Burnet, Great

Medical Herbs Catalogue


Burnet, Great

Botanical Name: Sanguisorba Officinalis (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Rosaceae

Synonyms: Garden Burnet. Common Burnet.
Parts Used: Herb, root.
Habitat: Grows in moist meadows and shady places, chiefly in mountainous districts, almost all over Europe. In Britain it is not uncommon, but is rare in Ireland.

Closely related to the Alchemillas, belonging to the same subdivision, Sanguisorbidae, of the order Rosaceae and having similar medicinal properties to Alchemilla vulgaris, are the Burnets, Sanguisorba officinalis and Poterium sanguisorba.

It is a tall and not inelegant plant, with pinnate leaves on long stalks, bearing thirteen sharply serrate leaflets and branched stems, 2 feet high or more, sparsely clothed with leaves, and oblong heads of deep purple-brown flowers, which have four-toothed, coloured, membraneous calyces. The root is black and long. The plant has no odour.

It is cultivated to a considerable extent in Germany for fodder, and has been grown here with that view, but is not in esteem among English farmers. It will grow tolerably on very poor land, but is not a very valuable fodder plant.

An Italian proverb says: 'The salad is neither good nor good-looking when there is no pimpernel.' This pimpernel is our Common Burnet and must not be confused with the plant known by that name which has poisonous properties. The roots are perennial and should be divided in early spring. It likes a dry and chalky soil.

Parts Used Medicinally: The herb and root, the herb gathered in July, and the root dug in autumn. Culpepper says of 'The Great Wild Burnet': 'This is an herb the Sun challenges dominion over, and is a most precious herb, little inferior to Betony- the continual use of it preserves the body in health and the spirits in vigour, for if the Sun be the preserver of life under God, his herbs are the best in the world to do it by.... Two or three of the stalks, with leaves put into a cup of wine, especially claret, are known to quicken the spirits, refresh and cheer the heart, and drive away melancholy: It is a special help to defend the heart from noisome vapours, and from infection of the pestilence, the juice thereof being taken in some drink, and the party laid to sweat thereupon.'

He also recommends it for wounds, both inwardly and outwardly applied.

Cultivation: Burnet may be cultivated. It prefers a light soil. Sow seeds in March and thin out to 9 inches apart. Propagation may also be effected by division of roots, in the autumn, that they may be well-established before the dry summer weather sets in. The flowers should be picked off when they appear, the stem and leaves only of the herb being used.

Medicinal Action and Uses: Astringent and tonic. Great Burnet was formerly in high repute as a vulnerary, hence its generic name, from sanguis, blood, and sorbeo, to staunch. Both herb and root are administered internally in all abnormal discharges: in diarrhoea, dysentery, leucorrhoea, it is of the utmost service; dried and powdered, it has been used to stop purgings.

The whole plant has astringent qualities, but the root possesses the most astringency. A decoction of the whole herb has, however, been found useful in haemorrhage and is a tonic cordial and sudorific; the herb is also largely used in Herb Beer.