How to Grow Burnet

Salad Burnet, an Herb with Cucumber Flavor

Marie Iannotti

Burnet is an attractive perennial plant from the rose (Rosaceae) family, grown for both its edible leaves and its medicinal properties. Medicinally, it was once used against the bubonic plague and to control hemorrhaging, but today it is mostly known for its astringent properties. The leaves are rounded, with toothed edges, and there are four to 12 pairs of leaflets per leaf. The spikes of small, dense greenish flowers are not unattractive, but they are usually kept trimmed away to direct the plant's energy to leaf production. As an herb, salad burnet offers a clean, cucumber-like flavor. It's an easy-growing plant that appears early in the season and holds up well in the heat.

Burnet is usually planted in the spring from seeds started indoors four to five weeks before the last frost. Once transplanted into the garden, the plants will reach maturity about two months after germination.

 Botanical Name  Saguisorba minor
 Common Name  Burnet, salad burnet
 Plant Type  Perennial herb
 Mature Size  9–24 inches tall, 1–2 feet wide
 Sun Exposure  Full sun
 Soil Type  Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
 Soil pH  6.0–8.0 (acidic to alkaline)
Bloom Time  Midsummer
Flower Color  Greenish
 Hardiness Zones  4–8 (USDA); sometimes grown as an annual
 Native Area  Northern Africa, Western Asia

How to Plant Burnet

You can start seeds indoors, four or five weeks before your last frost date, but burnet seed also does well when sown directly in the garden about two weeks before the last frost. Cover lightly, with 1/8 inch of soil, and keep moist until it germinates. Transplant indoor seedlings after all danger of frost is over.

You can thin direct-sown plants to 1 foot apart and use the thinnings in salads. First-year plants will grow to about 8 to 10 inches tall. Subsequent years will produce larger plants that flower. Burnet is often evergreen in zones 7 to 8 but usually dies back to the ground in the northern part of its hardiness range.

Pinching and harvesting your burnet will be the main maintenance chore. Plants left to mature will have somewhat tougher leaves. Removing the flowers and flower stalks will encourage more leaves and will cut down on self-seeding.

Burnet forms a clump and stays pretty well contained and controlled, growing in a loose rosette. However, salad burnet spreads easily by rhizomes and it will also self-seed. The young seedlings are easy to pull out, so it is not much of a nuisance.

Burnet Care

Light

Salad burnet does well in either full sun or part shade. Part shade is preferable if you are growing it in dry conditions.

Soil

Burnet is forgiving about poor, dry soil, but it grows best in moderately moist conditions. At the same time, good drainage is a must.

Water

Although burnet has a good tolerance for drought, for best taste it should be kept just barely moist as it grows. This plant will not tolerate soggy roots, but also should not be allowed to dry out. Regular water, at least 1 inch per week, will help keep the plants cool and productive into the summer.

Temperature and Humidity

A native of dry, grassy meadows of central and southern Europe, burnet has a good tolerance for heat and dry air—provided the soil is kept lightly moist. It will die back to the ground each year in regions with cold winters, returning in the spring.

Fertilizer

Burnet will do fairly well if you side-dress the plants with aged compost early in the spring, then feed them with a diluted water-soluble fertilizer or fish emulsion every six weeks.

Burnet Varieties

There are no named cultivars of burnet, but Sanguisorba minor does have a larger cousin, Sanguisorba officinalis, known as greater burnet or official burnet, which has a similar flavor, with round, red flowers.

Propagating Burnet

Burnet clumps can be divided in spring or fall to make new plants. Separate root clumps into pieces that each contain some foliage, then replant at the same depth.

Harvesting Burnet

It takes 70 to 100 days for burnet to reach maturity from germination. However, young, tender leaves have the best flavor and you can start harvesting them when the plants reach about 4 inches tall. The plants can bloom anytime from spring to fall, and may not flower at all if you keep cutting them back to harvest.

Harvest leaves as you need them, but don't remove more than about one-third of a plant at one time if you want it to continue re-growing. The young, tender leaves have the best flavor. Harvesting the outer leaves of established plants will encourage new growth. Strip the leaves and discard the tough stems.

Use burnet whenever you want to add a cool, cucumber flavor to leafy salads. They are also good on sandwiches, either in place of or along with lettuce. They also make a nice addition to cold drinks, such as lemonade and wine spritzers. Use salad burnet to flavor dips and bottles of vinegar. Toss leaves into soups, eggs, and other hot dishes at the very last minute.

The flavor of burnet does not hold up well when the leaves are dried, but you can freeze leaves and use them in hot dishes.

How to Grow Burnet in Pots

Burnet is a nice choice for containers and for planting between other plants. Since it is hardy to USDA Zone 4, it should over-winter in containers down to USDA Zone 6. With protection, it may survive colder climates. A standard potting mix is a good choice when growing burnet in pots.

Common Pests/Diseases

Few problems plague burnet, though it can be prone to leaf spot disease in wet or damp weather. You can help prevent that by providing good air circulation and removing any affected leaves before the problem has a chance to spread.