Salad Burnet is an attractive little herb that grows quite willingly in my garden. It has unusual blossoms - crimson-tufted flowers that form little balls, and round, tooth-edged leaves that are carried upright on delicate stems. It has an exquisite cucumber taste that blends wonderfully with salad greens. Unlike that 'other' cucumber herb, Borage, Salad Burnet has leaves that are thin, smooth, and not the least bit hairy.
This member of the rose family (Rosaceae) is another herb that appears to be more popular in European than North American gardens. It is widely used in German, Italian and French cuisine. Even the Brits like it - John Evelyn, the English herbalist, remarked that it was "...a very common and ordinary sallet furniture".
In the Newe Herball, 1551, Salad Burnet was described as having "... two little lieves like unto the wings of birdes, standing out as the bird setteth her wings out when she intended to flye..." Sounds delicate, but this hardy perennial is actually one of the earliest herbs available in spring. It was thought to have protective powers against the Plauge and other contagious diseases, as well as effective medicine against rheumatism and gout - heavy duty stuff for a delicate-looking herb. Nowadays herbalists use Salad Burnet for its astringent properties.
This plant is very easy to propagate from seed, or from root division. Start seedlings 4-6 weeks before planting outside in early spring. Plants can also be purchased from nurseries or garden centres. Mature plants will reach a height of 12 - 24". Although it can handle cold, it doesn't like intense heat or wet soil - which may cause the roots to rot. Plant in dappled shade if possible, or in a well-drained soil for the best results.
Once hot weather arrives, the leaves become bitter. Trim the bush back to keep its compact form and to promote new, tender growth.
Salad Burnet makes an attractive edging plant in the herb garden. It also makes an attractive container plant.
To harvest - remove the tender leaves and discard the stiff, wiry stems As mentioned earlier, Salad Burnet makes a nice addition to a salad, and is excellent in a sauce for grilled or poached fish. The fresh cucumber taste is divine with baked salmon. Young, tender leaves will add a fresh, cucumber flavour to herbed vinegars, and drinks. The rounded leaves also make an attractive garnish. An added bonus - the flowers can be used in potpourri or in dried sachtels.
The symbolism for Salad Burnet is 'a merry heart' - what a perfect reason for giving this old perennial a spot in your garden!
About the Author Judy Heyer lives and gardens in the coastal area of British Columbia.