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Spice up Your Holiday with Winter Savory

The Holidays are coming up fast and this means lots of baking and cooking for family. Sometimes it’s nice to shake it up bit - but not too much because we don’t have time for mishaps. Let me introduce you to winter savory (Satureja montana) a little-known herb that I’m sure you and your family will come to love.

There are two types of savory: summer and winter and they taste very much alike. The main difference is that summer savory is a warm season annual and winter savory is a perennial herb that once planted in your garden will thrive for years. The leaves of winter savory are held on fragrant woody stems and are small, narrow and bright green. Small white flowers appear in mid-summer that attract bees and other pollinators. Growing 6-8” tall and 12” wide, the plant creeps along the ground and forms thick mats. It must have full sun and sharp drainage; I grow mine right up against the road where the sun beats down on it and the soil is gravelly. While it is evergreen and one of the few herbs we can harvest almost year round, it benefits from a hard pruning in late winter to remove old twiggy stems and to keep the herb looking fresh. The plant will look its best if you harvest it in early summer and again in early fall to keep the stems from becoming woody. The leaves retain their flavor when dried, so it stores well for future use.

Winter savory has a rich, complex flavor: spicy, peppery, with a hint of mint and pine. The best way I can describe it is somewhere between oregano and thyme. It can enliven the taste of foods without the addition of salt and pepper and is often used in salt-less blends.

Winter savory has been termed “the bean herb”, because it enhances the flavor of any type of bean. While it is known for its affinity for beans, there are few dishes that a little winter savory won’t make better. It has a reputation as a good mixing herb, bringing out the flavor of basil, rosemary, sweet marjoram and thyme.

If you want to experiment with savory, try adding a little to your dressing along with the sage, thyme and onions. Or when making breakfast sausage, add winter savory along with cayenne pepper, fennel and thyme. Cooking winter savory lessens the pungency of the flavor.

Steeped in hot water, fresh leaves make a soothing tea that can help ease the pain of a sore throat. Leaves and stems are high in vitamins and minerals, including Vitamins A, B-complex, C and calcium, iron, manganese, potassium, selenium and zinc. The leaves contain the essential oils carvacrol and thymol which have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Winter savory is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) but should not be consumed in large quantities. It has been found to affect blood clotting so limit the amount of winter savory you consume if you take blood thinning medications or if you are pregnant.

Winter savory can be grown from seed, but the seeds are difficult to sow because they are so small, and germination can be slow and erratic. It is best propagated by stem cuttings in early spring. Simply cut 4-6” long stems, remove the bottom leaves and insert into moist potting mix. Within a few weeks you will have little plants to share with your friends.

‘Satureja’ is derived from the Latin “satyr” which was a mythological being, half-goat and half-man, who reveled in all savory delights. According to folklore, the satyrs lived in meadows of savory, implying that it was the herb that made them passionate (although some sources claim it reduces sex drive). Noted French herbalist Messeque claimed savory was an essential ingredient in love potions and his father claimed it was the “herb of happiness”.

I hope you’ll give Winter Savory a try. Even if you decide you don’t care for the flavor of winter savory, it’s a must for the garden because its aromatic scent repels harmful insects and pests while attracting bees and other pollinators.

Wishing you and your family a happy Holiday!

Savory Dressing

1 Onion, chopped

2 tablespoons Butter

2 tablespoons Hazelnuts, chopped

1 stick Celery, chopped

1 small Apple, peeled, cored and chopped

1/2 cup Cranberries

1/2 tablespoon chopped Winter Savory leaves

1/2 tablespoon chopped Parsley leaves

1/2 cup fresh Breadcrumbs

1 cup Chicken Broth

Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat the butter in a large skillet, add the chopped onion and cook gently until just translucent.

Add the chopped hazelnuts and cook briefly to toast them. Add the celery, apple and cranberries, followed by the herbs and breadcrumbs. Add chicken broth and stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 30 minutes until light brown and set.

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