- Family: Rose Family – Rosaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Rhizomatous.
- Height: 40–80 cm (16–32 in.). Stem lower part rough, upper part branched, glabrous.
- Flower: Corolla lacking. Calyx regular (actinomorphic), dark red, approx. 2 mm (0.08 in.) broad; sepals 4. Stamens 4. Pistil of 3 fused carpels. Inflorescence an elliptic, dense spike.
- Leaves: Alternate, long-stalked, stipulate. Blade pinnate, 3–6-paired, with terminal leaflet. Leaflets stalked, elliptic–lanceolate, cordate based, with serrated margins, wax-covered, underside bluish gray.
- Fruit: Achene protected by receptacle.
- Habitat: Damp meadows, roadsides, banks, ditches, war-time storage areas. Also an ornamental and escape from cultivation.
- Flowering time: July–August.
Genus Sanguisorba consists of twenty species, most of which grow in northern Asia. Great burnet’s closest wild stands are in Sweden, Estonia and the south shore of the Kola Peninsula. In Finland it is rare, growing as an established alien mainly in population centres from the south coast of the country to the Arctic Circle. Great burnet grows wild in Finland as a leftover from when it was cultivated as a medicinal herb: its species name officinalis refers to the fact that it was used medicinally, while the name of its genus, Sanguisorba, means ‘to absorb blood’, and the plant was used to arrest bleeding. Great burnet is also used in salads: the young leaves are tasty and have a flavour slightly like cucumber. Nowadays the species is usually only grown as an ornamental, and it makes a good cut or dried flower. Cultivated plants have occasionally succeeded in spreading to the wild in populated areas: the hard, dry pome has a membranous margin which the wind catches, thus spreading its seeds over large areas.
Great burnet’s rarer relative salad burnet (garden burnet, small burnet) has been cultivated as a kitchen herb for its mild-tasting leaves. It also gives wine a fine fruity flavour. Salad burnet grows wild in dry meadows in calciferous soil in southern Europe, while in Finland it can be found in the wild in the Åland Islands and the south-west of the country. Great burnet’s handsome red flowers are pollinated by insects, but salad burnet’s green or slightly reddish flowers have nothing in the way of colour, fragrance or nectar to tempt pollinators. Instead, the plant shakes its pollen out to be carried along on the wind.