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Salad burnet

Category: Food



Introduction and description


Sanguisorba minor, the salad burnet, garden burnet, small burnet, burnet, is a plant in the family Rosaceae that is native to western, central and southern Europe; northwest Africa and southwest Western Asia; and which has naturalized in most of North America.

The names it has are almost impossible to follow.  It appears to have the synonym Poterium dictyocarpum. P. sanguisorba  or just Poterium sanguisorba.

Mrs Grieve writing in the last century calls  Pimpinella saxifraga (LINN.) salad burnet adding to the confusion.  Pimpinella saxifraga, is a plant of the family Umbelliferae and a native of the British Isles and temperate Europe. It is neither a Burnet, which its leaves resemble, nor a Saxifrage!



Sanguisorba minor is an evergreen Perennial growing to 0.6 m (2ft) by 0.3 m (1ft in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in leaf 12-Jan .It is in flower from May to August, and the seeds ripen from July to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees.  The plant is self-fertile.

Sanguisorba minor usually has a branched caudex (thick base of stems) with a prominent taproot and is sometimes-weakly rhizomatous.

Small burnet plants have alternate pinnately compound leaves. Leaflets are mostly 9 to 17, oval to oblong, 4 inches long and coarsely serrate. Total height varies from 6 inches on droughty sites to approximately 25 inches on irrigated sites.

The flowers are sessile and closely packed in head-like to elongate spikes, which are 3 to 8 inches long. The flowers are mostly imperfect, the lower ones staminate and the upper ones pistillate with no petals and about 12 stamens, which are filiform. Native burnet species have two to four stamens.


The seed is an achene, oblong, about 4 to 5 mm long, woody, papillate-warty, between and along rather prominent ridges, which are four in number.


Salad burnet is a perennial herbaceous plant, typically found in dry grassy meadows, often on limestone soils. It is drought-tolerant, and grows all year around.  It is a remarkably tough little plant.  One survived in our old abandoned greenhouse for a year almost without being watered.  Its leaves were still green and it looked very healthy.  Its roots had gone down very deep, in order to find the water it needed.  It was pest and disease free.

It is because the plants have such an extensive root system, that they are used for erosion control; they are also used to reclaim landfills and mined-out terrain, but this is because they can be chelators – although finding papers on this proved extremely difficult.  The chelation is via the tannin and caffeic acids in the plant.

The plant prefers a well-drained soil and can grow in nutritionally poor soil. Although it will grow in both acid and alkaline soils, in an acid soil the leaves have a distinctly bitter flavour, whilst on a chalky alkaline soil they have a much milder flavour.

Medicinal uses

Salad burnet has the same medicinal qualities as medicinal burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis).

In Italy, wild plants are still consumed in various ways, for their taste, effects on health and nutritional value.  Salad burnet is one plant used in such vegetable mixtures e.g., salads, soups, and rustic pies.  In one study [see references], the researchers found that the Italians in the survey used over 276 wild plants in traditional vegetable mixtures, that were both tasty and nutritious.  Many plants are cited in many recipes across several Italian regions and amongst the most cited plants were :

  • Reichardia picroides (L.) Roth - Reichardia is a genus of plants in the same family as the dandelion.  This plant is also eaten in Crete, Greece.  The leaves and tender shoots of a variety of Reichardia picroides called galatsida (γαλατσίδα) are eaten raw, boiled, cooked in steam or browned with olive oil by the locals. Brighteyes is a common name for plants in this genus
  • Sanguisorba minor Scop. – salad burnet
  • Taraxacum campylodes G. E. Haglund – the common dandelion
  • Urtica dioica L. – the common nettle

Tuscany is the region with the highest number of food recipes that incorporate wild plants used as vegetables. As you will see if you glance at the entries for these plants, all might be considered both medicinal and food being edible, tasty and healing.

There has been generally renewed interest in Europe in plants as sources of antioxidants and phenols and Salad burnet has proven high in both

Thirteen species of wild edible plants belonging to 11 botanical families consumed in the traditional Mediterranean diet were evaluated. Sanguisorba minor, Quercus ballota and Sedum sediforme showed the highest hydrophilic total antioxidant activity (H-TAA) and total phenols. ….. Our results indicate that increased consumption of the investigated plant species could provide health benefits. Moreover, due to their sensorial properties, they could be used as new ingredients to improve the diversity in modern diet and highly creative cuisine.  PMID:  23944868

Furthermore many of the traditional folk medicine remedies are also being explored

Some edible plants are promising for their potential health properties, such as Crepis vesicaria L., Sanguisorba minor Scop. and Sonchus oleraceus L. PMID:  23395624

Much of the healing activity of salad burnet appears to be exercised via its antibacterial, anti-parasitic/anthelmintic and antiviral activity.

Now that Dr Duke’s database has a new format we have not reproduced the activity of the plant here, as it can be referenced via this database which is kept up-to-date and thus is of more value.  We have, however, added additional observations that are not in Dr Duke’s database as yet.

There is much to be explored in this plant.  It contains, for example, Gallic acid, which is an analgesic and anti-inflammatory and has a great deal of antiviral and antibacterial activity against HIV, MRSA, and the adenovirus as well as being antiescherichic, antiflu, antiherpetic, antileishmanic and antipolio .



The young leaves and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. They are best used before the plant comes into flower. They can be eaten in salads, used as a garnish or added to soups, cooling drinks and claret cups.

The leaves, are a bit fiddly to harvest and can sometimes become bitter in hot dry summers, but they are usually fairly mild tasting in the winter.

Salad burnet is used as an ingredient in both salads and dressings, having a flavour described as "light cucumber".  It is considered interchangeable with mint leaves in some recipes, depending on the intended effect. Typically, the youngest leaves are used, as they tend to become bitter as they age.

a salad with poached egg

Salad burnet goes well with eggs.  A salad made from lettuce, cress and salad burnet, served with a poached egg and a mayonnaise with added lemon and garlic is a suggestion for summer lunches.  A variation on this recipe can be made with lettuce, poached eggs, garden peas, basil, salad burnet, with a lemon, garlic and light olive oil dressing.

The photo above shows a cream cheese and chopped salad burnet sandwich. 

The sauce is made with yoghurt, very finely chopped salad burnet leaves and salt and can be served with fish or lamb.

Burnet wine – Farmhouse fare, recipes from Country housewives

To every quart of burnet heads add 2 quarts of boiling water.  Let stand 24 hours.  Strain and to every quart of juice add 1lb of sugar.  Boil well for 20 minutes.  Pour into a jar and to every 3 quarts of juice add 1 lemon and 1 orange sliced.  Let stand until luke warm.  Toast a thick slice of white bread and spread with 1 oz yeast. Place into liquid. Stand 24 hours, strain, then stand it in a warm place for 6 weeks before bottling.  Keep 12 months before using.

Farro Salad with Salad Burnet &  Goat Milk Feta

 Farro is an ancient grain, but you could use any flavoursome wholegrain in this, preferably one that is a little nutty or chewy in texture, even cooked wholegrain rice.   This salad can be served at room temp or cold throughout the week.

– 14 Oz. Farro (Buy Farro Perlato)
– 1/2 Red Onion (Diced)
– 1 Lemon (For Juice)
– 2 Cups Cherry Tomatoes (Halved)
– 2 Cups Snap Peas (Cut into bite size pieces, approximately 3 per pea)
– 4 Oz. Feta (Crumbled)
– 1 Bunch Salad Burnet (Chopped)
– 3 Cups Baby Rocket
– 1 tsp. olive oil
– 1 tsp. red wine vinegar
– 2 Bay Leaves
– 5 Cups Water
– Sea Salt & Fresh Ground Pepper


1) Rinse farro with cold water and drain. Then add to a medium saucepan along with 5 cups of cool water. Add bay leaves along with a pinch of sea salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Once at a boil, stir then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for approximately 20 minutes. The farro should be tender but still have a bit of crunch to it. Drain any excess liquid then fluff with a fork. Place in a large bowl to cool while you prepare the vegetables.

2) Wash and dry vegetables, greens, herbs and lemons.

3) Dice red onion. Chop salad burnet. Halve cherry tomatoes and cut snap peas. Place to the side.

4) Add baby arugula [rocket] and salad burnet to farro and toss. Then add red onion, cherry tomatoes and snap peas. Toss.

5) Crumble feta over the salad mixture, add 1 teaspoon of both olive oil and red wine vinegar. Then add the juice of one lemon along with fresh ground pepper. Toss.


References and further reading

  • J Ethnopharmacol. 2016 Mar 1. pii: S0378-8741(16)30094-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2016.02.050. [Epub ahead of print]  Wild food plants used in traditional vegetable mixtures in Italy.  Guarrera PM1, Savo V2.   1Istituto Centrale per la Demoetnoantropologia, MIBACt, Piazza Marconi, 8-10, 00144 Rome, IT.   2Hakai Institute, Simon Fraser University, 8888 University Drive, V5A1S6, Burnaby, BC, Canada
  • J Ethnopharmacol. 2013 Apr 19;146(3):659-80. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2013.01.036. Epub 2013 Feb 8.  Perceived health properties of wild and cultivated food plants in local and popular traditions of Italy: A review. Guarrera PM1, Savo V. 1Istituto Centrale per la Demoetnoantropologia, Ministero Beni e Attività Culturali, Piazza Marconi 8-10, I-00144 Rome, Italy. paolomaria.guarrera@beniculturali.it


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