Savory is an herb frequently used as a spice in European and American cooking. It comes in two varieties: summer savory and winter savory. Each variety is available fresh, dried or ground. Savory has a lightly peppery taste with hints of mint and thyme, and a strong, clean aroma which makes it a pleasant addition to many kinds of recipes.
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Most seasonings involving savory use summer savory. Summer savory is a kind of mint that is easy to grow and can reach 18 inches in height. It has purple, white or pink flowers, and it blooms as an annual. As a spice, it has a delicate flavor and is commonly used for lighter dishes involving vegetables, eggs and fish. It is also a popular seasoning for cheese, beans and pea soups. Summer savory goes especially well with tomatoes. In herb mixes, summer savory acts as a unifying flavor, helping to blend all the tastes together evenly. It is most commonly bought ground, but it can also be used fresh as a minty garnish.
Winter savory is a perennial shrub commonly used to line paths in gardens; its woody shoots grow up to 12 inches tall. It has delicately colored flowers like the summer savory's. As a spice, it is not used raw or as a garnish, but rather is cooked into strongly flavored foods. It is used most often as a seasoning for meats and thick stews. Like summer savory, it is most easily available dried and ground; a purchaser should assume that a jar of spices simply labeled "savory" is summer and not winter savory.
Summer savory is often an ingredient in herb mixes, where it is usually dried and not ground. Both summer and winter savory are much stronger in ground form than in fresh or dried form, so cooks use about three times as much dried savory as they would use ground savory to achieve the same flavor. Winter savory has a naturally strong flavor, and it can be overwhelming when used ground, so it is most commonly used dried and whole.
Ground savory of both varieties can be used as a remedy for an upset stomach and gas. It also has a long history of use for female reproductive wellness and easy pregnancy. Savory is also supposed to have aphrodisiac properties. Whole, fresh summer savory can be crushed and applied to bee and wasp stings to relieve pain. Summer and winter savory were both once used to relieve congestion and asthma symptoms.