Satureja thymbra

Satureja thymbra, commonly known as savory of Crete, whorled savory, pink savory, and Roman hyssop (Arabic: za'atar rumi; za'atar franji),[1] is a perennial-green plant of the family Lamiaceae, having strongly scented leaves, endemic to Libya, southeastern Europe from Sardinia to Turkey; Cyprus, Lebanon and Israel (Palestine). The dwarf shrub is noted for its dark-green leaves, and grows to a height of 20–50 cm., bearing pink to purple flowers which blossom between late March and late May to early June.

Satureja thymbra
Satureja thymbra in bloom.jpg
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Asterids
Order: Lamiales
Family: Lamiaceae
Genus: Satureja
S. thymbra
Binomial name
Satureja thymbra
  • Clinopodium thymbra (L.) (Kuntze)
  • Micromeria thymbra (L.) (Kostel.)
  • Satureja biroi (Jáv.)
  • Satureja collina (Salisb.)
  • Satureja hispida (Ehrh.)
  • Satureja thymbra var. calvescens (Pamp.)
  • Satureja tragoriganum (L.) (Tausch)
  • Thymbra hirsuta (Pers.)
  • Thymbra hirsutissima (Vent. ex Pers.)
  • Thymus hirsutissimus (Poir.)
  • Thymus tragoriganum L.


The semi-shrub grows mainly in Mediterranean woodlands and scrubland, adapting well to higher elevations, but also seen on rocky limestone gullies as an undergrowth, and alongside dirt roads. In Israel, the plant is commonly found in the Mount Carmel region, south of Haifa, as well as in the mountainous district of Upper Galilee, in Samaria and in the Judean mountains, thriving in areas where the soils are mainly terra rossa and hard limestone, but also in chalk.[2] The plant is rarely found along the coastal plains, or in the Jordan valley.


The leaves of the aromatic plant Satureja thymbra have numerous glandular trichomes of two morphologically distinct types: glandular hairs and glandular scales.[3] The leaves are opposite, entire and smooth. The flowers grow in whorls, and range from pink to purple. Its fruit pods are schizocarps. Satureja thymbra has a fuscous-brown bark, with many erect young shoots, somewhat tetragonal, gland-dotted and pubescent with short downy white hairs.

Its leaves are sessile, generally extending in condensed clusters of inflorescence, consisting of a pair of sessile cymes arranged around an axis and equally spaced, with numerous lanceolate bracts measuring about 5 mm long and 2 mm wide.[4]

Chemical compositionEdit

An analysis of the plant's chemical composition reveals that the Satureja thymbra, of the kind grown in Israel, contains a very high content of the chemicals γ-terpinene (15.9 %), and p-cymene (12.4 %), with the highest concentration being that of carvacrol (55.2 %).[5] Other independent studies revealed the main compounds of the essential oil ranging at varying levels; carvacrol (34.6%), γ-terpinene (22.9%), p-cymene (13.0%) and thymol (12.8%).[6] Air dried aerial parts from S. thymbra collected in Lebanon and which were submitted to steam distillation using a Clevenger-type apparatus to produce the essential oil were also tested. The extracted oil was dried using anhydrous magnesium sulfate and stored at 4°C. Analysis revealed that the Lebanese Satureja thymbra oil is characterized by high amounts of γ-terpinene (34.08%), carvacrol (23.07%) and thymol (18.82%).

The pesticidal property of the plant's volatile essential oil and other constituents was tested against an adult tick (Hyalomma marginatum), the result being that high concentrations of this oil resulted in the mortality of the tick.[7]

Culinary usesEdit

The crushed leaves of this plant have more of a pungent taste and smell than the true hyssop (eizov), for which reason it is not commonly used today as a spice, except in Lebanon, where it is still used as a herbal tea in Lebanese traditional medicine. In ancient times, whorled savory (Satureja thymbra) was used as a spice in Anatolia and Greece. In Mishnaic times, the whorled savory was called sī'ah in Hebrew,[8] and is often mentioned in rabbinic literature along with eizov (marjoram) and qurnit (white-leaved savory), three herbal plants that grew naturally in the wild.[9] In ancient times in Palestine, water in which whorled savory has been steeped was used to flavor meats that had been skewered and placed over hot coals for roasting.[10] Dioscorides, in the Third Book of his De Materia Medica (3:44–45), alludes to the plant, bringing down its medicinal uses in his day.[11] In religious usage, although it is related to the biblical hyssop, it was considered a different species, thus invalid to be brought in the purification ritual where true hyssop (eizov) was used in the preparation of the sprinkling water to purify those defiled by corpse uncleanness.

Its medicinal use, when concocted into a tea, is said to aid against digestive problems, diarrhea, colic pains, flatulence, intestinal cramps and anorexia. In Israel, the plant Satureja thymbra has protected status, making it a criminal offence to harvest it.[2]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit


  1. ^ Meaning, "Roman hyssop" and "European hyssop," respectively.
  2. ^ a b Avi Shmida, MAPA's Dictionary of Plants and Flowers in Israel, Tel Aviv 2005, p. 349 (s.v. Satureja thymbra) (Hebrew) OCLC 716569354
  3. ^ A.M. Bosabalidis, "Glandular Trichomes in Satureja thymbra Leaves", in: Annals of Botany, vol. 65, issue no. 1, 1 January 1990, pp. 71–78
  4. ^ Mouterde, Paul (1983). Nouvelle flore du Liban et de la Syrie (in French). 1–3. Beirut. OCLC 742432106.
  5. ^ Fleisher, Alexander; Fleisher, Zhenia (1988). "Identification of Biblical Hyssop and Origin of the Traditional Use of Oregano-Group Herbs in the Mediterranean Region". Economic Botany. Springer on behalf of New York Botanical Garden Press. 42 (2): 235. doi:10.1007/BF02858924. JSTOR 4255069.
  6. ^ Anticholinesterase and antioxidant activities of Savoury (Satureja thymbra L.) with identified major terpenes of the essential oil
  7. ^ Acaricidal activity of Satureja thymbra L. essential oil and its major components, carvacrol and γ-terpinene against adult Hyalomma marginatum (Acari: Ixodidae)
  8. ^ Sī'ah (Heb. סיאה) is explained in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 128a) as having the connotation of the Aramaic word צתרי. This word, in turn, is explained by Payne Smith, J. (1903) in her Thesaurus Syriacus (p. 485, s.v. ܨܬܪܐ) as having the meaning of satureia thymbra, a view shared by Marcus Jastrow (Dictionary of the Targumim, s.v. צתרי), who, citing Immanuel Löw and William Smith, writes that the word has the meaning of Satureia (=savory).
  9. ^ Cf. Mishnah (Shevi'it 8:1; Ma'aserot 3:9; Uktzin 2:2), Tosefta (Kila'im 3:13; Shabbat 14:12; Shevi'it 5:14), Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 128a; Niddah 51a), Jerusalem Talmud (Shevi'it 7:2 [37b])
  10. ^ Solomon Sirilio, Commentary on Jerusalem Talmud (Terumot 10:2 [52a]), s.v. מי צתרי. The discussion in the Jerusalem Talmud revolves around Terumah (heave-offering) which can only be eaten by Jewish priests in a state of ritual cleanness. In this case, whorly savory which was cultivated in one's garden and had been picked, its owner separated therefrom the designated tithes (heave-offering) meant for the priests, and when he had given the portion designated to the priests, the priest took water in which the same whorly savory had been steeped and sprinkled it over skewers of meat laid over hot coals in order to impart the plant's aroma and flavour to the meat. The question asked was whether a regular skewer of meat which lay alongside of it was permitted to be eaten by an outsider who was not of the priestly clan, although it too had absorbed the aroma of the other skewer belonging to the priest (P'nei Moshe Commentary and Sirilio's Commentary)
  11. ^ Ibn al-Baitar (1989). Ibrahim Ben Mrad (ed.). Tafsīr Kitāb Diāsqūrīdūs (in Arabic). Beirut: Dar Algharb Al'Islami. pp. 224–225. OCLC 957197903., where Ibn al-Baitar explains Dioscorides' entry of Thymbra as having the meaning of Satureia (=savory).