Monday, March 26, 2012

Scented Geraniums!

'True Rose' Geranium is one of my very very favorite plants, ever. Anywhere. It's not because it's necessary in the kitchen - it's not!  Nor is it necessary in the garden. Nor is it even a geranium, really... 

I love it because it's just. so. awesome. The lovely, fingered leaves have a fragrance that actually out-fragrances a real rose. In fact, rose geranium oil is a standard substitute for (much more expensive!) essential oil of rose in any number of fragrance products. Easy to grow, easy to propagate, easy to winter over inside the house, rose geraniums don't have a lot of pest or disease issues. The flowers and leaves are edible, and Rose Geranium jelly, syrup, sugar, and pound cake are simply To Die For. If you enjoy hosting garden parties, tea parties, or other events where you want to serve something feminine, elegant, and a little bit unusual, look to the Rose Geranium. 

As I said, these plants are not true Geraniums. That genus name applies to a group of pretty, flowering perennials who don't really have much of any scent to them at all. The Scented Geraniums are actually Pelargoniums - like the common annual "porch geranium" that gives us so much color in summertime planters. They are native to southern Africa, and came into popularity during Victorian times. As the story goes, Victorian ladies used to keep large pots of scented geraniums in the house and garden, positioned right where their long skirts would sweep against the leaves and gently scent both their dresses and the air around them. 

 And did I mention that the leaves smell like roses? Seriously.

There are plenty of other scents, too - I took a quick look out at and found no fewer than 24 different varieties on their website, including Frensham Lemon, Lime, Orange, Nutmeg, Peppermint, Chocolate Mint, Apricot, and Gooseberry! Then there are varieties like Fair Ellen, Mabel Gray, Lady Grey Plymouth, Pink Champagne, Sweet Miriam, Charity... and Citrosa, which has a citronella-rose scent. Boggles the mind. I want one of each! (And the space to keep them... ;-P )

So - time for pictures! With the exception of the cake pictured below, all were taken out at Thieneman's Herbs and Perennials in early March of 2012. 

First, here's a Rose Geranium pound cake, served at a plant-swap party we hosted a few years back. If you'd like to make your own, you can find the full recipe back in one of my first posts on this blog. ("Herbal Tea, Anyone?" from 2/6/12.) This is how I most often use my Rose Geranium leaves and flowers - I place the flattened and oiled leaves in the bottom of a greased & flowered Bundt pan, then spoon my favorite vanilla pound cake (or other cake) batter in on top of them. As the cake bakes, the leaves infuse it with a subtle rose taste. 
These leaves are from a 'True Rose' plant, and the flowers are from some other type -
 I don't remember which one at this point. I put a small glass of water in the center hole of the cake, to hold the flowers.

Here's the lovely, variegated 'Lady Grey Plymouth'. Imagine her as accent foliage in a planter of annuals... 
Peppermint! The leaves on this variety are large and fuzzy, with a good sharp peppermint scent.
Pungent 'Nutmeg' has small leaves that are a little more waxy, with a spicy scent and loose sprays of white flowers on pinkish stems.
One of my favorites is 'Charity'. She's a lovely, lime-and-green variegated lady. I'm not sure if I've ever noticed her blooming, but the leaves make her a stand-alone beauty. I've got a pot of  'Charity' in my upstairs window at this very moment, happily waiting till it's warm enough to live outside for the summer.
 'Fair Ellen'. Pretty pink flowers, and an interesting splotch of brown in the center of each leaf - nice on her own, or in a planter with other annuals.

'Frensham Lemon' cuttings, ready to be transplanted... This baby has a great lemon scent and would go well with lemon pound cake batter!  'Mabel Gray' is another lemon variety - she has flatter leaves, and the scent of lemon-oil furniture polish. (And I mean that in a GOOD way.)

'Snowflake Rose' actually seems to gain more "snow" as the summer goes on! The new leaves come out more and more streaked and speckled with creamy white, with the occasional pure-white one. I had these in a planter with Abutilons last year, and loved the look. Before frost, I took cuttings to keep inside for the winter - they did really well in my East-facing breakfast room window.

Lovely 'Sweet Miriam' has showier flowers than some varieties. Very nice in the center of that Rose Geranium poundcake!
Speaking of cake... there are a few other uses for scented geraniums, both culinary and household! You can dry the leaves for potpourri, and the scent lasts a decent amount of time. You can use them in herbal carpet-deodorizer recipes as well (That's an upcoming post!).

You can also use them to make flavored sugar, which is great in tea or in baking. Just pick some of the most perfect leaves, gently wash and dry them, and let them sit out on a paper towel over night. Put a couple of inches of sugar in a clean jar, then a layer of leaves, then more sugar, more leaves, continuing the layers until the jar is full. Store tightly lidded in a dark place for two weeks or longer, then enjoy! 

A couple of other recipes to try:

Scented Geranium Syrup 
1 cup sugar 
1 cup water
1/2 to 1 cup scented geranium leaves, gently washed and coarsely chopped

Mix sugar and water in a saucepan, stirring until it comes to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, until it thickens. Remove pan from heat, add leaves and cover. Steep for one hour, then strain out the leaves. Keep covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. 

Use over pancakes, waffles, or French toast, in drink recipes, or freeze as a sorbet.  I'm thinking about trying homemade rose-scented lemonade, myself!

Rose Geranium Jelly
From A Taste of Herbs, a cookbook by the Kentuckiana Herb Society
1 cup rose geranium leaves
3 cups boiling water
1 box Sure-Jell pectin powder
4 cups sugar
Red food coloring

Steep leaves in boiling water for 15 minutes; strain. Place 3 cups of the liquid in a kettle with pectin powder. Bring mixture to a boil; add sugar and boil for 1 minute. If desired, add a few drops of red food coloring. Skim and pour into sterilized jars; seal according to jar manufacturer’s instructions. 


Whew, that's a bunch of information - the main thing to remember is to enjoy your geraniums!

Talk to y'all next week - have fun!       - Jules

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