Salad Burnet Plant: How To Grow Salad Burnet
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By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist
Salad burnet plant is a Mediterranean native with hardy tolerance. It is a perennial herb, which is naturalized in Europe and North America. Salad burnet herb is a member of the rose family and is used as an erosion control, salad green, and used for flavoring in vinegars and sauces. There are also old cosmetic and medicinal applications for the plant. Salad burnet is easy to grow and makes a useful addition to the herb garden or perennial bed.
Salad Burnet Herb
The salad burnet herb (Sanguisorba minor) is a low, 6 to 18 inch (15-46 cm.) leafy plant that begins as a rosette. It has pinnate basal leaves with four to twelve pairs of leaflets. The leaflets are oval and lightly serrated at the edges. The leaves taste like cucumber and add a fresh taste to salads.
The herb is savory when mixed into an herb butter, mixed into spreading cheese, chopped and sprinkled over vegetables, or as part of a potato dish. Clumps of the plant get 12 inches (31 cm.) across and remain small with consistent harvesting.
Salad Burnet Flowers
Salad burnet flowers appear in spring and are in a rounded cluster of purple to pink tiny blooms. Salad burnet flowers can be used as a garnish for fresh drinks or cakes.
Salad burnet plant has male, bisexual, and female flowers that appear in late spring and early summer. The top flowers are male, middle flowers bisexual, and the female flowers grow on the top of the cluster. The flowering stems rise from the basal rosette and can grow to 1 foot (31 cm.) in height.
How to Grow Salad Burnet
Learning how to grow salad burnet is similar to learning any herbal cultivation. It thrives in well-drained soil with a pH of 6.8 and a sunny to partially shady location. The herb starts easily from seed, which should be planted 12 inches (31 cm.) apart. The old foliage and flowering stems need to be removed, as they appear to force new growth. The bed needs to be weeded and salad burnet should be watered during dry periods. Salad burnet does not tolerate transplanting so ensure you like the location before you plant the herb.
The flowers of salad burnet herb are not self-pollinating and must be pollinated by wind. In good conditions, the plants will form seed in fall. They will self-seed easily and form a patch of the herb. Older plants should be removed because their flavor is not as good as the plant ages. New plants grow so easily that a constant supply of tender new leaves can be had by saving seed and successional sowing. Sprinkle the seed in the garden bed and cover lightly with a dusting of sand. With moderate moisture, salad burnet growing is easy and fast.
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What is Salad Burnet?
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Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) is a perennial herb in the Rosaceae family, making it a relative of roses. This plant is native to western Asia and Europe and was originally cultivated in medieval gardens. Salad burnet has become naturalized in much of North America.
Salad burnet was very popular in Elizabethan England. Members of the upper class would often serve their guests goblets of wine with salad burnet leaves floating in it because they thought it added a touch of class and elegance. When the Pilgrims ventured to America from Europe, they brought this herb with them.
Sir Frances Bacon was a big fan of the pretty, aromatic herb and suggested planting salad burnet along garden paths. Thomas Jefferson valued the herb for different reasons, however. Because this plant grows well in poor, dry soil, Jefferson sent his young workers out with the salad burnet seeds to help stop erosion and to create fodder for his livestock.
Salad burnet possesses the same medicinal qualities as medicinal burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis). The species Latin name, sanguisorba, translates as "blood-drink," which refers to the traditional use of salad burnet to stop internal bleeding and hemorrhages. Soldiers of yesteryear would drink tea made from the herb because they believed it would make any wounds they received less severe and they would be less likely to bleed to death. Salad burnet was also thought to be a cure for the bubonic plague and was one of 21 herbs combined and dissolved in wine to make an anti-plague tonic.
Today, salad burnet is a popular herb in European cuisine. As its name implies, the herb can add a refreshing spice to salads because the leaves taste like cucumbers. The leaves also blend well with rosemary and tarragon and are often considered interchangeable with mint leaves. Salad burnet can also be used in any casserole dish, dip or soup that calls for dill, oregano or basil. Only young, tender leaves should be used because salad burnet becomes bitter with age. This herb should be used fresh or frozen because it loses its flavor when dried.
Salad burnet is a hardy herb that makes a great addition to any garden. The plant resembles a lacy fern with small, dark magenta flowers. The leaves are greenish grey and grow from a red woody stem. Because these delicate looking leaves drape gracefully from a low, central mound, salad burnet makes a wonderful container plant.
Whether grown in a container or on the ground, the plant needs partial to full sunlight. Although soil conditions can be poor, salad burnet must receive moderate water and have good drainage to avoid rotting the roots. Cutting back the blossoms will produce many new, tender leaves. If the flowers are not cut back, a salad burnet plant can grow to be twenty inches high and as wide across.
There is still time to plant a few more herbs in your garden, and one I recommend is salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor). A not well known, but useful small salad herb, it was highly regarded by many early herbalists and housewives. One writer suggested that “the leaves stripped into wine and droken, doth comfort and rejoice thee hart and are good against the trembling and the shaking of the same”, while another claimed that it was “a capital wound herb for all sorts of wounds both inward and outward”. King Chaba of Hungary was supposed to have cured the wounds of 15,000 of his soldiers by the application of the juice of burnet.
This herb is a perennial that grows in an attractive fountain-shaped clump. This growth habit makes it perfect as a border to edge a flower or vegie bed. The dainty, decorative soft green leaves are found in pairs along wiry, reddish stems and the tiny red flowers occur in globular green flower heads on the ends of other stems. The whole plant reaches a height of about 40cm before it flowers, while the flower heads can be as tall as 75cm. Flowers are wind pollinated, and self-sow readily in the right conditions.
Sow seeds in spring or autumn, either in a seed punnet or where they are to grow, and transplant or thin them out when they are a few centimetres high. Older plants don’t transplant well as they develop a strong tap root, but big clumps can be dug and divided into smaller ones, some of which will survive. Salad burnet prefers a slightly limey soil and will do better in a sunny position but will tolerate some shade and needs plenty of water in hot weather for the leaves to stay succulent. If you don’t use the leaves regularly then cut back the whole plant from time to time to encourage tender new growth.
As its name suggests, salad burnet is primarily a salad herb. The leaves have a subtle, cucumbery taste which is both cooling and pleasant. When the plant is young, whole leaf stems are picked and chopped with scissors into salads, sandwiches, soups and dips. As the plants age, the stems become more wiry, so strip the leaves from the stems before you use them. A handful of finely chopped burnet leaves combined with cream cheese, pepper, salt and thinned with a little cream, makes a delicious dip. Alternatively you can chop leaves directly into any green salad, or add whole sprigs to iced drinks or claret.
Salad burnet vinegar
Fill a jar with salad burnet leaves and cover with a good white wine vinegar. Seal and stand on a sunny windowsill. Strain after a few weeks and use this aromatic vinegar to make salad dressings (some of the finest French dressings are flavoured with burnet) or as part of a marinade.
A cure for drunkard’s thirst?
Finally, if you are prone to over imbibe, especially at this time of year, try pouring boiling water over a handful of salad burnet leaves, leave to cool, strain out the leaves and drink the liquid “as a cure for, or an alleviant of, drunkard’s thirst”.
It was not customary to have salads in winter months because fresh vegetables were not available then. Salad dressings were only made in summer, too. The first time I ever had a salad during the cold of winter, I could not understand why neither it nor the dressing tasted like cucumber.
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on January 25, 2011. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
I still associate foods with seasons. We all do, I think. Craving fresh vegetables straight from the garden is a springtime ritual. In the mountains our first salads were made with the first vegetables of spring, lettuce and green onions.We had our choice of dressings then, either hot bacon grease or cold homemade vinegar and oil. I was not fond of bacon grease, so I always asked for vinegar and oil. The cooks in my family made it with apple cider vinegar and whatever oil was available to them. It also held lots of herbs and spices and had a distinct cucumber flavor. It didn't occur to me to wonder where the cucumber flavor came from that early in spring, because cucumbers were not ripe until later in the summer. The vinegar/oil salad dressing at the dinner tables of my friends did not have a cucumber flavor. When my aunts served it, there was not the slightest taste of cucumber. It seemed that nobody's salad dressing tasted quite like ours. It was a while before I understood what was in the salad dressing that made the difference.
Sanguisorba minor, also known as garden burnet or salad burnet is a perennial herb that is native to Eurasia. It was introduced into North America and has become naturalized in scattered locations from Nova Scotia to Ontario, south to Virginia and Tennessee. It grows along roadsides, waste places and fields. It has slender stems growing about 2 feet tall and rising from a basal rosette of pinnately divided leaves. The toothed leaflets are oval and gray green. The light green to yellowish green flowers bloom from May through July and grow in clusters. The female flowers on the upper part have pr otruding red stigmas that give the plant a red glow. The male flowers on the lower part have drooping yellow stamens.
Burnet has an interesting history. On the night before a battle, soldiers fighting in the American Revolution dosed themselves with a tea made from garden burnet on the theory that if they suffered a wound on the following day, the burnet in their systems would keep them from bleeding to death. The Latin name of the plant, Sanguisorba, translates loosely as "blood absorber." It had other uses years ago as well. It was used as a treatment for digestive disorders and in the sixteenth century in England, it served as a remedy for rheumatism and gout. In the 17th century it was recommended as a protection against the plague and other infectious diseases.
My Aunt Bett didn't use the herb for any type of medicine. It is not effective dried, but fresh, it has a delicious cucumber-like taste. The young leaves of the plant, when chopped into tiny pieces, are delicious sprinkled over a salad, or in a vinegar/oil salad dressing. That was the flavor that I was missing in salads that were not made by the cooks in my family. It was burnet, with its strong cucumber taste. The French and Italian cooks value the herb for its flavor and add the leaves to salads also. Some cooks use it in cream cheeses, herbed butters and in iced drinks. I do remember that it was delicious in cold tomato juice, and there have been times when I tasted it in an early morning Bloody Mary. I really don't think I learned that from Aunt Bett or my Ninna.
Scientists have not provided studies to determine its value as a medicine, but I do know it is still being used as a culinary herb. The leaves of the plant do contain Vitamin C, and the plant itself is very tol erant of both drought and cold. It is also a food plant for the larvae of some butterflies and moths.
My family only considered it a seasoning, adding it to their dressing as they did. For the longest time I thought it must be a deep dark family secret since I never tasted that cucumber flavor when I ate anywhere else. But it was good, one of my favorite tastes, and I am delighted when I can find it growing anywhere these days. It is an early spring herb, and must be used only when fresh, otherwise it becomes bitter. The next time I find burnet, I am going to pick as many new leaves as I can, and I am definitely going to freeze them. I never know when I might need to spice up a richly flavored, high in Vitamin C Bloody Mary.
The first photo is from Public Domain, and the others are from Plant Files. Thanks to: Bonitin and Kennedyh for their excellent photos.
The Magic and Medicine of Plants, The Readers Digest Inc. 1986
Previously known as:
Salad Burnet is an herb often grown for its edible foliage. Cut the plant back to encourage new growth, as the youngest leaves are the tastiest.
It can be found growing on dry, infertile chalk or limestone grasslands. The plant will spread through self-seeding. To discourage self-seeding, remove the flowers once they have bloomed.
Intolerant of drought and shade but does tolerate alkaline soils and browsing by deer. Plant in border fronts, herb gardens, or in a vegetable garden.
Insects, Diseases, and Other Plant Problems: No serious problems.Poterium sanguisorba buds Hugh Knott CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Poterium sanguisorba Dluogs CC-BY-SA 2.0 Poterium sanguisorba seed Roger Culos CC BY-SA 3.0 Poterium sanguisorba Lotus Johnson CC BY-NC 2.0 Poterium sanguisorba plant Dr. Mary Gillham CC BY 2.0 Poterium sanguisorba in the wild Lidine Mia CC BY-SA 4.0
Growing and Using Salad Burnet
Growing and Using Salad Burnet
Designed by Brenda Hyde
All Rights Reserved
You can plant burnet in light shade-but it needs about 6 hours of sun to do well. It's not picky about soil-wet feet in heavy soil can rot the roots, but dry soil is no problem. In mild climates it will continue to grow into the winter months, and it comes back quickly in the spring, following the chives, which seem to always pop up first. Keep the flowers cut off for the best performance, or allow one plant to reseed itself if you wish. The second year it will grow to 18 inches, but again, if allowed to grow this large without harvesting it will become tough.
Burnet does not dry well, but you can freeze it or use it in your herb vinegar mixtures. It has an excellant flavor for vinegars that you use in salad dressings! The tender leaves can be used in dips, with fish, or in tea sandwiches.
Burnet Tea Sandwiches
1 pound loaf unsliced white bread (or 2 smaller loaves)
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons chives, chopped
1/4 cup chopped salad burnet leaves
Trim the crust from loaves and cut bread into 1/2 inch slices. Mix together cream cheese, butter, and milk. Add burnet and chives. Lightly spread mix on one side of each slice of bread. Top with pieces of lettuce and put two slices together. Wrap all with foil until time to serve, and cut into four squares or triangles.
Dill Burnet Butter
Blend all ingredients thoroughly until all is creamed. Use on sandwiches, fish or vegetables after steaming.
Herb Vingear for Dressings
Herb Dressing and Mixed Green Salad
3-4 Sprigs each: Salad Burnet, Oregano and Basil
Mixture of salad greens and lettuce
thinly sliced and seeded cucumber slices
radishes, green or red pepper and tomato
Combine oil, vinegar, honey, salad burnet, marjoram, oregano and basil sprigs in blender and process until smooth. Chill 2 hours. Use over a salad of mixed greens with thinly sliced vegetables.
Growing Salad Burnet
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Growing salad burnet is easy.
It's perennial and almost evergreen. It grows to around 15 inches high. It has small flowers which need removing unless you want them to set seed.
It is quite a pretty herb and you could grow it in a pot if you wish to - it's a perfect herb for people who have no garden as it is a suitable herb for pots.
You can try a sample lesson to help you decide if the Herbal Academy of New England is the right choice for you - click the link below .
It is very late to die back, carrying on into late winter most years.
Salad Burnet has a cucumber flavor and is very good in savory salads, fruit salads and summer drinks - use in Pimms as you would borage.
Pick a few leaves and scatter them over the top of a mixed salad to add a lovely fresh taste.
Chop a good handful and mix into cream cheese to use on a sandwich to give a really special taste.
You can add it to mayonnaise or salad dressings - just chop it finely and mix through.
It's savoury flavour makes it a good herb to use in a diet if you're trying to cut back on salt, say if you've got high blood pressure, kidney problems or diabetes. It lessens the need for additional salt.
A few leaves enhance the flavor of vegetable soups - celery, asparagus and mushroom in particular. Put the leaves in when you start to cook.
It's a great standby during winter when little else is around and is an exceptionally good value herb.
If you only have room for a few pots, then salad burnet would earn its keep.
Growing Salad Burnet
You can sow seeds outdoors in mid spring - sun or shade are equally suitable, but it prefers chalky soil.
Just keep the seedlings weed free and you will be rewarded with a fine crop of salad burnet.
Nip the flowers off until you're ready to let it seed, if at all.
Harvest all through the year - just take a few leaves off as you wish.
Cut it back to 4 or 5 inches and you will have young leaves off it most of the year.
If you do allow it to self seed, then you will have a constant supply of small, tender plants growing which will give you a good supply of leaves.
It really is as simple as that - no more to be said.
Salad burnet forms a loose open mound of very finely cut foliage that is almost fern-like in appearance. Plant grows about 12-15 inches tall. Small, pink, round flowers are produced. Leaves impart a cucumber-like taste to foods. In addition to its culinary value, salad burnet also is a nice compliment to the front of a perennial border.
Salad burnet prefers a full sun location in average garden soil. Once established it is tolerant of dry soil. Plants can be started from seed sown in the spring or fall or from division. Flowers should be removed as they form, in order to encourage the growth of new foliage, and to prevent the plant from forming seeds. Salad burnet will reseed freely and may become weedy in the garden. Divide the plant every 3-4 years to maintain vigor.