Learn how to grow, harvest, and preserve winter savory in the garden.
Winter savory is a perennial herb. Its leaves and flowers taste spicy and peppery like its annual relative, summer savory, Satureja hortensis.
Some sources say that summer savory tastes milder, sweeter, or more pleasant in cooked dishes. But winter savory is also recommended in bean dishes, stuffings, etc. It is sometimes used to flavor liqueurs.
Winter savory also has a variety of medicinal uses. It can aid digestion and reduce flatulence. Some studies also suggest that it can be helpful against problems ranging from bad breath to cancer. For details see the Medicinal Uses section of (link to Summer vs. Winter Savory article)
Growing Winter Savory Plants in the Garden
Winter savory grows well in light, sandy soil. It doesn’t need high fertility but does require good drainage. Winter savory will grow best in full sun. Set plants 10-12 inches apart.
Winter savory is a perennial, but not one of the most hardy. Sarah Garland’s Complete Book of Herbs and Spices recommends it for zones 4-9 but says that the plants may need protection in cold weather. Rodale’s says that winter savory is hardy to Zone 6 and that plants tend to die out after 2-3 years.
When and How to Plant Winter Savory
Growing From Seed
If you’re starting winter savory from seed, it’s best to start the plants inside 6-8 weeks before the last spring frost. Do not cover the seeds with soil, as they require light in order to germinate. Rodale’s says they’ll germinate best at 60 to 70 F.
Planting Seedlings in the Garden
Transplant seedlings outside after the last frost is past. Set them into well-drained soil.
If your winter savory has spread, you may also make root divisions in either spring or fall.
Maintaining Your Winter Savory Plant
Like most plants, winter savory benefits from regular watering and does best if it gets an inch of water a week. But overwatering can be a worse problem than under-watering, as it may cause the plant to rot. Rodale’s recommends planting winter savory in well-drained soil and not mulching it.
Winter savory is a light feeder and doesn’t require much fertilization. You might spray it with seaweed extract twice or thrice during the growing season for a micronutrient boost.
The plants can grow woody over time. To prevent this, trim them back before the flowers open, or pinch flowers off during the summer and prune more heavily in the spring and fall. The Herb Society of North America says not to more than one-third of the plant at any time.
On the other hand, Rodale’s recommends pruning off the top half in midsummer or early fall before flowering. Experiment and see what works for you.
Common Problems With Winter Savory
Winter savory is fairly trouble-free. Some sites say that it has no pest or disease problems. Rodale’s warns that overwatered and under-ventilated seedlings may develop the soft stem rot called damping-off. Overwatered older plants in heavy or poorly drained soils may develop the root rot called Rhizoctonia. Keep your plants well-drained and you’ll probably be fine.
Propagation: Starting New Plants
In addition to direct seeding, winter savory can be propagated from cuttings. The Herb Society of America says Southern gardeners should take cuttings in the fall or winter but Northern gardeners may require a different schedule. Rodale’s recommends taking cuttings in summer.
Cut off a 3-5” stem section just above a leaf joint. Trim to just below the lowest leaf joint on the cutting. Strip off leaves from the lowest 1/3 of the stem and bury the stripped section in a moist potting mix. Give the plants light, but don’t place them in the full sun.
Winter savory cuttings will form roots in 4-6 weeks, after which you can transplant them.
You can also divide root clumps of established winter savory plants.
Growing Winter Savory in Pots
Winter savory can also be grown in containers, either indoors or outdoors. Rodale’s says containers should be at least 6 inches deep. The Cornell Cooperative Extension recommends a pot size of at least 8-12 inches.
Companion Planting with Winter Savory
Winter savory’s flowers are highly attractive to bees. They are sometimes used as nectar plants around beehives. You can also use them to attract pollinators to fruits or vegetables that bloom around the same time they do.
Harvesting Winter Savory
For preserving, cut stems just before the plant flowers—leaf flavor is best before flowering. Winter savory will grow better if it is cut back in the fall; you can remove 1/3 or ½ of the plant, depending on which source you believe. For ongoing use, you can pinch off a few fresh tips whenever you need them.
For best flavor, harvest winter savory in the morning, after the dew is off but before the day turns hot.
Storing Fresh Winter Savory
Winter savory will stay fresh in the refrigerator for several days if you set it in a jar of water and cover it with a plastic bag.
Winter savory dries well. You can bundle and hang stems or spread them on a screen. Either way, dry them in an airy place with low humidity and out of direct sunlight. When the leaves are brittle, strip them off and place them in an airtight container. Dried winter savory will store for up to a year.
Savory can also be preserved in vinegar or butter. The Herb Society of America recommends preserving winter savory in white wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar.
- Fill the jar 1/3-1/2 full of winter savory (3/4 full for milder-flavored summer savory), and cover with vinegar.
- Cover the jar—use 2 layers of plastic wrap under metal lids to prevent corrosion.
- Store in a dark place for 10-14 days or until the desired flavor is obtained.
The Colorado Extension urges home cooks to dip herbs in a bleach solution to kill off bacteria, and to heat vinegar near the boiling point before pouring it in. After the vinegar is thoroughly flavored, strain out the herbs and re-pack them in clean bottles. Detailed instructions can be found at Making Flavored Vinegar.
For herb butter, mix ¼ cup of fresh herbs into one stick of softened butter. Add a teaspoon of lemon juice and salt to taste. Cream ingredients together with a fork spread them on plastic wrap, roll this into a log, and freeze it.
Winter savory is a fairly hassle-free perennial that can please your palate, improve your health, and attract pollinators to your garden.