Long-loved for their intense fragrances that range from fruity and floral, to earthy and spicy, Scented Geraniums, or Pelargoniums are an amazingly aromatic ornamental and culinary herb. Cousin to the garden-variety red “grandma’s Geranium” seen so often growing in window boxes and flower beds across the South, Pelargoniums are in the same family and though they share the name, are not “true” Geraniums. First discovered in the 1600’s in South Africa, Pelargoniums were originally lumped in with Geraniums because of their resemblance and similar habit, but as their popularity rose and botany progressed, their taxonomy changed and they were given their own distinction. They received the name, Pelargonium to define them separately, which is derived from the Greek word for “stork”, as part of the bloom seems similar to a stork’s bill.
Reaching the height of their vogue in the Victorian Era, Scented Geraniums were cultivated in greenhouses throughout Europe for the herb’s numerous rich aromas, until fuel had to be reallocated to war efforts, which left enthusiasts unable to heat their greenhouses. With over two hundred varieties of this lovely, fragrant herb, it’s no surprise that they remain a favorite garden, patio and culinary herb for today’s gardeners. The biggest bonus of the Pelargonium is its intensely scented foliage. Depending on the variety, the leaves may be dainty and lacy, rounded or sharply defined, and come in many different verdant hues from light to dark green, including some species with cream or golden variegation on its fringes. Typically, the plant’s blooms have little to no smell, leaving the leaves with the bulk of the herb’s fragrance. Just as with their leaves, depending on the type of Pelargonium, blossoms may come in a variety of colors, patterns and shapes. Generally they all share the same five-petaled design, offering gardeners the option between pink, purple, white, red and yellow hues, masked centers, and wide or thin blooms. (Some even resembling miniature Orchids!)
In the kitchen, these herbs infuse desserts and other dishes with their scent, and delicately translate their perfumes to our taste buds. Pairing well with fruits like apples, melons and bananas, scents like Rose or Lemon really enhance the flavor of the meal. Try adding some of the Lemon or Peppermint leaves, wholly, to your next iced tea. You can also line the bottom of your cake pans when baking, with Scented Geranium leaves to infuse your favorite cake with a natural flavor. Also used to make syrups, jellies, liqueurs, and flavored butters, Scented Geraniums are a deliciously versatile herb.
Pelargoniums have also long been believed to possess magical and spiritual powers, usually dependent upon the scent or color. Thought to be a good luck charm for healthy, love, protection and powerful in repelling evil and negativity, Scented Geraniums were (and continue to be) used in bath infusions, perfumes, herb pillows and protective sachets. Though used solely in these functions for their fragrance in modern days, superstitions tied to specific scents still linger. It was once believed that Nutmeg Scented Geraniums would bring someone financial good fortune, while Rose Scented varieties would bring a healthy love life. Beliefs were also based on the color of the blooms, such as White Pelargoniums were a symbol of fertility, while Red strains meant strength and protection.
Also used in arts and crafts like wreath and potpourri-making because of their long lasting fragrant leaves, Scented Geraniums are like nature’s little air fresheners! Fill your home with citrus and floral scents the natural way and stop using costly, chemical-based candles (plants won’t accidentally burn your house down!) and plug-ins. Lemon and Rose scents tend to grow ideally in containers and make great houseplants. Place them in a sunny window or in a high traffic area–brushing past the scented leaves will release each plant’s specific aroma and will revitalize your senses, especially after a long day. You can also place the leaves in your pillow case or dresser drawer. This will not only repel moths but perfume your laundry and soothe you as you sleep.
Three of our favorite varieties of Scented Geranium are the Citronella, Rose and new this year, the Atomic Snowflake! Each offers a distinct scent and beauty that performs well in the kitchen or garden and is ideal for container growing in or outdoors on patios and windowsills. We love making scented sugar for baking by alternating granulated sugar and Rose Pelargonium leaves, sealing the layers in a jar and leaving it in a sunny window for two weeks. This infuses the sugar with the delicate aroma of fresh cut roses and tastes delicious on cakes and cookies! If grown in high quantity, the Citronella variety is said to repel mosquitoes. Debated in the scientific and gardening communities as to its results, we love its citrusy smell—it reminds us of warm summer evenings. Last and certainly not least, our newest and one of the most beautiful breeds, is the Atomic Snowflake. The name alone brings excitement to mind and its hybrid scent of floral and fruity tones will make a great culinary garnish and a potent perfume for your home or garden!