Salad burnet is a herbaceous perennial and member of the rose family, Rosaceae, that also includes cherry, pyracantha, and lady’s mantle. It is native to Europe, northern Africa, western Asia and Siberia where it grows in grasslands and shrublands but was introduced to North America by the early colonist .Plants form a loose rounded rosette of leaves up to 12″ tall and 24″ wide. The leaves are pinnately compound and consist of 4-12 pairs of rounded to elliptical, toothed leaflets, up to 1″ long. The tiny greenish to pink flowers appear in rounded heads in mid summer on terminal stalks up to 24″ long. The upper flowers have only female parts, the middle flowers have both male and female parts, and the lower flowers have only male parts. Plants like average, medium moist, well-drained soil and full sun but tolerate some shade. Burnett can be propagated by seed or division in spring. It is hardy in zones 3-8. The genus name, Sanguisorba, comes from the Latin words sanguis meaning blood and sorbeo meaning to soak up and refers to the use of the plant to stop bleeding. The specific epithet, minor, is the Latin word meaning smaller, and refers to the relative size of the plant.
The ancient Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder mentions the medicinal powers of burnet but might have been thinking of the great burnet, Sanguisorba officinalis. The sixteenth century herbalist William Turner noted that the leaves of burnet reminded him the open wings of birds in flight while the eighteenth century herbalist Pechy though burnet could protect people from the plague. The sixteenth century plantsman Gerard noted that the plant smelled like cucumber or melon, and a little later Sir Francis Bacon English statesman and philosopher suggested that whole paths of burnet be planted because it smelled good. Thomas Jefferson used burnet for livestock and erosion control and the Shakers in the 1820 used it for healing wounds. At some point, the cucumber taste of the leaves recommended it as a culinary herb and it was used in salads as well as flavored vinegars, herb butters, cold drinks, and garnishes.