Chervil & Savory

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a wonderful herb, but unless you grow it yourself, you’re unlikely to every taste it.  It’s too delicate to be found in the grocery store in the little plastic boxes or in bunches.  I’ve not see it at the farmers’ market as a cut herb either.

As the plant is delicate, the flavor is too:  hints of anise/tarragon and parsley but subtle–which is not something you’d say about French tarragon.

Chervil seed is easy to germinate but the plant is difficult to transplant as it has a taproot. It likes rich, moist soil that is well drained, and would like to be in partial shade. You can sow outside several weeks before the last frost.  It is another herb that like cooler weather, but it may be prolonged by providing some shade, e.g. planting it under other plants. Like cilantro, it is a fast-growing annual that will flower quickly.  If you cut off the flowers you can prolong the foliage to some extent, but the old leaves will change color (from the lovely greet to yellow and purple) and become tough and lose flavor.  If it becomes one of your must-have herbs, you can sow successively (as with cilantro) throughout the growing season.

To harvest, cut sprigs about two inches above the ground, taking the older leaves from the outside of the plant, but be sure to leave the new center leaves as this is where the new growth is occurring.  As with most other herbs, you should not harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time since it needs the leaves for photosynthesis.

In cooking, use it where you want delicate flavors e.g. with mild fish or seafood.  It would do well with young poultry that has more delicate flavor than the older bird.  Chervil would be good with young vegetables–e.g. baby carrots, or fresh baby peas.   The leaves are mild enough to add to salads, and to use as a garnish in place of parsley.  It could be used with many of the same foods as tarragon, only where you’d like a more delicate touch–e.g. with eggs. It’s so mild that you will want to use lots of it–quite in contrast to tarragon.

I am not a fan of dried chervil–it seems to lose a lot of flavor and come across somewhat hay-like, even when I’m sure I’ve obtained it from a supplier with good turnover of their dried herbs.  So for me, it’s one of the signs of spring, right along with the new peas.


Image from Mountain Valley Growers

Winter savory (Satureja montana)

Savory is not going to be found in the grocery store shelves either.  Two savories, summer (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (Satureja montana) have very distinctly different growth and appearance.

Summer savory is an annual about 12 to 18 inches tall that tends to be rather sparse, lanky looking with grayish green leaves that will last only until frost.  Winter savory is a perennial, evergreen or semi-evergreen, shrub with a bushy habit, usually not taller than about 12 inches.  It’s leaves are glossy, dark green and closely spaced.

While both have are spicy, rather than sweet flavor (like tarragon or chervil), the winter savory is spicier and hotter than the summer, but they can generally be used interchangeably, though the milder summer savory is best with fresh summer veggies.  I think that the savories are most commonly associated with northern European cooking than with American cooking.

Both winter and summer savory are sometimes known as the “bean herb” as they are particularly used with dishes made with dried beans;  the somewhat milder summer savory is great with fresh beans as well (fava, lima, or green beans).  Other uses include with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and with summer squash, and roasted potatoes.  It’s potent enough to use in marinades for beef, lamb, as well as chicken and pork.

The summer savory is easily started from seed.  Summer savory is not fond of being transplanted (if starting indoors use peat pots so that you do not have to disturb its roots).  It does will is average soil that is well drained, but well watered.   It will want plenty of sun and does need to be well fertilized.  Blooms will appear between the leaves on the upper portion of the plant.  At that point you should cut the plant back by about one-third in order to prolong its culinary use by encouraging more foliage.

Winter savory can tolerate poorer soil than the summer, but it also must be well drained. It also wants plenty of sun.  It is hardy to about zone 5,  if the roots are not wet during the cold weather.  Wet roots in the winter may well mean no savory in the spring–really true of most perennial herbs!    After or as it blooms (I prefer not to let my herbs bloom), it should also be cut back to encourage it to be bushy and increase foliage, which is what you want for cooking.

Both are harvested by cutting springs from the plant–remember not to cut more than one-third of the plant at a time so that it can keep growing and producing.  If you need to store savory,  wrap in a slightly damp paper towel and place in a zipper-lock back.  Summer savory should hold for about a week, and winter for about two weeks.