Many years ago when I was first beginning an herb garden, all of the scented geraniums, or more properly Pelargoniums, were referred to as “rose geraniums” by the few people who were growing them. As more and more people became interested in these gardening gems, they were divided by scent into the rose, lemon, citrus, fruit, spice, mint, and pungent varieties.
There are hundreds of scented-leaf pelargonium varieties to grow, but the most popular ones are always the ones scented of rose. A lot of the scented pelargoniums have a good rose smell, and a lot more of them have a rose smell mixed with another aroma like lemon or spice. There are so many varieties that many of them are accidentally misnamed in nurseries. Some varieties have several common names, and some of them are sold only as “pelargonium” or “scented geranium” with no common name at all. The variegated ones sometimes revert to being a solid color. And to top the whole thing off, many of the common rose geraniums that are correctly named vary widely in their fragrance intensity. When you buy one, try to brush the leaves to see which ones smell the best and the strongest, so you purchase the ones you prefer.
With the essential oil of rose going for outrageous prices these days, the rose geranium has been raised for its essential oil, which is very similar to rose oil and is therefore in great demand as a substitute. The farms are found mostly on Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean and in Egypt, India, and China. The particular plant that is most commonly grown for its oil for perfumery is rose geranium (Pelargonium capitatum). Less commonly grown for its oil is Pelargonium graveolens, also called rose geranium. They are easy plants to grow in the garden, in pots, or in hanging baskets, demanding only good light and adequate water with excellent drainage. They are large plants and provide lots of leaves for potpourri or flavoring food.
A few of the more popular varieties available include ‘Attar of Roses,’ ‘Chicago Rose,’ ‘Cinnamon Rose’ (has no cinnamon smell, just rose), ‘Little Gem,’ ‘Silver Leaf Rose,’ ‘Snowflake Rose’ (variegated with white), ‘Round Leaf Rose,’ and ‘Old Fashioned Rose.’ Generally, the smaller the leaves of the plant, the smaller the plant will be at maturity, so if you want to grow them in pots in the house, you might want to look for the are quite pretty. They grow from the branch tips, so if you want flowers, you cannot clip them back until after flowering, which is most common in the spring.
Using rose geraniums
There are lots of ways to use these fragrant and flavorful plants besides being potted subjects or garden gems. They are wonderful added to potpourri and other fragrant things. They are used in flavoring, skin care products, insect repellents, aromatherapy, and they also have some medicinal value.
Here are two of our favorite recipes for potpourri:
A rose sachet
1 cup dried fragrant rose buds and petals
1 cup dried rose-scented geranium leaves, broken up
1/4 cup dried patchouli leaves, broken up
1 cup dried woodruff leaves, broken up
1/4 cup cut orris root
1 tablespoon cloves, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up 10 drops each: rose fragrance oil, cinnamon oil, and clove oil.
A dream of summer
1 cup dried rose petals
1 cup dried rose scented geranium leaves, broken up
1 cup dried calendula petals
1 cup dried lavender buds and flowers
1/2 cup dried chamomile
1/2 cup dried lemon verbena leaves broken up
1/4 cup cut orris root
2 tablespoons allspice, crushed
2 cinnamon sticks, broken up
10 drops each: rose fragrance oil, lavender oil, and cinnamon oil
Basic directions: Add the oils to the fixative, in this case the orris root. Mix everything together in a plastic bag or glass jar and mellow for 3 or 4 weeks in a dark place. Stir or shake regularly. Add more oils if necessary, and as needed to keep the potpourri fresh. Store in a covered container, and expose to the air as desired when you want the area to smell nice, or place in muslin bags and put in drawers or closets to make them smell fresh.
For the adventurous cooks, here are some well-used recipes using rose geraniums in the kitchen.
Rose geranium angel food cake
Line an angel food cake pan bottom with clean, washed and dried, rose geranium leaves. Fill the pan with the angel food cake batter, and bake according to directions. Cool, and remove the cake from the pan. Most people remove the leaves with a sharp knife, but some really enjoy the crunchy texture they give to the cake. Drizzle a lemon glaze in a back and forth motion over the top of the cake, and serve with fresh strawberries or other fruit. This is really delicious, and no one will know how clever you are unless you tell them—bragging rights to the cook, as they say.
Rose geranium shortbread
Cream 1 cup butter and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Stir in 2-1/2 cups flour and 1 large or 2 small dried and crushed rose geranium leaves. Chill. Divide in half. On an ungreased cookie sheet pat each half into 7 or 8 inch circles. Prick each circle several times with a fork. Bake at 300 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes.
Rose geranium sugar
To make rose geranium sugar, fill a pint jar about 1/4 full of sugar, and add a layer of rose geranium leaves, gently washed and dried thoroughly, then add more sugar and add another layer of rose geranium leaves, and so on until the jar is full. Put the lid on and let it sit for a couple of weeks. Use the sugar to sweeten tea, add it to fruit salad, use it to make frosting and so on. You will think of lots of ways to use it when you have it!
Once you start using the leaves in the kitchen, you will find lots of ways to make old recipes seem new again. A leaf in the glass of an iced tea or lemonade, a leaf in jars of jelly as you make them, a leaf under each cinnamon roll as it bakes, a few leaves in the punch bowl, a couple of leaves in the sugar cookies, and so on. So good!
These rose geraniums are wonderful plants. Treat yourself to one or two and see how nice they can be for you.
Jean and Roxanne Riggs operated Sunshine Farm and Garden in Oakland County, MI and now enjoy retirement in northern Michigan.