Scented Leaved Geraniums (Pelargoniums)
Scented geraniums belong to the genus Pelargonium, they have been around since the 1600s. Dutch sailors discovered them growing wild in South Africa and brought them home to their gardens. At the end of the 1700s, these plants became fashionable in America and Europe. Today they are found almost all over the world.
These plants have glands at the base of their leaf hairs, this is where the scent is formed. When the leaves are crushed or bruised oils containing the scent is released. The strength of scent can range from strong to subtle.
There are five general classifications of scented pelargoniums:
Rober’s Lemon Rose Scented Geranium is a vigorous, upright growing plant reaching 90 cm by 90 cm in ideal conditions. It has soft grey-green leaves with scalloped edges with small pale pink-mauve flowers. The spicy scent is of rose with a hint of lemon undertone. This plant is sometimes called the Tomato Geranium due to the shape of its leaves resembling tomato plants.
Peppermint - Pelargonium tomentosum is a strong scented pelargonium with green felted leaves and masses of dainty white flowers in spring. It has a large, open habit. Both the leaves and flowers can used in cooking. Line the bottom of cake tins to infuse batter with peppermint flavour. Bake and then peel the leaves off before serving. A peppermint-flavoured tea is infused from the fresh leaves.
Fruit eg citrus
‘Mabel Grey’ - Pelargonium x citronellum has light green leaves that fan out into a large palm shape, with deeply serrated edges and visible darker green veins. The pink flowers are pretty and have purple marks brushed onto the two larger upper petals. This variety has an intense lemon scent almost like lemon sherbet. It is considered one of the strongest lemon scents except for Scented Geranium ‘Lemon Tart’. This is a large rambling plant with a woody base and an upright growth habit that may reach up to 1 metre high and 60 cm wide. Leaves can be used in the base for lemon cheesecake, tarts and other deserts. Leaves can also be used in pot pouri.
Scented Geranium ‘Lemon Crisp ’ is an evergreen perennial that grows to approximately 70cm high and 30cm wide. This lemon scented geranium is often used for cooking and to scent icing sugar and other desserts. The flowers may also be used in salads or to make decorative ice blocks to be used in cool drinks.
Scented Geranium ‘Scarlet Pet’ has deeply serrated hairy leaves that are a fresh, green colour. It really love this one as its scent is a surprise to all - fresh carrots! The flowers are bright scarlet red and have magenta coloured feathering and dark, almost black splashes or lines on the upper petals. Each petal also has distinct lines or veins leading to the centre of the flower. Height is 50cm high and up to 1.5 meters wide. This pelargonium is also known as Scented Geranium ‘Moore’s Victory’ in some countries.
Spice eg nutmeg, cinnamon
‘Cinnamon’ Scented Geranium is an growing up to 60cm high. The small, bright green leaves are serrated, or saw toothed, giving them a crinkled effect. The leaves have a spicy citrus aroma, often described as a strong lemony fragrance with cinnamon undertones. Some gardeners still call this plant ‘limoneum’. As the stems grow taller they begin to fall over and the plant takes on a mounding shape. The small flowers are pink-purple and have two larger quite round upper petals and three small ones. The upper petals are blushed with deeper pink striations close to the centre.
Pungent eg woody smells like pine and oak
Cedar - Pelargonium x copthorne has larger blossoms than many other scented species. The pink blooms have a maroon center on each petal, and both the flowers and the leaves have a subtle cedar scent. This variety grows to 90cm high and 60cm wide.
How to Use the Leaves
The leaves are traditionally used in perfumes, as folk medicine and cooking (both leaves and flowers). Rose varieties will add a delicate but stimulating flavour to sugar that can be used in baked goods or to sweeten teas. Stack clean, dry leaves in a large air tight jar between 2cm layers of sugar (start and finish with a layer of sugar). Place the jar in a warm spot for two to four weeks, and then sift out the leaves. Some cooks recommend bruising the leaves before layering to impart more flavour. The sugar can be substituted for all or part of the plain sugar used in recipes for white cakes or icings. Cinnamon geranium leaves make a wonderful cinnamon sugar, make as above. Small rose or lemon scented leaves can also be candied by dipping them in egg white and coating them with sugar to create impressive cake decorations. Dry them on a rack before using.
They are also in floral work to add texture and aroma to bouquets. Foliage used in floral arrangements will last up to 7 days.
How to Grow
Pelargoniums are herbaceous perennial plants the prefer full sun and well drained soil. They will happily grow in poor dry soils and exposed positions. These are frost tender plants. For this reason, I grow mine in pots that I can move during winter. In warmer areas, I like to grow them in my herb and kitchen gardens. Plant near paths for pleasant fragrance.