There are two culinary types of burnet: Sanguisorba officinalis and Sanguisorba minor, which is often called salad, garden, or small burnet. The weed is native to Southern Europe, Northwest Africa, and Southwestern Asia. The genus name can be split into two parts ‘sanguis’, which means ‘blood’ in Latin, while the second ‘sorbeo’ translates to ‘soak up’—and in traditional practice, it was applied to wounds and skin injuries to stop bleeding.
A remedy for health
Burnet contains many beneficial substances: saponins, tannins, and flavons. The weed helps wounds bleed less, and medieval soldiers were even known to drink an extract from the leaves before going to a battle, hoping that wounds would bleed less heavily. When the dried leaves are brewed as an infusion, they also possess a positive influence on hoarseness, sore throat, bladder and kidney problems, and can stimulate the appetite.
Both leaves and flowers from the burnet weed have a distinctive cucumber-like aroma with floral / geranium and green / grass / cucumber and green / fatty notes. These aromas cover almost half of the aroma wheel and nearly meet the exact profile of fresh cucumber, which explains this recognizable flavor. The presence of these molecules, which also form the basic profile of algae, fish (e.g. mackerel, salmon or cod) and shellfish (e.g. lobster), makes them easy to combine. You can also pair them with apricot, orange, grapes, bergamot, ginger, cooked fonio, and even roasted pork belly.
The flowers and leaves possess extremely similar aroma profiles because of the aroma compounds are nearly identical. But while the flowers provide more grassy and vegetal notes with a more intense geranium nuance, the leaves are slightly more complex, with stronger cucumber, rose, and acidic aromas, making them more refreshing overall. The combination of the cucumber notes with some fruity and citrus nuances can provide a fruity, melon-like flavor when tasting the leaves.
How to use burnet in the kitchen
Burnet appeared in the 16th century in Elizabethan England where it was an ornamental herb and floating leaves were a garnish in goblets of wine. These days, however, it has become a common ingredient in all types of dishes, imparting a refreshing aftertaste. Many enjoy infusing water, wine, vinegar, olive oil, and even cocktails with burnet leaves. Add burnet to gazpacho made from orange tomato, or exchange the basil in a caprese salad with burnet. Try it with cold soup consisting of beetroot juice and sour cream. It can be an ingredient of seasoning in companion with basil, lemon balm, rosemary, and fresh fenugreek; and any recipe that uses mint is a candidate for a burnet substitution. We, of course, love to add burnet to the traditional Belgian dish ‘Eel & Green’.