Greater Burnet

Sanguisorba officinalis

Herbs gallery - Greater Burnet

Common names

  • Common Burnet
  • Greater Burnet
  • Italian Burnet
  • Italian Pimpernel

Greater burnet is a perennially growing herb belonging to the family Rosaceae, subfamily Rosoideae. This plant is indigenous all over the cooler climatic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, especially North America, Europe and northern Asia. This herb also has a number of sub-species called garden burnet, grand burnet, sanguisorba, Poterium officinale, Sanguisorba carnea, Sanguisorba polygama.

Greater burnet grows to a height of anything between one to three feet and has a basal rosette, which is approximately one foot in diameter. The leaves of this plant are compound and pinnate growing up to 10 inches to 15 inches in length. The leaves have about seven to 15 oval shaped, jagged leaflets each growing up to a length of one to two inches and have a whitish hue underneath. A number of erect stems grow from the middle of the rosette and they produce thick, long-stalked, round to club-shaped tiny red flowers in clusters. The plant blooms during the period between June and October.

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The common name of greater burnet initially denoted 'brunette', a name derived from the dark hue of the plant's flowers. It has been found that tannins enclosed by greater burnet gives the plant its astringent and coagulant properties. Herbalists have prepared a tea brewing the leaves and stems of greater burnet to treat health conditions, such as dysentery and diarrhea. In addition, when the freshly peeled roots of the garden burnet are applied topically to mild burn injuries, it helps to soothe as well as heal the wound.

The leaves of greater burnet have a flavour akin to that of cucumber and, hence, are very popular as an ingredient in salads. The culinary use of greater burnet is related to that of the herb's intimate relation - garden burnet (S. minor), which has been used for long as a seasoning for salads and beverages. One is able to differentiate the garden burnet from the greater burnet on account of the former's smaller size as well as its flower heads that are usually pale to yellowish green having red stigmas that project out on the upper flowers. These red stigmas impart a red gleam to the flowers when they are viewed from some distance. Incidentally, both greater burnet and garden burnet are commonly called salad burnet.

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Parts used

Aerial parts, root.


Although greater burnet is used in salads and also for other purposes, including prevention of soil erosion, it is mainly cultivated for its medicinal uses. Even to this day, the herb is used to inhibit or stop bleeding. In Chinese as well as European traditional medicines, greater burnet is used internally for treating heavy menstrual period as well as uterine hemorrhage. It is also used externally as an ointment or lotion for treating wounds, burns, hemorrhoids and eczema. Being a valuable astringent, this herb is also used to cure an assortment of gastro-intestinal problems, such as dysentery, diarrhea as well as ulcerative colitis, especially if they are accompanied by bleeding.

Contemporary practitioners of herbal medicine basically use greater burnet for its astringent actions. As aforementioned, the herb is taken internally as well as used externally and has been found to be a safe and effectual remedy. New researches undertaken by herbalists in China have demonstrated that the entire herb is useful for healing burn injuries and it has been found to be more effective compared to tannins extracted from the greater burnet herb - the tannins are an astringent element found in this herb. In addition, notable improvements were noticed in patients suffering from eczema when they underwent treatment with a lotion prepared with the root of greater burnet and petroleum jelly. The leaves of the greater burnet possess astringent, refrigerant (cooling), styptic (a substance that checks or stops bleeding) and tonic properties. Hence, the leaves of the herb are used in treating fevers and hemorrhages. It may be noted that to collect the leaves of greater burnet, the plants are first stopped from flowering and subsequently the leaves are harvested in July. Soon after harvesting the leaves, they are dried and stored in a dark place for use when necessary.

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The greater burnet root is astringent, diuretic, anodyne (a medication that alleviates pain), febrifuge (a medicine that dispels or lessens fever), haemostatic (a medicine that slows down the flow of blood in the vessels), tonic as well as vulnerary (any substance that promotes healing wounds). The roots of the herb are especially used to treat haematuria (presence of red blood cells in urine), menorrhagia (profuse menstrual discharge), peptic ulcers, dysentery, diarrhea, burns and hemorrhoids. The roots of the herb are harvested during autumn, dried and stored for later use. In effect, while all parts of the greater burnet plant possess astringent properties, the roots have them in maximum amount. It may be noted that the great burnet is a wonderful internal remedy for any type of irregular discharges, counting dysentery, diarrhea, leucorrhoea (discharge of white mucus from the vagina, often a sign of infection). Externally, the herb is used to treat scalds, burns, sores as well as different types of skin complaints. A survey undertaken by the Chinese of 250 species for potential anti-fertility plant ranked the greater burnet 19th.

The roots of the greater burnet are especially used to stop nosebleeds, bloody dysentery and are also applied externally to heal insect bites. The leaves of the plants are added to salads because they have a flavour akin to that of cucumber. In order to promote leaf production by the plant, it is essential to selectively prune the apical meri stems, for instance, at the flower heads. Traditional Chinese Medicine has used greater burnet for several thousand years, in all probability by means of the use of the doctrine of signatures as a treatment for all types of bleedings or hemorrhages.

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Habitat and cultivation

As aforementioned, the greater burnet is indigenous to North America, Europe as well as the temperate region of Asia. This plant thrives well in swampy pastures, particularly in the rocky areas. Greater burnet is cultivated as a salad vegetable as well as a fodder for domesticated animals. The plant, especially the leaves, is harvested during summer.

Greater burnet grows well in ordinary garden soil. This plant has a preference for damp soil conditions, which does not become parched during the summer. This plant can succeed both in the sun or partial shade. Greater burnet plant is able to grow reasonably well in very poor or infertile soils and has a preference for an arid chalky soil. Greater burnet is able to endure temperatures around -25°C.

Great burnet plants are propagated by their seeds. The seeds need to be sown in a cold frame either in spring or autumn. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently enough to be handled, pick them out individually and plant them in separate pots. Transplant the young plants in their permanent positions outdoors as soon as they have grown to a reasonable size. Alternately, the seeds of great burnet may also be sown in situ during the early part of spring. In addition, great burnet may also be propagated by root division during the summer or in autumn.


The greater burnet encloses tannins, counting dilactone (a phenolic acid), sanguisorbic acid as well as some amount of gum.


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