Herbs: Salad Burnet; Medicinal, Culinary Uses and Nutrition

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Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) is an easy to grow pot herb with attractive foliage and a taste similar to cucumber. This herb was often used in salads and as a medicinal herb up until the 19th century. Burnet is nutritious and is sold as an herbal suppl

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor) or simply, ‘burnet’ is a perennial pot herb, native to the temperate regions of south, west and central Europe, but also found in North America, North Africa and the Canary Islands. The plant has edible leaves that have been traditionally used as an herb and added to salads since ancient times and up until the nineteenth century. Nowadays they are still eaten in parts of Spain, particularly Catalonia. The taste and aroma of burnet leaves is likened to cucumber, or like a blend of melon and cucumber.

This herb is in the Sanguisorba genus of plants which includes no more than 20 species, several of which are edible. Salad burnet has toothed leaflets and tiny rounded green flowers with maroon, pink or crimson stamens, atop of long slim stalks, hence the name burnet, which is a corruption of the French word brunette. This herb is cultivated for gardens in North America and Europe, where it is more appreciated, indeed, these days it is less often cultivated in the United States because other herbs have become more favorable. Burnett also does well in containers.

Aside from Sanguisorba minor, there is another important herb in this geneus which is closely related and also a member of the Rosaceae or rose family. Sanguisorba officinalis or greater burnet, as its name suggests, is a larger and slightly hardier relative.

Medicinal Uses: Like salad burnet, greater burnet or great burnet is also found in Asia. The roots of this plant are used in traditional Chinese medicine which is documented in the Shen Nong Canon of Herbs, produced during the Han dynasty. Chinese canon or formulas, made from the roots of great burnet, which are baked to increase potency, were used for gastrointestinal breeding, cervical ectropion and periodontal disease.

In European folk medicine only the leaves were utilized medicinally but they had similar hemorrhage preventing uses. The 17th century English botanist and physician Nicholas Culpeper described burnet leaves as “to staunch bleeding inward or outward”.

In fact, the name sanguisorba is Latin for sanguis or ‘blood’ and is related to sorbere, meaning to soak up. Aside from their ability to reduce bleeding, burnet leaves have astringent and anti-inflammatory properties. They are said to help destroy disease causing organisms in the stomach and both the leaves and roots are known to have been used for digestive complaints, a practice that began in classical Greece. Both salad burnet and greater burnet have no known toxicity, either as food or herbal supplement.

Salad burnet / Pixabay

More Health Benefits

There are even more health benefits of salad burnet that include the following:

  • Tonic: Used as a general tonic because of its high vitamin C content.
  • Digestion: Salad burnet can help digestion and also help relieve hemorrhoids and diarrhea.
  • Urinary System: It is also helpful with problems related to the urinary system and is a mild diuretic.
  • Astringent: Used as an infusion for the skin, it can help with skin problems and sunburn.
  • Impotency: Salad burnet can also be helpful treating symptoms of impotency and erectile dysfunction.
  • Anti-inflammatory: These properties can help relieve gout, rheumatism and other health issues related to inflammation.
  • Gums: Making a mouthwash out of the powder / paste can help with swollen or bleeding gums.
  • Burns: The powder of the roots can be mixed with sesame oil, which helps with cuts and burns.

Culinary Uses: An old Italian proverb proclaims “L’ insalata non e buona ne bella, ove non e la pimpinella“; which means, salad is neither good or pretty without burnet (pimpinella or pimpernel being an Italian name for burnet). Burnet leaves and flower heads are not as popular as they were for culinary purposes, although in oriental cuisines they are still added to stir-fry’s and soups.

In Spain, where it is known as hierba del cuchillo, the fresh leaves are added to cold drinks and used as a flavoring like mint or borage. Dried leaves are also used to make medicinal tea, although fresh leaves are preferred for culinary uses; as the flavor of burnet leaves deteriorates over time, making them bitter. Burnet leaves are used to flavor cream cheese and also added to tomato sauce, like basil or oregano.

Nutritional Value: Both the leaves, roots, rhizomes and flowers of the herb’s salad and greater burnet contain unique organic compounds, sometimes touted as an herbal supplement for women's health.

  • This herb contains glycosides know as sanguisorbins, also tannins, ellagitannins, (antiviral) sanguinarines and saponins, in its roots, leaf and stem. Saponins, found in many plants, are glycosides thought to have numerous health benefits such as cholesterol lowering, bone health, immune system stimulation and anticancer.
  • The stem and leaves are a source of rutin, quercetin, kaempferol. These flavonoids are plant sterols that are known to have antioxidant properties, as they help neutralize chronic disease causing free radicals; they are anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer.
  • The roots, leaf and stem of this herb contain both tannic and gallic acid. Research suggests that gallic acid has protective/ antioxidant effects.
  • Another constituent of salad burnet is beta-sitosterol; thought to reduce LDL cholesterol and inhibit the growth of cancerous tumors.

Growing Salad Burnet

You can also grow your own plants. By seeds and plant them or buy the plants. Salad burnet is an easy plant to grow in the garden or in your home.

It grows best in well drained soil with a pH of 6.8, so a more alkaline soil in a sunny to partial shade area. Seeds should planted 12” (30.5 cm) apart, so the plants can get plenty of air flow. Salad burnet is not self pollinating, and is pollinated by the wind.

The area needs to be weeded and watered normally during dry periods. Trim and remove the old foliage and flowering stems as this causes new growth. Save the seeds as they fall during the fall season for next years planting. Salad burnet is a plant that is not easy to transplant, so reseeding the next season is best. Since salad burnet grows so easily, you will always have a fresh supply of the leaves.

You can find salad burnet seeds and plants online or at local garden shops.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor); Image credit. Primary image, salad burnet plant; Image credit. 

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