1 May 2015

Celebrate HerbDay with Herb of the Year™: Savory Monograph

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To draw attention to HerbDay 2015, we are celebrating with the reveal of our Savory monograph from The Herbarium, which just so happens to be this year’s International Herb Association’s Herb of the Year™. HerbDay is an international celebration of herbs and herbal products, conceived of by five nonprofit organizations: American Botanical Council, American Herbal Pharmacopoeia, American Herbal Products Association, American Herbalists Guild, and United Plant Savers. The goals of HerbDay will be met when key industry members and the herbal community join together to present a nationwide message that is cohesive, honest, and positive about herbs and herbalism.

The following Plant Monograph is excerpted from our herbalist membership website, The Herbarium. The Herbarium plant database includes some of the most beautiful and complete monographs to date, pulling together traditional herbal wisdom, hands-on experience, and modern scientific research to present a multifaceted description of each herb. See below for an excerpt from The Herbarium’s Savory monograph.


Satureja hortensis

Common Name:

Savory, summer savory (Satureja hortensis), winter savory (Satureja montana), bean herb, white thyme, garden savory

Family: Lamiaceae or Labiatae

Parts Used: Leaves, flowers, essential oil

Native To: Southern Europe and Mediterranean region

Geographic Distribution: Cultivated worldwide

Savory Monograph from The Herbarium

Botanical Description:

Summer savory is a low growing annual plant that can sometimes grow up to 18 inches tall. Generally, it has a purple hairy stem with narrow leaves. Summer savory flowers are small white to pink blossoms, and flowers from midsummer to the first fall frost when they should be cut and dried for winter use. Summer savory prefers moist soil and grows well in containers and from seed (Castleman, 1991). The summer, garden savory is more commonly grown and used (Grieve, 1971). Winter savory is a smaller, woody bush that grows 12 inches tall. It has similar leaves to summer savory but they appear darker. Winter savory flowers are white to lavender colored and bloom mid to late summer. It prefers dryer soil and may not overwinter in New England. When growing from seed, it may be slow to germinate. The leaves can be cut and used fresh when they reach 6 inches tall (Castleman, 1991). It is recommended to grow savory near bee hives, as the flowers attract bees and repel undesirable insects (Grieve, 1971).

Key Constituents:

Essential oil makes up between 0.2% and 3% of summer savory. It contains 30% carvacrol, 20% cymol (Tierra, 1988) pcymene 20-30%, 0.2-1.3% rosmarinic acid, alpha-thujene, alpha-pinene, beta-myrcene, alpha- and beta-terpinene, beta-caryophyllene, thymol (Gruenwald, 2007). The rosmarinic acid makes up 2137 +/- 233 mg/100g of plant extract and is a powerful polyphenol antioxidant (Exarchou, 2002). Winter savory essential oil has an orange to yellow color (Felter, 1898) and could adulterate summer savory essential oil.

Harvesting Guidelines:

Begin harvesting leaves when plants reach 6 inches tall through the end of the season. When they flower, plants can be trimmed to base and dried for winter use.

Savory Uses

In ancient Rome, summer savory was linked to mythological satyrs, the lustful half-man, half-goat creatures who worshiped the God of Wine, Dionysus. This association led Romans to believe that summer savory was an aphrodisiac and the winter savory was a sexual depressant. This may be why summer savory is more popular today (Castleman, 1991). It was brought to Europe and became popular in Germany where the Saxons said it made all food taste savory, hence the name (Madaus, 1938, Castleman, 1991). It continued to be grown into the 9th century in European monastic gardens for its aphrodisiac properties (Madaus, 1938).

In 1672, John Josselyn, in his book New-England’s Rarities Discovered, observed that early American settlers brought savory with them to remind them of the gardens they left behind (Grieve, 1971; Bremness, 1988). By the 18th century, it had lost is associated as an aphrodisiac where, in Germany, it began being used for more respiratory and digestive conditions. It was also used as a uterine cleansing herb and for limb paralysis through the 18th century (Madaus, 1938).

Savory Monograph from The Herbarium, herbalist membership program

Savory has aromatic and carminative properties but today is mostly used as a culinary herb. It is added to foods for its aromatic and warming qualities, as it also is to medicine formulas. Savory’s taste is often compared to thyme, oregano, and marjoram, and the medieval herbalist Hildegard von Bingen used savory as one of her main culinary herbs in salad dressings and other food preparations (Strehlow, 1988). It can be used in sausages, stuffing, soups, bean and cabbage dishes (Castleman, 1991), and with marjoram and thyme for turkey, veal, or fish (Grieve, 1971). For individuals on a salt free diet, savory is a good seasoning because of its spicy flavor. It has been used as a garnish replacing parsley and chervil (Grieve, 1971). Savory can also be added before roasting into fresh corn husks or sprinkled on sliced or broiled tomatoes (Rogers, 2014).

Savory makes a great infused oil and vinegar (Bremness, 1988). At one time, vinegar flavored with savory was used like mint sauce is now (Grieve, 1971) and is also delicious with wine vinegar for salad dressings. Savory also makes a good jelly (Bremness, 1988), syrup, and honey infusion. One can also create a smoke seasoning by throwing it on some on coals before grilling (Rogers, 2014); when allowed to smoke on a fire, it creates an aromatic disinfectant (Bremness, 1988). Some say summer savory is sweeter than winter savory but they can be used interchangeably in cooking (Castleman, 1991).

The most common topical use of savory is on wasp and bee stings where it gives instant relief from pain (Gremness, 1988; Grieve, 1971). It can be made into a poultice for sciatica and “palsied members” or paralyzed limbs (Castleman, 1991). For facial steams and baths, it is astringent and antiseptic, particularly good for oily skin (Bremness, 1988). Savory has also been used topically in the areas of romance. It was used by Egyptians and the French in love potions and in England as a massage lotion for “unromantic women.” Italian mothers would feed their soon to be wed daughters savory for a month before their wedding so that they would not be returned after their wedding night (Rogers, 2014).

Internally, savory is an ideal remedy for children. It is less powerful than other mints, making it a gentle but effective remedy for coughs and to soothe the stomach of little ones. It may also be effective for diarrhea due to the cineole compounds, which sooth the digestive tract (Castleman, 1991). Savory is also especially good at hiding bad tasting herbs in formulas (Rogers, 2014) that children may otherwise refuse.

Savory Monograph from The Herbarium, herbalist membership program

For complaints of the digestive system, savory has a calming action on over-activity. As a digestive tonic, savory can reduce both vomiting and diarrhea, settle indigestion (Madaus, 1938; Bremness, 1988), and stimulate appetite (Bremness, 1988; Rogers, 2014). Savory is also an anthelmintic, supporting the removal of worms from the digestive system (Madaus, 1938). When diabetes presents with a strong thirst, savory may be particularly helpful (Madaus, 1938). It can also be used for excessive flatulence (Grieve, 1971) due to its tannic, astringent effect, helpful for various acute gastroenteritis-associated problems (Gruenwald, 2007).

Tincture of savory can be used as a carminative, and also applied to the teeth for toothaches (Felter, 1898). Eclectics liked savory essential oil and used it like clove oil for toothaches (Castleman, 1991), applying a drop or two to a cotton ball and placing that in the mouth near the painful tooth.

Due to the varied effects on the gastrointestinal system, savory has been evaluated for its ability to control blood lipid and glucose levels. Savory was found to inhibit peroxidation of lipids with its antioxidant actions. There was not a direct effect found on blood glucose levels, however. Rather, it was found that savory delays gastric emptying time resulting in prolonged digestion and extended feeling of food satisfaction. This perhaps may support food control for those with overeating challenges (Babajafari et al., 2015).

Up through the 17th century, savory had a strong history as an aphrodisiac, particularly for women. It then lost its relationship with lust and the summer and winter savories became interchangeable. There is no research at this time regarding savory as a sexual stimulant, particularly for women (Castleman, 1991). It was, however, considered to be an emmenagogue and menstrual suppressant by Felter (1898) and a uterine cleansing agent by Madaus (1938) who also recommended that pregnant women avoid savory ingestion because of its tonic effects on the uterus. Tierra (1988) now recommends savory to bring on menses and relieve the associated discomfort. Cook (1869) also used savory for painful obstructive menstruation, adding some debate on the validity Felter’s use as a menstruation suppressant.

Due to its historical use as a sexual depressant, some scientists began evaluating it as a potential treatment for premature ejaculation. Zavatti et al. (2011) found that it was effective against premature ejaculation in mice and did not result in any overall sedative effects on normal sexual function other than delaying ejaculation. Abd El Tavab et al. (2014) continued the research and found that winter savory has the ability to raise serum levels of testosterone, supporting evidence from previous studies on its effect on the male reproductive system. The authors also proposed that savory reduced testicular DNA damage from oxidative compounds, thereby improving the viability of sperm as well as delaying ejaculation.

A 2008 study looked into the effect of summer savory on the cardiovascular system. The authors found that savory reduced platelet adhesion by 48% at a concentration of 200ug/ml in methanol extract. The researchers believe that these observations “provide the basis for the traditional use of these herbs in treatments of cardiovascular diseases and thrombosis” (Yazdanparast and Shahriyari, 2008).

Culpepper also spoke of savory, saying “the juice dropped into the eyes removes dimness of sight if it proceed from thin humors distilled from the brain. The juice heated with oil of roses and dropped in the ears removes noise and singing and deafness.” He continues to recommend that summer savory is better for these uses (Grieve, 1971). It can also be eaten to help clear the eyes (Hozeski, 2001) particularly to sharpen the eyesight and relieve strain due to tiredness or poor lighting (Rogers, 2014). 18th century German Herbalist, Weinmann also used savory directly in the ear for earaches (Madaus, 1938).

Similar to oregano and thyme, savory can be used in baths and inhalations to clear the lungs and nasal passages of mucus. Like other mints, it also promotes perspiration to help cold and flu symptoms (Scudder, 1898; Madaus, 1938; Tierra, 1988). Scudder (1898) also recommended it specifically for the early stages of fevers and inflammatory diseases, similar to sage, when there is mucus trapped in the lungs. Cook used it as a stimulant for perspiration as well as for measles. All of these recorded uses suggest it may have been a general herb for colds and flus, although both Cook and Scudder have noted it wasn’t commonly used as medicine. Felter (1898) even used it as a stimulating tonic during the end stages of colds and flus to stimulate the energy returning to the body. In a wine tonic, savory could reduce fevers (Bremness, 1988) most likely through its perspiration induction.

Savory is both warm and moist, making it equally beneficial for both the sick and healthy to eat. It is said to strengthen individuals who are sick and weak in their hearts (Hozeski, 2001). Its warming nature also makes it a good expectorant and ideal for calming colic babies (Grieve, 1971). In Elizabethan times, savory poultice was applied to the chest for colds and other chest constrictive problems like asthma and mucous congestion (Rogers, 2014).

Savory Herb Monograph

Topical application of savory was traditionally used in Turkey for infectious diseases and general inflammatory conditions involving the sinuses (Uslu et al., 2003). Uslu et al. found that a water extract of summer savory was effective at relieving rhinosinitus symptoms. This may be an ideal herb to use in a neti pot for nasal congestion.

The antimicrobial actions of savory are primarily attributed to the essential oils. In tests of hydrosols, savory had the highest antifungal effect tested, reaching 100% eradication on all but two samples (Boyraz & Ozcan, 2005). Savory essential oil is even effective at reducing oral bacterial growth. It is not effective at breaking biofilm, however (Gursoy et al., 2009). Essential oil, directly applied, in dilution, to stomach ileum tissue relaxed smooth muscles and showed antibacterial activity against common gastroenteritis and infectious diarrhea pathogens (Hajhashemi et al., 2000).

Gruenwald et al. (2007) observed savory’s antiseptic activity due to cymol and carvacrol in the essential oil and noted that an aqueous extract was also antiviral. Rosmarinic acid is by far the most studied component of the essential oil due to its high antioxidant capacity. It is the major component of an ethanoic extract of summer savory and specifically relieves oxidative stress from hydrogen peroxide through reducing signaling molecules such as IL-2 and IL-10 that stimulate an inflammatory response (Chkijikvishvili et al., 2013).

The essential oil is now being studied for use as a bio-fungicide for crop production systems to protect organically grown crops from spoiling (Boyraz and Ozcan, 2005). To expand the use of savory essential oil to this field, its extraction technique has been studied. Microwave assisted hydrodistillation was found to extract essential oil faster than traditional hydrodistillation with the same antibacterial effects on food pathogens (Rezvanpanah et al., 2011). This proposed use will require more testing because on a panel of bacterial and fungal tests, savory was found to be effective for a wide variety of microorganisms that affect humans but much less on plant pathogenic microorganisms (Sahin et al., 2003).

Madaus (1938) also suggested that savory could be used for gallbladder and heart problems but no other references suggesting this use have been found. Some references to savory being used for limb paralysis have been made by both Mattiolus and Culpepper (Madaus, 1938; Grieve 1971).

Savory Plant Monograph from The Herbarium

Where to Buy: Savory at Mountain Rose Herbs

Full Plant Monograph available in The Herbarium website.


Abd El Tawab, A. M., Shahin, N. N., and AbdelMohsen, M. M. (2014). Protective effect of Satureja monatana extract on cyclophosphamide-induced testicular injury in rats. Chemico-Biological Interactions, 224, 196-205. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2014.11.001

Babajafari, S., Nikaein, F., Mazloomi, S. M., Zibaeenejad, M. J., and Zargaran, A. (2015). A review of the benefits of Satureja species on metabolic syndrome and their possible mechanisms of action. Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative medicine. doi: 10.1177/2156587214564188I88

Boyraz, N. and Ozcan, M. (2005). Antifungal effect of some spice hydrosols. Fitoterapia. doi: 10.1016/j.fitote.2005.08.016

Bremness, L. (1988). The Complete Book of Herbs: A practical guide to growing & using herbs. New York, NY: Viking Studio Books.

Castleman, M. (1991). The Healing Herbs: The ultimate guide to the curative power of nature’s medicines. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Chkjikvishvili, I., Sanikidze, T., Gogia, N., Mchedlishvili, T., Enukidze, M., Machavariani, M., Vinokur, Y., and Rodov, V. (2013). Rosmarinic acid-rich extracts of summer savory (Satureja hortensis L.) protect jurkat T cells against oxidative stress. Hindawi Publishing Corporation. doi: 10.1155/2013/456253

Cook, W. (1869). The Physiomedical Dispensatory. Retrieved on 5/15/15 from http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/cook/SATUREJA_HORTENSIS.htm.

Exarchou, V., Nenadis, N., Tisimidou, M., Gerothanassis, I. P., Troganis, A., and Boskou, D. (2002). Antioxidant activities and phenolic composition of extracts from Greek oregano, Greek sage, and summer savory. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 50, 5294-5299.

Felter, H. W., Lloyd, J. U. (1898). King’s American Dispensatory. Retrieved on 4/15/15 from http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/kings/satureja.html.

Greive, M. (1971). A Modern Herbal. Vol 2. New York, NY: Dover Publications, Inc.

Gruenwald, J. ed., Brendler, T. ed., Jaenicke, C. ed. (2007). Physician’s Desk Reference for Herbal Medicines 4th Ed. Montvale, NJ: Thomson Healthcare Inc. p 825.

Gursoy, U. K., Gursoy, M., Gursoy, O. V., Cakmakci, L., Kononen, E., and Uitto. V-J. (2009). Anti-biofilm properties of Satureja hortensis L. essential oil against periodontal pathogens. Anaerobe, 15, 164-167.

Hajhashemi, V., Ghannadi, A., Pezeshkian, S. K. (2002). Antinociceptive and anti-inflammatory effects of Satureja hortensis L. extracts and essential oil. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 82, 83-87.

Hajhashemi, V., Sadraei, H., Gannadi, A. R., and Mohseni, M. (2000). Antispasmodic and anti-diarrhoeal effect of Satureja hortensis L. essential oil. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 71, 187-192.

Hozeski, B. trans. (2001). Hildegard’s Healing Plants: from her medieval classic physica. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Madaus, G. (1938). Textbook of Biological Remedies. Retrieved on 4/15/15 from http://www.henriettes-herb.com/eclectic/madaus/satureja.html. Translated by Google Translate

Rezvanpanah, S., Rezaei, K., Golmakani, M-T., and Razavi, S. H. (2011). Antibacterial properties and chemical characterization of the essential oils from summer savory extracted by microwave-assisted hyrdrodistillation. Brazilian Journal of Microbiology, 42, 1453-1462.

Rogers, M. ed. (2014). Herbalpedia: Savory-Herb of the year 2015. Retrieved on 4/15/15 from http://www.herbalpedia.com/blog/?p=149.

Sahin, F., Karaman, I., Gulluce, M., Ogutcu, H., Sengul, M., Adiguzel, A., Ozturk, S., and Kotan, R. (2003). Evaluation of antimicrobial activities of Satureja hortensis L. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 87, 61-65.

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Silva, F. V., Martins, A., Salta, J., Neng, N. R., Nogueira, J. M. F., Mira, D., Gaspar, N., Justino, J., Grosso, C., Urieta, J. S., Palavra, A. M. S., and Rauter, A. P. (2009). Phytochemical profile and anticholinesterase and antimicrobial activities of supercritical versus conventional extracts of Satureja montana. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 57, 11557-11563. doi: 10.1021/jf901786p

Strehlow, W., Hertzka, G. (1988). Hildegard of Bingen’s medicine. Santa Fe, NM: Bear & Company, Inc.

Tierra, M. (1988). Planetary herbology. Twin Lakes, WI: Lotus Press.

Uslu, C., Karasen, R. M., Sahin, F., Taysi, S., and Akcay, F., (2003). Effects of aqueous extracts of Satureja hortensis L. on rhinosinusitis treatment in rabbit. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 88, 225-228.

Yazdanparast, R. and Shahriyary, L. (2008). Comparative effects of Artemisia dracunulus, Satureja hortensis and Origanum majorana on inhibition of blood platelet adhesion, aggregation and secretion. Vascular Pharmacology, 48, 32-37.

Zavatti, M., Zanoli, P., Benellia, A., Ravasi, M., Baraldi, C., and Baraldi, M. (2011). Experimental study on Satureja montana as a treatment for premature ejaculation. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 133, 629-633.