Sharing the same properties as the medicinal herb Burnet (Sanguisorba officinalis), Salad Burnet has been used for over 2,000 years. The Latin scientific name, Poterium sanguisorba or Sanguisorba minor, translates as “drink up blood” referring to its astringent qualities and so it has been used to prevent hemorrhages and internal bleeding; in past centuries, soldiers would drink a tea made from the herb before going into battle in the hopes that any wounds they received would be less severe.
Salad Burnet was first introduced to the New World from its native Europe and north-west Africa by the English colonists of the 1600s. The English statesman and scientist, Sir Francis Bacon was fond of this herb when planted on garden pathways “to perfume the air most delightfully, being trodden on and crushed”; even Thomas Jefferson knew the value of Salad Burnet as excellent fodder for livestock, having once ordered 8 bushels of seed , enough for 16 acres of plants!
We don’t quite have 16 acres of this perennial herb planted at the WJ Herb Garden, but its fresh tangy cucumber taste makes it a great ingredient in many French and Italian recipes (all recipes tried, tested, and plates eagerly licked clean by the author!)
Onion, Corn and Potato Soup with Salad Burnet Purée
This is a rich and comforting soup, with the Burnet puree adding a refreshing accent. (Adapted from a recipe by Linda Gilbert, a Bay Area freelance journalist and co-owner of a Sonoma catering company.)
3 tbs. butter
3 large yellow onions, chopped
3 ½ cups vegetable stock
¼ tsp. mace
1 ½ cups milk
3 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
½ sp. minced garlic
kernels from 2 ears of yellow corn
salt and pepper
½ cup Salad Burnet leaves
Sprigs of Salad Burnet for garnish
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a soup pot. Slowly sauté the onion until golden. Add the vegetable stock, mace, and potatoes. Raise the heat until the mixture simmers, cover and cook until the potatoes are soft. Add the garlic and the purée the soup until smooth. In a separate pan, sauté the corn kernels in the remaining tablespoon of butter. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. In a separate container combine the Salad Burnet and ½ cup of the pureed soup. Puree this mixture until blended but there are still some flecks of green visible. Add the corn to the pot of soup and heat through. Adjust salt and pepper, and add more milk if the soup is too thick. Ladle the soup into individual bowls, and using a spoon, decorate each portion with the pureed green mixture: swirls, hearts, lettering — whatever is fun. Garnish with sprigs of whole leaf Salad Burnet.
– David Hilmy