Savory: from planting to harvesting & drying

Lea
Lea
Lea
Lea

Having studied organic farming, I enjoy trying out new cultivation methods and other gardening experiments with friends in our community garden. I care deeply about exploring sustainable and mindful approaches to working with nature. This is my biggest passion, but I am also a real ornamental plant enthusiast!

Favourite fruit: strawberry, mango, guava
Favourite vegetables: artichoke, tomato, rocket

Where and when to sow savory? How to proceed with the harvest? And can you freeze or dry it? We reveal everything about planting savory in your own garden.

Close-up of savory from above
Savory is a popular herb to use in the kitchen and is easy to grow in your own garden [Photo: romiri/ Shutterstock.com]

Savory (Satureja) is a must-have in any herb bed. The aromatic herb has always been appreciated for its delicious taste and also for its healing properties. It is undemanding and thrives without much effort in a pot, on the balcony or in the garden. In this article, we summarise where it originally comes from, how best to grow, care for, propagate and harvest it; and how it is used in cooking.

Savory belongs to the labiate family (Lamiaceae) and is related to other Mediterranean herbs such as thyme (Thymus vulgaris), oregano (Origanum vulgare) and rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). The herb originates from the Mediterranean region as well as from the Black Sea. The Romans used it both in cooking and as a medicinal herb. Today, it is widespread throughout Europe and still grows in the wild in southern Europe. It is also grown in South Africa, India and North America. Flowering savory is also highly appreciated by bees of various kinds, so the tasty seasoning herb is doubly useful when combined with a bee pasture.

Flowering savory plants
Depending on the variety, savory blooms in white, pink or purple [Photo: Horst Lieber/ Shutterstock.com]

While summer savory (Satureja hortensis) grows as an annual herbaceous plant, winter savory (Satureja montana) is an evergreen semishrub. Summer savory grows up to 25 centimetres tall, winter savory even up to 70 centimetres. Both form a strong main root. The upright-growing stems quickly become woody; in the case of summer savory, they also shimmer purple. The leaves of both species are narrow, linear-lanceolate and dark green. Savory has white, pink or purple flowers depending on the variety. Summer savory blooms from July to October, winter savory from June to September.

Species and varieties

More than 35 species exist in the genus of beanworts. Three species are particularly interesting for cultivation, which we have presented below.

Summer savory

Summer savory is probably the most cultivated and best-known variety. It is also commonly known as “garden savory” or “true savory”. The taste of this species is aromatic and spicy, but not too harsh. Summer savory is an annual and therefore must be reseeded each year. We would like to present to you below some interesting varieties for growing in your own garden or in a pot:

  • ‘Aromata’: very vigorous and aromatic.
  • ‘Compact’: characterised by its compact growth and a great aroma.
  • ‘Cyrano’: up to 50 cm tall, particularly large and broad leaves.
  • ‘Safira’: aromatic and vigorous.
  • ‘Pikanta’: peppery flavour, compact and bushy.
  • ‘Saturn’: bears many, large leaves rich in essential oil.
Summer savory plant from the side
Summer savory is an annual [Photo: Mira Drozdowski/ Shutterstock.com]

Winter savory

The second known species is winter savory. It is frost-resistant, can be cultivated perennially and is characterised by its particularly intense flavour, which is too strong for some people. That is why it is rarely grown commercially. It is often only used for the extraction of essential oil, but not as a seasoning. For amateur gardeners, however, winter savory can be a genuine alternative or complement to annual savory, as it is even easier to care for and can last for many years in the garden. It is also a beautiful ornamental plant in rock gardens and is used as a natural remedy to control seed beetles, mildew and aphids in the garden.

Tip: A special feature among winter savory is the so-called lemon savory. The ‘Citriodora’ variety looks like winter savory, but bears pink flowers and has a much milder aroma. As the name suggests, this particular variety tastes lemony and is great for grilling or marinating vegetables or meat.

Close-up of pink flowering winter savory
Winter savory (Satureja montana), also known as mountain savory, is a perennial [Photo: Heike Rau/ Shutterstock.com]

Creeping savory

The third species that may be of interest to amateur gardeners is creeping savory (Satureja spicigera). This species is particularly suitable for those who want to use the plant as a ground cover. For example, creeping savory is particularly suitable in rock gardens or for providing wall greenery. Of course, it is also suitable for seasoning.

Planting savory

Savory should be sown or planted only when frost is no longer expected. If you want to start sowing earlier, you can grow it in advance on a windowsill or under glass from the beginning of April.

Sowing savory directly into the garden bed is best done only from mid-May, when the Ice Saints have passed. It is also not time to plant out pre-sown or purchased seedlings in the garden until mid-May.

Savory – whether summer or winter – prefers a sunny and warm location. Therefore, it is important that the choice of location is appropriate. The soil should be loose and permeable. Also, the plants love calcareous soils, so occasionally some crushed eggshell or wood ash will do them good. Only the nutrient requirements are different for winter and summer savory. While annual savory likes it rich in nutrients and humus, winter savory prefers lean and nutrient-poor soils.

When to plant savory?

  • Pre-growing: from the beginning of April
  • Planting outdoors: mid-May
  • Direct sowing outdoors: mid-May to August
Close-up of savory growing in planter
Savory does well both in gardens beds and in pots [Photo: Ed Samuel/ Shutterstock.com]

Where to plant savory?

  • Sunny and warm location
  • Loose and permeable soil
  • Lime-loving
  • Summer savory: nutrient-rich and humus soil
  • Winter savory: lean and nutrient-poor soils

Tip: Good bedding neighbours for are, of course, beans of all kinds, such as garden beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) or crop beans (Vicia faba). Savory can also be planted next to onions (Allium cepa), beetroot (Beta vulgaris subsp. vulgaris var. conditiva), strawberries (Fragaria x ananassa), or pickle lettuce (Lactuca sativa var. crispa).

To sow or plant savory, follow our simple step-by-step guide:

  1. For pre-growing: fill pots with soil – for example, with the Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost.
  2. Savory is a light germinator: cover seeds with max. 1 cm of compost
  3. Germination period: 3 to 4 weeks
  4. For sowing and planting in the garden: prepare bed
  5. Enrich soil with a fertiliser with an organic long-term effect such as Plantura All Purpose Plant Food.
  6. Lean soil with sand/pumice/zeolite depending on the species.
  7. Create plant furrows or sow broadly
  8. Row spacing: 30 cm
  9. Planting distance: 25 cm
  10. Water well
  11. Separate after sprouting if necessary

Tip: The herb also grows well in a pot on a windowsill, balcony or terrace. For growing in a pot, a good soil is key. Our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost provides your savory and also other herbs the best conditions for optimum growth. In addition, a drainage layer is important to prevent waterlogging. For this purpose, you can use expanded clay or shards of clay.

Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost
Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly: for aromatic herbs, as well as sowing seeds, planting cuttings & transplanting seedlings

Propagating

While summer savory propagates well generatively, or by seed, winter savory must be vegetatively propagated. This is done by cuttings or division. Cuttings are best taken in July or August. To do this, select semi-woody cuttings and plant them in cutting substrate. This also works with both summer and winter savory.

The best time for division is in the spring. Large specimens can be dug up with a spade and divided. Only winter savory can be propagated by division.

Savory growing among many other plants
Good companion plants for savory include beans and lettuce [Photo: Verena Joy/ Shutterstock.com]

If you do not want to buy new seeds for your summer savory every year, you can obtain them yourself. To do this, the plant must be able to bloom and then form seeds. Ants are responsible for pollination of summer savory. They should therefore not be chased out of the herb bed. Summer savory blooms from July to October, after which the seeds ripen and can be harvested. The collected seeds are cleaned and stored in a dark, cool and dry place. They will be ready for sowing the following year.

Tip: Since the herb loses its vigour over the years, we recommend renewing the plants every two to three years.

Plant care

Savory is extremely unpretentious in every respect and hardly involves any work. Simply regularly remove any weeds by weeding or placing a layer of mulch. Rainwater should be enough for watering, only potted plants need regular watering. Of course, the herb will be happy to receive water during prolonged periods of drought.
Fertilise your plants once a year in the spring. For this purpose, the best option is a fertiliser with a long-term effect or compost. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is gentle on nature, has a sustainable impact and contains all the nutrients your plant needs. All species are best cut back once by about ten centimetres shortly before flowering, roughly in July. This stimulates the plant to grow again, so you can harvest once more.

How to care for savory?

  • Savory is frugal and easy to care for
  • Remove weeds and loosen the soil
  • Water only during prolonged heat and drought
  • Fertilise once in spring using a fertiliser with a long-term effect – for example, Plantura All Purpose Plant Food – or with compost
  • Prune by approx. 10 cm before flowering; this promotes stronger leaf growth
Plantura All Purpose Plant Food
Plantura All Purpose Plant Food

With a long-lasting effect, for healthy soil, child & pet friendly

Overwintering savory

Is savory actually hardy? This depends on the particular species. Winter savory is hardy. However, the herb originates from the Mediterranean region and can only survive winter up to winter hardiness zone 6 (-20 °C) without protection. In colder areas it should be protected from frost. it can be covered with brushwood or straw if planted in a bed. Winter savory in pots always needs protection in winter because the soil in the planter can quickly freeze through. Therefore, in winter it is better to put your winter savory in a pot in a cool, bright and frost-free shed or stairwell. Summer savory, unfortunately, does not survive the winter and must be reseeded or planted every year.

Frost covered savory plant
Savory is winter hardy [Photo: Marco.Warm/ Shutterstock.com]

Harvesting savory

When to harvest the herb? And how do you go about it? Savory can be harvested before and during flowering. Before flowering, the content of essential oils in the leaves is the highest. The herb is at its most aromatic during this time. During flowering, the aroma decreases somewhat. This can be especially useful for those who actually find winter savory too punchy and strong. The harvest time of summer savory, as the name suggests, is only in the summer, into the autumn. Winter savory can be harvested almost all year round. It is dormant for only a few months in winter.

For harvesting, use scissors or a sharp knife. First, cut the stems of the winter savory to half their size. For summer savory, you can cut the stems to just above the ground. Connoisseurs then bundle the shoots together at harvest. This makes it easier to dry or freeze later.

Person harvesting savory
You can harvest savory both before it blooms and during flowering [Photo: lantapix/ Shutterstock.com]

When and how to harvest savory?

  • Harvest before and during flowering when the content of essential oils is at its highest
  • Summer savory: July to October
  • Winter savory: almost all year round
  • Cut fresh shoots just above the ground (summer savory) or up to half (winter savory) with scissors or a sharp knife

Properly storing and preserving

How can I store and preserve the herb? And should I dry or freeze savory for this? We will answer these questions in the next section.

Drying savory

The herb even gains flavour and aroma through drying. Follow out step-by-step guide on how to easily preserve your savory by drying.

Drying savory: step-by-step guide

  1. Bundle the harvested stems and tie them together.
  2. Hang the bundles upside down, preferably in a dark place at 20 – 25 °C, until they can be easily rubbed.
  3. Alternatively, spread out on baking paper and leave to air dry in a dark place at 20 – 25 °C.
  4. Hang or leave until the leaves are completely dry through.
  5. After drying, detach the leaves from the stems.
  6. Pour into a container that is impermeable to light and air.
Bundles of savory hung upside down
Various fresh herbs hanging in bundle on an iron rod in front of a hut

Freezing savory

Can you freeze savory? Yes! In addition to drying, freezing offers another way to preserve the herb. You can freeze fresh savory as well as already dried. Either pluck the leaves from the stems and freeze them or complete bundles. They can then be used as a whole for cooking later. Savory is also very good to freeze together with vegetables.

Tip: You should freeze savory for a maximum of four months because the aroma and ingredients will dissipate over time.

Use and medicinal properties

Below, we answer all of your questions about the use and healing properties of savory.

What does savory taste like?

It tastes aromatic and spicy. Mint and pepper notes dominate. It can taste slightly spicy and for many the taste is reminiscent of thyme.

Can you eat it raw?

Savory can be eaten fresh without any problems. However, unlike many other herbs, savory is far more aromatic dried than raw.

How to use savory?

The aromatic herb can be used in many ways in cooking. First of all, savory is used as a spice and is naturally wonderfully compatible with bean dishes of various kinds. However, the herb not only tastes good with beans. Use it to season antipasti, in dressings, sauces, with jacket potatoes, in herb curd, cream cheese or with egg dishes. A classic, of course, is savory in soup.

Soup with savory used as garnish
Savory goes well in dishes made with beans, for instance [Photo: zebratomato/ Shutterstock.com]

Does savory have healing properties?

As early as the Middle Ages, savory was used as a medicinal herb. It was particularly used to treat digestive issues. Beans and other legumes are not easy to digest. To avoid unpleasant gas in the stomach, the beneficial effect of savory was discovered early on and it has always been eaten together with legumes. Savory tea can be used as a home remedy for coughs, diarrhoea and cramps. It also has antibacterial properties.

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