Sunday, 21 October 2007

Autumn days

The most exciting event of the past week has been, I think, planting out - rather belatedly - the winter savory plants I grew from seed. I planted some in the herb bed the sons and I made at the start of the summer, and some in one of several containers of herbs that stood in for the herb bed before it was made. This particular container is just outside the French windows - I chose it because my husband says that winter savory is his favourite herb; he likes to put a sprig in with corn cobs before baking them in the oven. It was also an ingredient of a breadcrumb dressing for meat and fish which sounds good - I must get OH to try it (perhaps I should explain here that I Don't Cook. Well, not unless I have to. I like making Indian food, and pasta sauces, and I sometimes make a Christmas cake, and my cheese souffle is pretty good, but for months at a time the most demanding thing I do is make toast. Happily my three menfolk are pretty good at it. Other women have, from time to time, been known to make envious noises.)

Savory has been used in Germany as a substitute for black pepper, particularly during and after World War II - since it is apparently not very effective for this purpose I assume it was because of its availability. It does, however, have a slightly peppery quality to its smell, which is usually compared to thyme. In European cooking it is mainly used to flavour vegetables, especially beans, and is often a constituent of herbes de Provence.

Winter savory (satureja montana) has been used as a cure for baldness, it's soothing to the stomach and can be rubbed on to bee and wasp stings to provide relief. It has also been used to treat cystitis, though it shouldn't be taken by pregnant women. As an antiseptic herb it was burnt to provide an aromatic disinfectant, and is used in toothpaste. Its astringent qualities make it a good specific for diarrhoea. Unlike its close relative summer savory, which is reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities, winter savory is said to reduce libido. It has been suggested that the Latin name for savory, satureja, refers to this reputation - according to Pliny, the satyrs lived in a meadow of savory, which influenced their behaviour. However, more recent thinking seems to suggest that the name derives from its aromatic nature.

Like other members of the mint family it is a good bee plant and can be used in companion planting to discourage black fly on the broad beans. If sown near other seeds, winter savory may prevent them from germinating. It is supposed to have been introduced to Britain by the Romans and in Tudor knot gardens was used as an edging plant.

Winter savory has small white flowers. A shrubby plant, which
grows best in poor, stony soil, it doesn't last long, and needs replacing every few years, either by resowing or by taking woody cuttings (I prefer to resow, since it germinates easily and you get more compact plants). Its close relation, summer savory, is perhaps more popular as both a culinary and medecinal herb, but has the disadvantage of being annual.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, seems cool.


Ann Darnton said...

Like you, I Don't Cook (definitely a capital letter issue) but I do enjoy growing herbs and when I had the garden landscaped (i.e. de-lawned) in the early part of the year, I had them create me a plot of land close to the kitchen where I could establish a herb bed. They have loved the wet summer and have really flourished. I do put chopped herbs in with salads but my real pleasure is just running my hands through them to enjoy the scent. Savory is one I haven't tried. Is it too late to look for plants to pot out for the winter?

GeraniumCat said...

Hi Joe, and welcome - yes, a very cool herb.

Like you, Ann, I love my herb bed and like to go and sit beside it and contemplate. I'm sure a good garden centre would have plants and they'd be fine to plant provided that they've been growing outside.