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Summer Savory: A Herb With a Lovely Flavor and Aroma

Linda Crampton is a teacher with an honors degree in biology. She enjoys exploring nutrition as well as the culture and history of food.

Summer savory growing in a botanical garden

Summer savory growing in a botanical garden

A Useful and Flavorful Plant

Summer savory is an annual herb that imparts a strong and delicious flavor to food. Its taste is reminiscent of both oregano and thyme. The herb produces a peppery sensation in the mouth. It's a member of the mint family and is very aromatic, especially when it's fresh. It's a great plant to have in the kitchen in either a fresh or a dried form.

Summer savory has the scientific name Satureja hortensis. It's been a popular addition to food since ancient times. It has also been used medicinally for a long time. The herb 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, at least in the lab. The essential oil obtained from the distillation of the herb contains carvacrol, an antibacterial and antifungal chemical that is also found in oregano and thyme. The herb with the lovely name may be useful for more than just flavoring food.

Origin of the Genus Name

The genus is the first word of the scientific name of an organism. The word Satureja in summer savory's scientific name 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. 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 that are grey-green to dark green in color and sometimes 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 flavor.

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

Uses of Summer Savory

Summer savory is a wonderful addition to any savory food, including:

  • beans
  • vegetables
  • eggs
  • fish, poultry, and red meat
  • sausages and stuffing
  • pies
  • soups and stews
  • rice
  • stir-fries

Summer savory is also used to make herb cheese, herb butter, and herbal teas. I like to add savory leaves to potato salads and mashed potato. The leaves are sometimes added to potpourris due to their strong aroma.

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 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 favorite ways to use this tasty mixture of plants.

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 them.

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 the potential problems. 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 the 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.

How to Prevent 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.

  • Soak dried beans in water overnight and then discard the soaking water before cooking the beans in fresh water. The second source in the "References" section below contains information about cooking beans that may be useful.
  • If you buy a canned product, 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 problematic 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 sometimes able to improve its ability to deal with the sugars if beans are consumed regularly.

Soaking Beans to Prevent Problems

Antibacterial and Antifungal Action

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. 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. 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. The fact that a substance is antimicrobial in a laboratory container or in a lab animal doesn't mean that it will also kill microbes in humans, however. Inside our body, the substance may be inactivated, diluted, or excreted before it can work.

Other Possible Health Benefits of the Plant

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.

There is at least one generally accepted benefit of summer savory and other herbs. Using tasty herbs to flavor our food can reduce or eliminate the need for added salt.

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 (in reference to summer savory)

A Savory Taste Poll

Herbs for Health

Although lab tests have shown that essential oils from herbs can be effective in killing microbes, we don't know the quantity of antimicrobial chemicals in the version of the herbs that we buy or grow. Therefore it's a great idea to add a wide variety of herbs to our food, including summer savory, to give us the best chance of benefiting from germ-destroying chemicals. The herbs will likely have the added advantage of making food taste delicious.

References

  • Growing summer savory from University of Illinois Extension
  • Cooking beans and reducing flatulence from the Cleveland Clinic
  • Carvacrol in summer savory from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)
  • Antibacterial properties and chemical characterization of the essential oils from summer savory from the Brazilian Journal of Microbiology

© 2012 Linda Crampton

Comments

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on July 26, 2014:

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.

question on July 26, 2014:

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

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 06, 2012:

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

toomuchmint on June 06, 2012:

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!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 02, 2012:

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!

RTalloni on June 02, 2012:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 02, 2012:

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!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 02, 2012:

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!

Liz Rayen from California on June 02, 2012:

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

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 02, 2012:

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!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2012:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2012:

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!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on June 01, 2012:

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 !

Dianna Mendez on June 01, 2012:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on June 01, 2012:

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.

Movie Master from United Kingdom on June 01, 2012:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2012:

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

drbj and sherry from south Florida on May 31, 2012:

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.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2012:

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

mwilliams66 from Left Coast, USA on May 31, 2012:

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

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 31, 2012:

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 from Left Coast, USA on May 31, 2012:

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!

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