I have seen the salad burnet mentioned in many herb books. A plant that is rather obscure to most Singaporeans, the salad burnet is known via a range of common names which include garden burnet, small burnet or simply burnet, it is a plant from the Rose family, Rosaceae. The common name of this herb came from the French word, ‘brunette’, referring to the chestnut red bloom. It is botanically known as Sanguisorba minor.
I got a packet of its seeds from a local seed distributor and I am happy to announce it is another herb that can be grown successfully in tropical, lowland Singapore althought it is native to western, central and southern Europe; northwest Africa and southwest Asia. In its native habitat, it grows as a perennial in dry grassy meadows with alkaline limestone soils. I grew mine in containers of 1 part of burnt earth and 1 part of mature compost which is a fairly well draining mix whose pH is near neutral, or very slightly acidic at most… Note that like many other herbs, wet feet can rot the roots of this plant.
Although it is said to be drought-tolerant, I noticed the salad burnet wilts in our tropical heat outdoors. I have since put up some shade cloth and plants seem to be happier now but still I have to water the plants twice a day to help keep their heads up on a hot day. Note that they are grown in containers with a very well draining soil mix and it is expected that the plants dry out much more easily.
I have not really tasted the leaves but it said that they taste much like cucumber and as the plant’s common name suggests, they can be used whole in salads or chopped into soups and other dishes. The youngest leaves from non-flowering plants are prefered for the kitchen as they tend to become bitter as they age. Acid soil is said to cause the leaves to take on a distinctly bitter flavour whereas plants were grown in a chalky soil produced leaves with a much milder flavour. Leaves can be dried and infused in water to make a tea.
This plant have been used medicinally. It is best known as an effective wound herb, quickly staunching any bleeding. American soldiers in the Revolutionary War drank tea made from the leaves before going into battle to prevent excessive bleeding if they were wounded. The plant’s genus name, Sanguisorba, translates loosely as “blood absorber.” Salad burnet has the same medicinal qualities as the closely related medicinal burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis). This plant is also used to treat ulcers, diarrhoea and tooth decay. Its roots are also harvested and can be made into a tea which is said to be a detoxicating agent for the body after a long-term medication or for pollution remedy.
I love the appearance of this plant for its fern-like foliage that are arranged in a rosette. It is a charming little plant with pinnate leaves where each leaflet is rounded and deeply toothed – try using the leaves for garnishing! Information about the salad burnet stated that it produces reddish-brown, erect stems with globular red flowerheads. These have purplish, feathery stigmas and sepals instead of petals. Plants are also documented to self-seed readily in areas where they are commonly grown.
The salad burnet is said to have extensive root systems and can be used for erosion control, it is also used to reclaim landfills and mined-out terrain. Amazingly, it is reported to be even able to tolerate maritime exposure!