Summer Savory: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

Summer savory is a herb that belongs to the mint family. It is a perennial plant that is native to the Mediterranean region. The plant has small, oval-shaped leaves and produces white or pale pink flowers. Summer savory is often used as a culinary herb, as it has a mild, peppery flavor. It can be used fresh or dried, and is often added to soups, stews, and salads. Summer savory is said to have several health benefits, including the ability to boost digestion and relieve gas and bloating.

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Summer savory history

Cooks have used summer savory to flavor food for more than two millennia. It comes from the Eastern Mediterranean, and the ancient Romans considered it an effective substitute for salt. Pliny referenced it as an aphrodisiac; the name “savory” comes from “satyr.” A satyr is a mythical creature that is half man and half goat. Satyrs possess an insatiable sexual appetite. The poet Virgil wrote that it was a highly fragrant plant and suggested that it be grown near beehives.

The Roman armies introduced the herb to England and other parts of northern Europe and eventually, its flavor became popular among the locals. Until the discovery of spices like black pepper in Asia, winter savory and summer savory were among the only seasonings that Europeans had available to them. In the 17th century, herbalist Nicholas Culpeper wrote that winter and summer savory were useful for their ability to combat gas and believed that they were effective treatments for asthma.

In the 20th century, the French herbalist Maurice Messegue perpetuated the belief in savory as an aphrodisiac and claimed to use it in his love potions.

Summer savory flavor profile

Summer savory offers a pungent piney flavor with peppery hints that can complement mild-flavored foods without being overpowering. One common way to describe it is a cross between mint and thyme.

Health benefits of summer savory

Summer savory provides a range of health benefits because it contains essential compounds like:

  • Phenols: These include thymol, which has antiseptic characteristics. It also contains carvacrol, which discourages the growth of certain strains of bacteria.
  • Minerals: Summer savory also contains high levels of potassium and iron. Potassium helps to control your heart rate and iron is important for making red blood cells.
  • Vitamins: The herb is a good source of several vitamins like vitamin A, Vitamin C and various B-complex vitamins including niacin and thiamin. Vitamin A is important for preserving eye health while vitamin C is important for your immune system and can help to prevent cardiovascular disease and protect prenatal health. Niacin helps to lower cholesterol and thiamin is important for maintaining the nervous system.

Summer savory has a long history of being used as a medicine. It can help to prevent or treat a variety of health problems, including:

  • Bacterial infections: The antibacterial benefits of compounds in summer savory may extend to helping the body combat infections from bacteria like E. coli. A tea made with summer savory may also be used as a gargle to treat a sore throat.
  • Stress: Savory may also help with the body’s regulation of GABA in the brain, which means that it can help you to deal with stress.
  • Bloating: Summer savory increases the secretion of gastric juices that help to relieve various digestive ailments including bloating and flatulence. This carminative benefit is why it often shows up in bean dishes.

Common uses

Summer savory is one of the herbs in herbes de Provence and features in many popular herb mixes for stuffing. It is an incredibly versatile herb that you can use in much the same way you would use other members of the mint family like thyme and marjoram. Germans refer to it as the “bean herb” (bohenkraut) because of its anti-flatulence benefits.

Savory lends itself to preservation in vinegar, which is one of the ways that ancient Romans used it. Savory vinegar was a popular condiment that they used in many of their sauces.