer savory should not be used in medicinal doses during pregnancy. Small amounts used in cooking do not pose a problem.
How to grow it
Summer savory is easy to grow from seed sown in neutral to alkaline soil and full sun. Use only fresh seed, however — viability decreases quickly after the first year. Begin harvesting leaves when the plants are about 6 inches tall; snip often to prevent flowering and extend leafy growth. When flowering begins, cut the whole plants and dry them on a screen or piece of paper in a warm, shaded location. Strip the dried leaves from the stems, and store them in an airtight container.