For years I ignored salad burnet in my mother’s garden. The dainty, toothed leaflets caught my attention, but I thought it was rather a waste of space: small and monochromatic with an odd, sparse little flower, when there was a flower at all. Then one day I tasted it. That soft, thin leaf knocked me over with a happy, clean cucumber flavor. Now I pine after this little herb. Its tidy habit seems cute, the tiny reddish flowers adorable, its hardiness admirable. If I grew it, I could put the leaves in salads, in cool summer drinks, in cream cheese, in soups. This summer I’ll ask my mom to slip me a bit of the root, and she’ll be delighted. Moms—and gardeners—are like that.
Common name: Salad burnet
Botanical name: Sanguisorba minor
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 4 to 8
Height: 1 to 2 feet
• Sun: Full sun to light shade
• Soil: Well-drained, average
• Moisture: Average
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: Cut back to prevent flowering and encourage young leaves, which have the best flavor.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed or by division.
Pests and diseases
• Not particularly vulnerable to pests or diseases.
• Salad burnet will naturalize if it’s in an ideal spot. To prevent it from becoming a nuisance, clip flowers after they bloom and before they produce seed.
• In climates with relatively warm winters, salad burnet produces fresh greens all year long.
• Leaves have a mild cucumber fragrance and taste—delicious in salads, soups, herb butters, and cold drinks. Leaves are tastiest when young.
• Salad burnet is great in containers and along the edges of an herb or wildflower garden.
All in the family
• Sanguisorba minor is native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, but has naturalized in the United States. Greater burnet (S. officinalis) and Canadian burnet (S. canadensis) are both native to North America.
• Salad burnet has a long history of cultivation. In England, during the last half of the 16th century, people added it to wine before serving. Gardeners planted it along paths so the leaves underfoot would release their fragrance. Early European settlers called it pimpernel when they brought it to North America, and Thomas Jefferson grew it for livestock forage.
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Sanguisorba minor courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)