SAVORY (Satureja hortensis [summer]lSatureia montana [winter] -Labiatae)

The two major savory varieties are very closely related. Summer savory is a bushy annual which grows to about 30 cm (12 in) in height; it has dark green, aromatic leaves, hairy stems, and tiny pink-lilac flowers. Winter savory is compact and erect, with small grey-green leaves and tiny rose-purple flowers; it grows to about the same height as its summer cousin. Both are plants of the Mediterranean garrigue, although they can thrive further north.
The Greeks called the herb satureia (which has now become saturqa), from the word ‘satyr’, because it was reputed to be an aphrodisiac. Martial, Ovid and Virgil, for instance, all recounted tales of its efficacy. The Romans cooked meat dishes with savory and were responsible for its introduction to Britain. In the Middle Ages, St Hildegarde of Bingen advised savory for problems of gout, and it has been listed in the French and German pharmocopoeiae since 1582 as a stomachic and stimulant. A seventeenth century French surgeon, Pierre Argellata, claimed that he had managed to heal ulcers of the mouth and throat in over 100 of his patients with a decoction of savory; he boiled savory in very strong red wine and applied it to the ulcers. More recently, savory essential oil was used for toothache and rotting teeth, and Dr Cazin used it on people with earache.

Every 28th December since the Middle Ages, a special savory feast has been organized in Montpellier, France. The students elect one of their number as ‘Le petit eveque’ (the little bishop), and crown him with a ring of savory. He leads the way through the city, followed by a noisy procession of students all banging drums and saucepans, and ringing bells. They gather in a sort of open-air pub where they drink a special savory wine (made much as the aphrodisiac wine below) – which is said to stimulate the brain as well as the body, and local people are always advised to keep their daughters in on that night!


Description: This is steam-distilled from the leaves (the flowers too sometimes), and is pale orange. It is quite hot, like thyme, and a bit acrid. The principal constituents: Savory oil is extraordinarily high in phenols (like oregano and thyme) and other constituents are 30 – 40 per cent carvacrol, 20 – 30 per cent thymol, and cineol, cymene and pinene.


In illness
Because of the high phenol content, savory oil is very strongly antiseptic, again like oregano and thyme, but it must always be used in dilution. It is very useful for hastening the formation of scar tissue, and for treating bites, burns, ulcers and abscesses.

For cuts, have ready a small bottle consisting of 70 per cent proof alcohol and 3 – 4 drops of savory essential oil. This will stop bleeding and stinging. Afterwards rub on an oil consisting of 10 ml (2 tsp) soya oil, 2 – 3 drops wheatgerm oil and 3 drops savory oil. This will help healing.
A herb tea made with fresh savory is a great tonic in the morning. Add a drop of honey.

To make an aphrodisiac wine similar to that of the ancients, add 5 g (1/4 oz) savory leaves, 15 ml (1 tbsp) sugar or fructose, and 5 ml (1 tsp) Angostura bitters to a bottle of good port or Madeira. Steep for a while, then drink a glass when you need it.
(See also acne, asthma, cold sores, flatulence, mouth ulcers and sexual problems.)

In cookery
Summer savory is considered better for cooking than winter, being less strong and coarse in flavour. Both are quite biting and more bitter than thyme. The herbs dry very well, and savory is then most reminiscent of thyme.

Use savory in meat stews and marinades, especially those for game; it is also good with grills of fish or chops. Use it with discretion though, as it can dominate.

Savory is called ‘Bohnenkraut’ in German, meaning, ‘bean herb’, and has long been cooked with all kinds of beans to help their digestion and the assimilation of their vitamins and minerals, thus avoiding flatulence. The herb is also added to sauerkraut, sausages and salami, and was once used to form a wrapping for some French cheeses.

Other uses
The herb can be used in pot-pourris, and was once a popular antiseptic strewing herb. Soap perfumed with savory, especially if combined with lime, has antiseptic properties and it leaves the hands smelling fresh.

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