Winter savory (Satureja montana) is a European herb. Like many of the most commonly used herbs, it is native to enough places that it is difficult to identify a region of origin though most experts believe that it comes from the Mediterranean region. You can find it throughout other parts of Southern Europe and North Africa as well. It is a close relative of summer savory.
Savory has a history of use that goes back to Ancient Rome, the Romans used savory in fish dishes and were the ones to introduce it to England. It was the strongest seasoning available in Europe until black pepper arrived from Asia. Winter savory got its genus name — Satureja — from the Roman writer Pliny who derived it from the word satyr for the mythical goat-man creature. The name has the same root as the Middle Eastern word za’atar for a spice mix. During the Middle Ages, cooks throughout Europe used savory to stuff meats. The Germans used the herb for cooking beans.
Winter savory made its way from Europe to North America via European colonists and was found in the New Englanders’ gardens in the 1800s. Thomas Jefferson grew the herb at Monticello.
Winter savory flavor profile
Winter savory is a mint and you can detect the mint family’s characteristic peppery notes in its flavor profile. Think of it as a cross between mint and thyme. Winter savory’s flavor profile has — along with the minty thyme notes — a strong savory component with a piney element. Too much of it will give your food a bitter flavor.
Health benefits of winter savory
Like most members of the mint family, winter savory has some health benefits and has been used therapeutically throughout history. The benefits come from nutrients like:
- Vitamins: Winter savory is a good source of several vitamins such as vitamins A, various B vitamins and vitamin C.
- Minerals: You can get important minerals from winter savory, including iron, calcium and magnesium.
- Thymol: Thymol accounts for much of winter savory’s antimicrobial benefits.
You can use winter savory as a treatment or preventive measure for the following conditions:
- Respiratory illnesses: Winter savory is believed to work as a treatment for coughs and sore throats.
- Flatulence: One of winter savory’s oldest uses is as a carminative. Its ability to relieve intestinal gas is one of the reasons it is often served with beans.
- Gastrointestinal ailments: The antimicrobial properties of winter savory enable it to kill bacteria that cause foodborne illness.
The strong flavors of winter savory make it a good fit for stronger meats and it is a good seasoning for organ meats. It is also traditional to use it with beans, so much so that the German name for it translates to the bean herb.
Winter savory is a great addition to fish as well, mackerel and other oily fish in particular. Despite its strong flavor, winter savory pairs well with other members of the mint family including rosemary and sage.
Like its summer cousin, you can use winter savory in bouquet garni for a soup or broth. You can use the fresh leaves raw as well, they work well in green salads and potato salads. If you just want the flavor, winter savory makes a great vinegar. Winter savory vinegar is great in salad dressings and is especially complementary to salads that contain beans.