Summer Savory Is the Skinny Herb Nobody Knows, But All Cooks Should Grow

Summer savory leaves

Summer savory (Satureja hortensis, native to Southeastern Europe) has been growing on my New York City terrace for four years. The annual cousin to hardy winter savory (Satureja montana), I find it more flexible in culinary applications as its flavor develops during the growing season. While it remains relatively unknown on American shores, I can’t imagine my summer cooking without its thyme-y pungence.

After buying my first, hard-to-find seedling (Editor’s note: Try Silver Heights Farm at Union Square Greenmarket) I never spent another penny, as it self-seeds (maybe too) freely, popping up in spring all over my container garden.

summer savory (1)

The savory growing calendar looks like this:

– May: The tiny volunteer seedlings are identified, the strongest selected and the rest weeded out ruthlessly.

– June: The leaves are fragile and soft and I push tender tips into the cavity of a roast chicken. They make a flavor-popping herb sauce for grilled portobello mushrooms: I chop a whole cup of fresh savory leaves — you can use the tender stalks, too; add a cup of chopped flatleaf parsley and a crushed clove of garlic, and cook both very gently in about four tablespoons of butter. After five minutes, add a squeeze of lemon juice, cook another minute or so for it to caramelize a little, and pour over grilled mushrooms just before eating. I also use it as a substitute for parsley in gremolata to serve with oily fish like mackerel or bluefish.

herb rub for ribs

– July: Plants reach maturity and start losing their flavor-concentrated heads to the kitchen on a regular basis. The midsummer leaves paired with olive oil and an anchovy or two are dribbled over a good steak, or over toasted, salted pieces of sourdough bread as an unconventional snack with drinks. Otherwise use summer savory for a green herb rub – chopped up with some lemon zest and garlic for pork ribs, or underneath the skin of a spatchcocked chicken grilled on the coals.

– August: Right now.  Pretty little white flowers appear. Bees love them.  I begin to pick extravagant bunches for mixing into lamb meatballs with pomegranate molasses and for marinating barbecue-bound butterflied legs of lamb with summer savory and yogurt.

lamb meatballs with summer savory

– September: I cut the plants down, freeing those containers for the sowing of fall salad greens. After a couple of hours in a 200-degree oven, the leaves and seeds will keep in a mason jar through the winter. I’m not much into dried herbs, but I fell in love with the intense, unrestrained flavor of dried summer savory. During the cool and the freezing months the dried herb is added in luxurious pinches to paprikash, or to a bowl of salt and ground paprika as a table condiment, a practice common in Bulgaria.

Summer savory needs full sun to grow well (six hours or more), a daily drink of water and well-drained soil. If you can’t find the plants and seeds in nurseries, at Greenmarkets or online, I can mail out baggies while supplies last. If you’d like some, holler back here in the comments.




Marie Viljoen lives in Brooklyn and believes in food, flowers and plants you can eat (and drink). Join her on her seasonal forage walks or find her at her blog, 66 Square Feet.

  • 08taubg

    I started growing summer savory this summer in a window box on my terrace–it’s willowy and pretty but I’ve hardly used it–this inspired me.

  • Fresh green beans with butter and a sprinkle of chopped summer savory — it doesn’t get much better than that.

  • Amam4

    My husband and I love to cook but have much to learn.  Recently, we met a couple  from Germany traveling through California and we started to talk about food (what else?).  They told us they use the herb “Bohnenkraut” when cooking.  It turns out that it is the herb “Savory”.    It’s unfortunate that I missed the growing season for this year but will try next spring.  Any ideas if they meant Savory or Summer Savory?

  • Bob

    Please fix this website, so the pictures are all the same size. You are bouncing the text all over the place and makes it very difficult to read…

  • Daniel L. Levy

    I am just painstakingly separating Satureja hortensis’ tiny seeds from a bunch of dried herb right now. This will be my third Satureja species, as I’m already growing the glorious, indigenous S. thymbra (Pink or Greek Savory) and the somewhat fiddly S. montana (Winter Savory). Here in Israel, these herbs cannot be found commercially, except for Summer Savory greens that are occasionally sold in a few fresh produce markets for the exclusive benefit of the Iranian Jewish community. Some dried herb that is part of a poor quality mixture imported from France called “Herbes de Provence”, can also be purchased, but is not worth the expense. If a Thymol/Carvacrol herb doesn’t “bite back” when you nibble at it, don’t buy it! Pink Savory is abundant in some rocky spots of our Mediterranean region, and is known locally as “Za’athar Rumi”. It is a protected species in the wild, but growing it in a large pot or in a garden is both easy and rewarding.

  • Mary Hicks

    I’ve never grown or tasted summer savory but am so anxious to try it. Do you have any starts still available?

  • D. KAdoves

    can you sent me some of your wonderfully describes seed to start. I have a long growing season and could start them if you can send by mid july

    you can request me address via e-mail request

  • Andrew

    Great article… I’d love to get a few seeds!

  • Andrew

    Great article. I’d love t get a few seeds!

  • Bev Boike

    I grew up with Summer Savory and it is in a lot of our soup recipes but we seem to be having a hard time growing it. Last winter was a tough one in MN and everyone’s Summer Savory has seemed to die out. When we buy it around here in a nursery it turns out to be an annual. Would you be able to send me some of your seed? My mom, myself, and my neighbors would love to get it going again. Right now I only know of a few people who still have there plants growing and they are probably decades old as our recipes go way back to Russia. Thank you so much! Glad you found Summer Savory, it’s amazing in Green Bean Soup.

  • dwneast

    While there are several varieties of ‘savory’, the more delicate, peppery annual ‘summer savory’ has pink flowers while the hardier ‘evergreen’, slightly bitter, perennial ‘winter savory’ has the white flowers.

    They really are different herbs and though supposedly interchangeable in recipes, spice companies should probably distinguish between them, in my opinion.

  • Brenda HurleyPisano

    Love to have some seeds. My grandma used this in many dishes.

  • Justine

    You can get summer savory seeds at Crosman Seed Corp. The packets are 99¢ ea. Go to to download the order form.

  • quency guess

    Marie, My name is Quency Guess and live in Indiana. Though I’m not a professional chef my friends and family consider a damn good cook…… I found your post and had to comment. My first encounter with savory was while I was preping legs of lamb to grill for a party. Had all my ingredients set and realized i had no tyme, then I remember going to this little spice shop in Allentown Pennsylvania where I grabbed a spice that Id not heard of that smelled almost the same, but lite. Well anyway, the lamb was grilled and the delicate taste of the savory didnt take over and mask the taste of the lamb and when I make sausage i use savory as well… BBQ’s are the bomb in the Midwest…. Thank you for your time and thanks for sharing. …….

  • Sounds amazing, Quency!

  • oddjob

    “Pink Savory is abundant in some rocky spots of our Mediterranean region, and is known locally as “Za’athar Rumi”.”

    Daniel, do you know if this is the same herb the Lebanese (typically) refer to as “Za’athar”?

  • oddjob

    Summer savory is an annual. Are you sure you’re thinking of summer savory and not winter savory?

  • oddjob

    You can also get them from Seed Savers Exchange (even if you are not a member):

  • Beirut to Jupiter

    Lebanese will tell you that zaatar is thyme, and even the spice store where I get it has thyme on the ingredients label, but really zaatar is a generic name that can include thyme, savory, oregano, marjoram, or basil thyme.

  • swich

    In German it’s called Bohnenkraut (bean herb) and is sold it summer to cook with green beans. Glad to see some other ways to use it!

  • Lorraine French

    Do you know about Cuibritsa? a Bulgarian herb mix used for dipping hot buttered bread??It’s my favorite use of savory.

  • Shirley Roberts

    Summer Savory is almost impossible to find here in Kentucky. No one has ever heard of it. I fell in love with it about 15 years ago and usually have some seedlings come back each year. BUT this year with temps. down to -20 none came back. If I have to go through the winter with no dried Savory my life want be the same. LOL!Would love to have some of your seed!

  • Marny Reimer

    I cannot make Green Bean Soup without summer savory. It is the defining taste. I have never used it elsewhere but my garden is not complete without a few plants of summer savory. Wondering though when is the ideal time to pick it for winter storage. I was told that once it flowers, it is too late as the flowers make the herb bitter when dried. Anyone know this for sure? I have always made sure I picked it before it flowered but this year I was on holidays and when I came back it was in flowers.

  • ruthie

    The herb in the pic with the meatballs is winter savory. Summer savory has rounder, more tender leaves. In fact, it’s almost a twin for windowbox basil, both in appearance and in its almost peppery flavor.

    It’s great in tomato sauces and the leaves are mild enough to go direcly into salads. Basically, use it anywhere you’d use windowbox basil.

    Here, in California, you can usually find the plants fairly easily in places that sell herb plants, even OSH and Home Depot. It’s definitely worth searching out if it’s not available where you live, but beware that many sellers will label winter savory as summer. The truth is in the leaves and the flavor.

  • Frigga Brown

    I planted some summer savory from seeds and I was just researching this site to see how to use it. I am so glad you mentioned Bohnenkraut. I use dried Bohnenkraut all the time in my green beans. I just did not know the translation!

  • Betty Sjoberg

    Savory is wonderful tucked underneath the skin of Thanksgiving turkey! It is very difficult to find in northern Maine. If you’re still mailing out baggies, I would greatly appreciate it!

  • Linda Starke

    I have been looking for Savory foe sometime now and when I ask for it I get very strange looks back. Help???
    I live in Cypress, Texas. Where Can I get seeds and/or a plant?

  • Patti

    I ordered my seeds from I find most of my hard to find seeds there.

  • Hi Ruthie – no, it’s summer savory in bloom. I’ve never grown winter savory…

  • If you are still looking, Betty, look at the Botanical Interests website. They have it in stock…

  • Betty Sjoberg

    Thank you! :-)

  • Rachael McClung

    I live in Amarillo and would be happy to ship you some.

  • dentonite44

    Ebay is MUCH better, You can find reputable vendors that will ship you packs for $1.00!

  • Michael Mackin

    Hello, I’m Mr. Mackin from herbsdemanhattan

  • JudyLHines

    I live in Central Illinois and have a few mounds of summer savory and indeed it is a bit spicy but is a fabulous addition to salads, sprinkled on buttered toast, and fish.

  • Rick

    Hi Everyone! I have some seeds for Summer Savory and live in Southern Ohio. I dry the savory and use it my tomato, cucumber, pepper, black olive salad. I’m wondering if it’s too late in the season to plant it and get decent size plants before the fall frosts?