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Savor This…and That!

September 13, 2022

Summer Savory, Winter Savory

One is known as having a special affinity for beans of every sort, the other is considered “not worth the trouble of growing” because it lasts for such a short time in the hot South.  Differences aside, both are worthy of consideration. Summer Savory (Satureja hortensis) and Winter Savory (Satureja montana) are aromatic, flavorful and make delightful additions to the herb garden. Both varieties are currently growing in the Edible Landscape at Raincather’s Garden of Midway Hills.

Summer Savory is a cold-tender annual herb native to Southeastern Europe and the Mediterranean. It is the sariette (savory) of France, otherwise known as an essential ingredient in the herbs de Provence blend. Though not as popular as its perennial cousin, some believe it has the most superior flavor. 

Winter Savory is also called dwarf savory or mountain savory. It is an especially decorative, low-growing and densely spreading shrub. Classical Greeks and Romans were familiar with this herb. Virgil, the Roman master of poetry, advised putting honey (saturated with the aroma of roses, thyme and savory) into the bee house as a solution to swarm’s disease. Hippocrates ascribed medicinal properties to it. Early American settlers treated colds and fever with savory tea.

General Characteristics of Both

Family: Lamiaceae (Labiatae) (Mint)

Type: Annual (summer savory), perennial (winter savory)

Location: Full Sun

Planting: Start seed in the winter, set out transplants in the spring.

Height: 8 to12 inches or somewhat taller

Spread: 20 inches

Bloom/Fruit: Blooms are small, white-to-lilac whorls of small star-shaped flowers.

Growth Habits/Culture: Summer savory is more upright with aromatic, dark green leaves and grows a little taller. It features square-shaped stems covered in tiny hairs. The ideal temperature range is 55-85˚F. Winter savory is more compact, low and spreading with needle-like, dark green leaves. It is a stiffer, woodier evergreen plant that will survive winter temperatures to around 23˚F. Savory requires rich, moist well-drained soil.

Taste: While both have a definite peppery bite reminiscent of thyme and marjoram, summer savory is fruitier, like apples and floral with a hint of lavender and basil. Winter savory with its coarser aroma and flavor is welcome at summer’s end when a fresh herb is desired during the cooler months. 

Harvesting: When summer savory reaches 6 to 8 inches in height, start harvesting. After blooming, the plant is not as vigorous so be attentive about snipping off buds. Once summer savory flowers, its leaves are at their most flavorful. At this time, the entire plant can be clipped and used. Winter savory can be harvested for fresh use at any time. 

Culinary Uses: Both summer and winter savory are traditional companions to all kinds of bean dishes, including soups, salads and spreads. Winter savory can be an alternative to sage in poultry dressing. Milder summer savory adds a flavorful punch to egg dishes, creamy soups and rich, cheesy casseroles. A liberal sprinkling of fresh leaves from either one gives new life to cooked vegetables. The good news is that both varieties can be used in much the same ways and are fairly interchangeable. When replacing winter savory with summer savory, add a touch more than called for in the recipe. When substituting summer savory with winter savory, start with about half the amount called for in the recipe and adjust according to taste.

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008


Three recipes with savory:

Goat Cheese Seasoned with Lavender Seeds and Winter Savory

Summer Savory Pound Cake

Baked Beans with Winter Savory

Woody Herbs of the Mediterranean…A New Feature of the Edible Landscape

Woody herbs are all perennials and usually hardy plants with leaves, blossoms and woody stems that contain their essential oils. Their relatively high content of volatile oils gives them an extremely aromatic fragrance. Woody herbs retain more of their flavor and aroma when dried than most green herbs do. In the garden, woody herbs require far less water than green herbs. The most important consideration is that these herbs be planted where they have good drainage.

Our journey into creating a garden bed featuring woody herbs began almost four years ago. We started with a combination of both woody and green herbs. The first few years all watering was done by hand. Then, in October of 2019, a drip system was installed. Sometime around mid-spring of this year, we noticed that our plants weren’t thriving. A soil test revealed that the garden was low in nitrogen but moderate to high in phosphorus, potassium and other minerals. Organic matter was 9.36%.

After doing further research, we read an article advising that two things to avoid when starting a Mediterranean garden were horse manure and wood chips. We had unknowingly used both when building our bed. A decision was made to excavate the existing soil 6-8 inches down and start fresh.

On November 11th, Soil Building Systems delivered 5 cubic yards of a rose mix selected especially for our Mediterranean bed. Volunteers worked carefully while spreading the mix to create a mound shape for optimal drainage requirements. Once established, a protective plastic weed barrier was custom cut to cover the entire bed. Using a box cutter, an “x” was made in the plastic where each herb was planted. The finishing touch was a 3 inch topping of pea gravel to give our bed the look of gardens circling the Mediterranean basin. 

The short list of woody herbs found in most Mediterranean gardens includes:

Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis)

Lavender (Lavandula species)

Marjoram and Oregano (Origanum marjorana and vulgare)

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)

Sage (Salvia officinalis)

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)

Winter Savory (Satureja montana)

In addition to the woody herbs listed above, we added curry plant, myrtle, summer savory and a dwarf fig tree. In the early spring of 2022, our Mediterranean garden will be embellished with a colorful display of other drought-tolerant plants that thrive in the same conditions. Some additions will include Rock Purslane and a pleasing selection of succulents.

We hope that our reimagined Mediterranean landscape with its soft colors, gravel beds and informal, drought-tolerant plantings will hint of a visit to the countrysides of France, Greece or Italy. Perhaps you will be captivated by the intoxicating fragrance and earthy flavors characterized by these essential woody herbs of the Mediterranean region. 

Linda Alexander, Dallas County Master Gardener Class of 2008

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