Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Scented Geranium - Herb of the Week

I should begin by saying I really love scented geraniums and that I reserve the right to make them the Herb of the Week again in the future so I can share in more detail what I know about them and the diversity of scents available. 

That being said, the Herb of the Week this week is –
                                  Pelargoniums – Scented Geraniums

Rose Scented Geranium
Scented Geraniums (Pelargonium) is a nothing like its cousin Flowering Geranium (Geranium sanguineum)  They have tiny almost insignificant flowers and depending on if you trim them or not you may not even see them.  However Pelargoniums have foliage that is wonderfully scented and beautifully textured, which makes up for the lack of floral display.  The leaves are totally edible and can be used in a number of different ways.


flowering Lemon Scented Geranium
The fragrance of a scented geranium may remind you of rose or lemon, or the plant may give off a scent of cloves or nutmeg, or your scented geranium might have an odor of pine or peppermint, or perhaps you will have a scented geranium that smells of fruit such as apple or apricot, pineapple or perhaps chocolate or coconut. And usually all you need to do is gently brush against the plant to release the fragrance, or you may need to bruise a leaf for the full effect.

Lime Scented Geranium
History
Among the plants I bring in every winter (Pelargoniums are a tender perennial) from my  Zone 5 garden are my scented geraniums.  Scented geraniums make popular indoor plants because they don’t mind dry weather and they grow with very little light unlike so many other plants you have indoors.  Originally native to South Africa they were introduced to Europe by Dutch and English sailors.  They were believed to have first arrived in 1632 after discovery on the Cape of Good Hope in Africa.  They immediately became a conversation items which grew in popularity.  They were brought to the Colonies by 1750 and by 1870 there were catalogs listing more than 150 varieties.  The Victorians grew them in green houses and used the leaves to create scented water for fingerbowls -- the height of Victorian fashion!  

To Grow
Pelargoniums are a tender perennial with a high concentration of essential oils in their cell structure.  If you live in a warm climate such as southern California, you can grow these fragrant plants outside in a pot or planted in the garden year round. In the right climate they can grow as high as 10 feet.  In areas where winters are cold you must protect your scented geraniums from frost. Bring them indoors for the winter. With more than 200 popular varieties of Scented Geraniums you can find one to your liking.

To propagate a scented geranium it is best to work from a cutting so that you get the hybrid and scent you enjoyed with the original plant.  Simple cut a stem just above the leaf nodule.  You can start the cutting in warm damp sand or in a glass of water.  Once it develops roots you can replant it.  The soil for scented geraniums should be well drained.  I make a mixture of 2 parts potting soil to one part sand to improve the drainage.  You do not need to worry about soil richness, as you do not want to grow your scented geraniums in excessively rich soil as this can cause the leaves to have less fragrance. The pH should be neutral to slightly acid, about 6.0 is fine.

I repot my geraniums in the spring.  It is part of my ritual getting ready to move the plants back outdoors.  This replacing of the soil usually replenishes the nutrients they need.  If you do not do this, you can fertilize your scented geranium using a 10-10-10 fertilizer.

Scented geraniums do best in bright light and will need ample direct winter sun when grown on a windowsill. In the garden, a few hours of direct sun will be enough. They will also do well in bright dappled light all day. Avoid overheated sunny spots, these plants actually prefer daytime temperatures around 70 degrees.
Scented geraniums generally grow pest-free.  If you see aphids, white-fly or other pests, treat them with insecticidal soap.  I wash the tops and bottoms of the leaves in fall when I bring them inside to avoid any issues indoors.

To Use
Scented Geraniums have been used in cooking since the 1800s.  With the discovery their the scents can mimic certain foods, they became important in the experimental cooking periods of the mid to late 1800s.  The flavors generally on the sweet side make them perfect for cookies, tea biscuits and shortbread.  Just placing a few leaved on the bottom of the pan before pouring in cake batter with gently infuse the scent a flavor.  Mint, Lemon, and rose are the most popular scents, but chocolate and orange have much to recommend them when cooking.  One of my favorite uses for scented geranium leaves is to layer them in sugar which I then use to create cookies or flavor jellies.

Essential oils from scented geraniums are so fragrant they are used in perfumes and colognes, sometimes substituting for the very expensive attar of rose.  You might also add scented geranium to potpourri or scented soap or add a drop or two of the essential oil to perfume a bath. 

Medicinally scented geranium is useful against inflammation.  it is an anti-depressant,  antiseptic, astringent and increase circulation.  The leaves and scents of Rose Geranium are believed to assist with pre-menopause symptoms and menstrual cramping.

Recipes


Triple Happiness Tea (From Kathleen Kips of the Village Herb Shop)

½ cup loose back tea
1 Tbls. Rose buds
1 Tbls. Rosemary
1 Tbls crushed dried Rose Geranium leaves
1 Tbls. Hibiscus
1 Tbls. Seedless rose hips
1 tsp. whole cloves

Use 1 level tsp. per cup of hot water and steep 3 to 4 minutes.  This tea is refreshing and great both as a hot or iced tea.  The medicinal properties of the ingredients are also great benefits!

Rose Geranium Tea Biscuits

1 pkg. dry yeast
¼ cup lukewarm water
¼ cup honey

2 eggs
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbls. warm water
1 cup milk, scalded

5 – 5 ½ cups flours
6 large finely chopped rose geranium leaves
½ cup honey
½ cup melted butter
grated rind of 1 orange
1 tsp. lemon juice
2 Tbls flour

Dissolve yeast in ¼ cup lukewarm water to which has been added ¼ cup honey.  Beat eggs with salt and add to yeast mixture.  In another bowl mix 1 Tbls. shortening, 1 Tbls. warm water and scalded milk.  Let cool, then pour into the yeast and egg mixture.  Add 5 to 5 ½ cups of flour, mix well.

Put in a pan and let rise in a warm place until double in bulk.  Combine rose geranium leaves, honey, butter, orange rind, and flour in a small bowl.  Divide dough in half, roll out like a jelly roll and spread with rose geranium mixture.  Roll up and slice into one inch pieces.

Arrange on waxed paper in a pan.  Again let rise until double in bulk, then bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes.  Makes 38 biscuits.


Calming and Warming Bath Blend
1 cup rosemary
1 cup lavender
1/2 cup thyme
1/2 cup rose geranium leaves

Cover 1/2 cup of the mixture with 1 cup boiling water. Steep 20 minutes. Drain liquid into bath water. Tie herbs into a thin washcloth to use as an herbal scrub. This mixture will make 6 baths.


Once you grow a scented geranium or two, whether you call it a geranium or a pelargonium, I suspect you will be hooked on the fragrance, beautiful good looks, and easy care!

Balancing Body Spray

3 1/2 ounces filtered or distilled water
1 tsp. unscented alcohol
15 drop rose geranium essential oil
15 drops grapefruit essential oil

Place all ingredients in a spray bottle and shake well.  Use on skin, especially at pulse points.  Shake before each use.

_________________

My Thanks to these on-line sources that I used in my research:

Herb of the Month Newsletter June 2009 - Village Herb Shop

I also posted some other scented geranium recipes in my blog:

Holiday Cookies 

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