Savory - Botany And History

Savory is a mildly aromatic herb commonly thought of to be a singular plant, but is in actuality a number of plants under the genus Satureja, of which two distinct species - the summer and winter savory - have long been in use for both culinary and medicinal purposes. Depending on the species, savory can either take on annual or perennial characteristics, and are generally found in warm, temperate climates, usually in semi-moist, fertile soils, waste areas, untended lots, and in flourishing grasslands. Savories tend to be small, low-growing shrubs, although depending on the species, they may sometimes appear like the typical leafy potherb. Savories are closely related to rosemary and thyme, and often possess similar morphological characteristics.

Akin to rosemary and thyme, they measure from between fifteen to fifty centimeters in length. It possesses distinct features depending on the species of savory, with the size even varying depending upon the relative viability of the environment where it thrives, and if it is left to its own devices or otherwise cultivated. Generally however, summer savory is identified as possessing lilac to pale lavender-hued flowers, while winter savory is typified by its ivory white inflorescence. Both of these plants possess the distinctive tubular inflorescence which springs from the uppermost parts of the plant's stems, as well as the thin, delicate, slightly blade-shaped jade-green to dark-green leaves that only superficially resemble thyme or rosemary sprigs. Both types of savory are considered aromatic herbs, although each has a distinct flavour profile unique unto the species, and in some culinary practices one type is often favoured more so than another. [1]

Depending on the culinary culture and general preference, summer savory or winter savory may be the herb of choice, although they are by no means interchangeable with one another due to the distinct flavours that each herb possesses. In most cases, winter savory is more favoured than summer savory, although some cuisines find the latter more useful and indispensable than the former. Both types are often available in any grocery isle, although depending upon the area, one type of savory may be more 'accessible' than the other. Both summer and winter savory may be employed in its fresh or dried state, in either whole or ground form. Both summer and winter savory are grown as garden plants, either separately, or together. They may even be grown as companion plants to other types of vegetation, and may help to improve the overall health of a botanical or herbal garden when planted, as it is traditionally believed to drive away common garden pests such as aphids and several species of harmful beetles.

Savory - Herbal Uses

Both summer and winter savory are popular culinary herbs, although each of these herbs tends to play distinctive roles in cooking, as one is not interchangeable with the other, although in ages past they were actually used as such, and often even employed in combination. Each herb possesses a distinct flavour profile that is viable for one type of cooking and not for another. In general, summer savory is lighter than winter savory, but is considered the more flavourful of the two savories, and is generally employed for heavy, hearty dishes, generally meat-based, or otherwise incorporating the strong, palpable essence of meats. Summer savory plays an integral role in the creation of the seasoning herbes de Provence, and is a well-loved French culinary seasoning, additive, and condiment. Summer savory is commonly employed as an additive to meat-based foodstuffs, and, due to its pungency and aromatic nature, can even be used as an alternative or a substitute for sage. Depending upon the local culinary practices, the addition of summer savory to foodstuffs may vary from simple light additions, to heavy incorporations of fresh or dried herbage. It can be found in a number of dishes, typically involving, but not limited to soups, soup-stocks (generally of the heavy or hearty kind) stews, roasts, and a number of highly flavourful, or otherwise very bold sauces. A number of Eastern European culinary practices employ summer savory as a primary ingredient in the creation of sausages and other types of preserved forcemeats, as it's slightly sweeter, albeit mellow aroma tends to compliment, but not overpower the meat. It features strongly in most Germanic, Swedish, and Rumanian forcemeats, although it can and has been employed traditionally in a select number of Italian and Spanish forcemeat and preserved-meat dishes. In general European cookery, especially in British cuisine and its associated styles, summer savory is generally added to meat pies, bean-based dishes, vegetable-based dishes, and even some salads. Summer savory also plays a very important role as a general condiment, seasoning, and garnish. When employed fresh, it can be integrated as a finishing touch to any type of full-flavoured foodstuff as a simple garnish, and has, in times past, been employed as an alternative for chervil, parsley, or basil. In some Eastern European branches of cooking, summer savory is often employed in its dried form, usually combined with rock salt and paprika, and employed as a condiment and as a general cooking seasoning called sharena sol (lit. colourful salt), while both summer and winter savory is also employed in the not-so-well-known Middle Eastern spice mixture called Za'atar, which is composed of a number of herbs (including savory), all mixed together with salt and sesame seeds. It is often used as a condiment and flavouring agent, although it can be used medicinally. The former seasoning is near-indispensable in Bulgarian cuisine, which employs it for nearly every possible and imaginable way in nearly every foodstuff. Similar concoctions are also commonplace in a number of Eastern European culinary traditions; although their 'seasoning recipe' may vary save for the constant presence of summer savory. Some culinary practices favour mellower flavours demanding little to no spiciness, while others call for very hot or otherwise very intense flavour combinations. It may be employed solely as an additive to herbal preparations, if only chiefly for its aroma, although it is traditionally combined with carminative herbs and drunk prior to, and after meals. In some culinary styles, it even plays a singular role in the creation of sauces for heavy, meat-based dishes. [2]

When employed medicinally, summer savory can be decocted or otherwise infused into a tisane and given as a mild to moderately strong digestif, with a long-standing tradition of being able to readily relieve the symptoms of indigestion, colic, diarrhea, and flatulence. Very mild or weak decoctions (in most cases actually infusions more so than decoctions), were traditionally used as remedies for ocular diseases such as conjunctivitis, glaucoma, and, in ancient herbals, supposedly even cataracts and night-blindness. The extracted juice of summer savory may also be employed as a mild but effective nasal decongestant, especially when applied either with the use of a dropper or a neti pot (in the case of the latter procedure, a very strong decoction of summer savory leaves take the place of a saline solution as the prime means for nasal irrigation). When combined into foodstuffs, it is generally given as a first-line remedy for minor colds and moderate coughing. When brewed into stronger decoctions, it is even believed to possess potent expectorant properties, especially if combined with other mucolytic or expectorant herbs and spices. In Mediaeval (and later, Renaissance) medicine, it was drunk as a general tonic, either in the form of a tisane, or otherwise infused in wine (pure, or pre-mulled), in the belief that the consumption of summer savory helped to 'dispel ill humours' from the brain (i. e. alleviate depression, improve health and overall mood, etc.). Employed topically, summer savory acts as a mild antihistaminic, and, if applied directly to any topical swelling (i. e. stings, bites), it can readily reduce the inflammation and relieve localised discomfort. [3] Crushed or otherwise bruised and mixed with wheat flour, it can be applied as a poultice to help relieve the symptoms of sciatica and palsy, and is even believed to help reduce tremors which are commonly associated with epileptic individuals. An easier means to apply the herb topically is in allowing it to macerate in one's choice of a base oil until its essences are fully imbued onto the substance, and employing the resulting salve as a topical ointment for the complaints described above. In folkloric medicine, summer savory was oftentimes brewed as a tisane and drunk as an aphrodisiac, although its efficiency seemed to be founded more on systems of sympathetic magick more so than any true medicinal aphrodisiac benefits.

Seconding summer savory, winter savory too plays an integral, albeit (nowadays) relatively minor role in culinary practices, with its employment generally veering more towards meat-based and vegetable-based cuisines. In spite of the fact that winter savory possesses a far more potent flavour and aroma profile than summer savory, it is curiously employed more for milder-tasting foodstuffs, generally lighter meats (i. e. poultry), and vegetables, probably due to the fact that the stronger flavour of winter savory compliments what would otherwise be considered 'mellow', enhancing the overall flavours of the dishes, especially if employed fresh as a garnish. Despite its more flavourful nature (in contrast to summer savory), winter savory does not stand up much to long cooking time unlike summer savory, as it tends to lose it flavour when subjected to long periods of heat. It may be used as a culinary herb, although due to its propensity to lose its flavour, it is often added during the final moments of cooking, usually just upon serving, or otherwise integrated onto foodstuffs prior to their consumption. It is more often than not used as a condiment in the culinary sense, and is rarely (but may nevertheless be) incorporated as an additive to herbes de Provence or fines herbes. Winter savory is most commonly used for medicinal applications, and is generally favoured by a number of traditional herbal practices in this regard.

Just like summer savory, winter savory possesses powerful carminative, antimucolytic, expectorant, digestif, and antiseptic properties, although it is more often than not infused instead of decocted, as its more powerful aroma is prized by herbalists. It is most often employed in its fresh, rather than its dry state, as it has a tendency to mellow-out when dried, although ancient methods have suggested its employment in dried form. Regardless of however it is used, winter savory is believed to possess more potent medicinal properties than does summer savory. It shares a number of summer savory's medicinal properties, and may be used in lieu of, or in tandem with summer savory to treat problems like colic, indigestion, flatulence, diarrhea, and bronchial and nasal congestion. Strong infusions of winter savory can also be given as an emmenagogue, and, in earlier times, was even specifically brewed with other emmenagogue herbs or spices and employed as an abortifacient. [4]

When applied topically, it can be used as a powerful antihistaminic, and, like summer savory, can help to treat insect stings and other types of inflammation. It also possesses powerful antifungal and antibacterial properties, and, if allowed to infuse in oil, may be applied to the skin directly as a remedy for fungal and viral infections. Concentrated macerations of the herb may be applied as a mild to moderately potent analgesic ointment for the relief of arthritis and rheumatism. [5] Like summer savory, winter savory may also be applied topically to help relieve tremors and epileptic fits, although the latter is far more preferred than is the former. Alternatively, one may also employ the extracted essential oil of winter savory to treat various topical fungal infections, especially Candida. This essential oil, typically employed in its diluted form can also be used as a scalp tonic, and is generally applied for the treatment of eczema, psoriasis, dandruff, and even mild to early cases of alopecia (balding). [6] In stark contrast to summer savory's purported aphrodisiac properties, winter savory was supposedly an anaphrodisiac. Infused or decocted, it was drunk, usually by ascetics and individuals who prescribe to ascetic practices in the belief that it dulls the senses and helps to deaden one's sexual appetites. In spite of its having had a long-standing tradition as an anaphrodisiac, its effects may only act as a sort of placebo, in a similar manner to the purported aphrodisiac benefits of summer savory.

Nowadays, summer and winter savory are often used interchangeably in medicinal practices, although this is only common for inexpert herbalists, with more expert practitioners preferring to use each type distinctly for a specific purpose. It is more popular as a culinary herb than it is as a medicinal herb, and is usually thought of as 'bean herbs', literally, partners to bean-based dishes, in the long-held belief that it reduces flatulence purportedly caused by the overconsumption of beans - this being true due to both savory variants' powerful carminative properties. [6]

Savory - Esoteric Uses

When used for magickal purposes, summer savory seems to be far more favoured by most magickal practitioners than winter savory, although both varieties being a type of savory nevertheless, they can (and have been) employed interchangeably. Both summer and winter savory are often used in sex-based fixing spells, or otherwise brewed into tisanes or decocted into potions and drunk as aphrodisiacs. It was initially associated with Satyrs, and later on, with the idyllic god Pan, by the Early Greeks and, afterwards, the Romans, further cementing its 'lustful' properties. [7] By the Middle Ages, its magickal uses somehow expanded, and the two savories took on polar opposite properties. Where summer savory was still employed as an aphrodisiac herb, winter savory became its counterpart in that it was drunk or consumed to elicit apathy when it comes to sexual matters.

Outside of the realm of magickal healing, summer and winter savory plays a very minor to almost non-existent role, although summer savory (and in rare cases, even winter savory) can be employed in the creation of talismans. It can be encased in medicine pouches or juju bags and carried on one's person to help relieve negativity or ease all sorts of physical ailments, while at the same time supposedly assisting with concentration and memory enhancement. With this in mind, it may be employed ritualistically as a cleansing, empowering, or mild banishing incense, although traditional corroboration does not support this application.

Savory - Contraindications And Safety

Summer and winter savory are generally very mild herbs, and even very potent decoctions of both herbs generally have little to almost no side effects, although this may be due in part to the fact that it is now very rarely employed in the medicinal sense, and is thus largely unobserved by experts with regards to any possible adverse interactions with other herbs or synthetic medicines. As a general rule of thumb however, pregnant and lactating women should discontinue or limit their consumption of savory (especially summer savory, which has been employed in ancient times as an abortifacient), and that any attempt at incorporating either types of savory to one's regular dietary regimen should first be corroborated with an expert medical adviser to avoid any possible complications that may ensue.

Savory - Other Names, Past and Present

Chinese: xiaji xiang xiang (summer savory) / dongji xiang xiang (winter savory) / xiang xiang
Japanese: kobashii natsu (summer savory) / kobashii fuyu (winter savory)
Korean: mas yeoleum (summer savory) / pungmi gyeoul (winter savory)
Hindi: dilakasa garmi (summer savory) / dilakasa sardi (winter savory)
French: ajedrea de jardin / herbe de Saint Julien / poivrette / sarriette commune / sarriette d'ete / sarriette des jardins[summer savory] / poivre d'ane / sadreesarriette des Montagnes / sarriette vivace / savouree [summer savory]
Spanish: ajedrea (used to describe both summer and winter savory)
Italian: santoreggia (used to describe both summer and winter savory)
Greek: throubi (summer savory) / throumpi (winter savory)
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Satureja hortensis (summer savory) / Satureja montana (winter savory) [other nomenclatures exist, depending upon the species and vartietals]


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Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt.

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