What is Geranium?

Pelargonium, Rose Geranium

FR: Bec de grue, Geranium rosat, Pelargonium

GER: Geranie, Pelargonie

IT: Pelargonio or Geranio odoroso

SP: Geranio

BOT: Pelargonium capitatum, (Pelargonium graveolens) and also Pelargonium odoratissimum FAM: Geraniaceae ILL: Plate 9, No. 4

Pelargoniums, native to South Africa, were introduced to Europe in 1690, and began to be cultivated by the French perfumery industry for ‘rose geranium oil’ in 1847. Pelargoniums are now grown commercially in many warm parts of the world – southern France, Spain and North Africa. Particularly famous is the oil from the island of Reunion.

What is Geranium? Photo Gallery




Good rose geranium oil, almost indistinguishable from oil of roses, shows much variation in aroma (caused by soil and climate), even in plants grown from cuttings from the same parent. There are also a number of varieties; lemon geranium, orange geranium, apple geranium, nutmeg geranium and so on.

The plant is not frost hardy, but can be easily struck from cuttings and then planted out after all danger of frost is past, in a sunny, well-drained position allowing about three feet between plants; cut it back and bring indoors or place under glass for the winter.

All the green parts of the rose geranium are aromatic, particularly the leaves, yet the flowers are odourless. The plants are at their most fragrant just before they flower and when the leaves begin to yellow. At this time the lemon-like perfume characteristic of young leaves has changed to become more like roses.

In cooking, the leaves give an exotic scented flavour, something like rosewater. They are used for scenting fruits, sweets and jellies. Elizabeth David, in Summer Cooking, recommends two or three leaves per pound of blackberries as giving a wonderful flavour to blackberry jelly with which it has an ‘extraordinary affinity’. She also recommends it with lemon water ice, for which she gives the recipe. The essential oils of the rose geranium are geraniol and citronellol, which are also the main constituents of attar of roses (not to be confused with European species of Geranium – e.g. Herb

Robert or cranesbills).

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