Lesser burnet saxifrage is not a relative either of salad burnet or indeed, other burnets, nor is it a saxifrage. The leaves look a little like those of burnet, but the white umbels or cluster heads of the flowers distinguish this plant from burnet at a quick glance. It is actually a member of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family of plants and closely related to caraway, dill, fennel, sweet Cicely and cow parsley among many others. Like the saxifrages is has had a reputation as being good against gravel and stones in the organs. It is native to some parts of Europe and Asia and is a native of the British Isles. It can grow to heights of three feet and have a spread of two feet.
In traditional systems of medicine it has been used for stomach ailments and to aid digestion; it has also been used for liver and kidney disorders and urinary infections. It is valued in the treatment of respiratory diseases and soothes bronchitis, asthma and laryngitis. The leaves and roots have antispasmodic properties and are astringent, god for getting rid of flatulence and also they have been used to promote sweating in fevers, as well as a diuretic. Like silverweed it is used for painful menstruation and stomach cramps, and in vitro in one lab experiment the essential oil from the roots seemed to have anti-cancer tumour proliferation properties. However, trials are few and far between on the uses this plant could be put to. One study conducted by scientists from Serbia and Montenegro in 2006 showed that extracts of this plant had antibacterial properties.
The seeds are edible and have been used as a condiment and also have been sugar-coated and eaten as confectionary. The essential oil from the root has also been used to flavour sweets.
Bunches of the herb were hung at one time in casks of beer and steeped in wine to make it taste better and a schnapps has been brewed from the herb. The leaves and young shoots are edible and have a mild peppery taste, with hints of parsley and cucumber.
Nicholas Culpeper writing in his Complete herbal in the 27th century had this to say of lesser burnet saxifrage:-
“it is under the dominion of the Moon. The whole plant is of a binding nature; the leaves are sometimes put into wine to give it an agreeable flavour, and the young shoots are a good ingredient in sallads. Saxifrage is a cordial and promoter of sweat. The root dried and powdered, stops purgings: and a strong decoction of it, or the juice of the leaves, is good for the same purposes.” (In other words it is good for diarrhoea thank to its astringent qualities.
The root is used as an expectorant in coughs and congestion and is mildly astringent and anti-inflammatory. If chewed it is said to relieve the pain of toothache. A lotion made from the root is said to rejuvenate ageing skin and distilled water of it is used as an eye wash.
The herb has been cultivated for culinary purposes as well as medicinal ones in the past, although it is not commonly used these days. It is best to harvest the plant in July and the roots in spring or autumn. They can be dried for later use and used in tisanes to help diffuse stones and dispel gravel, as well as to calm the stomach. The dose is 1 oz of the fresh herb to 1 pint of boiling water taken at intervals during the day. Leave the herb to steep in boiling water for 15 minutes before straining and drinking.
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