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2008 MHS Herb of the Year -
Scented Geraniums and
Edible Flowers

Scented Geraniums – Pelargonium
Scented Geraniums and Edible Flowers Cookbook Compiled By Carrie B. Wilkey

What are Scented Geraniums?
Did you know that scented geraniums aren’t actually geraniums? They are in the botanical family Geraniaceae, but are actually a Pelargonium species. Scented geraniums come in a multitude of fragrances and exudes its fragrance from its leaves rather than the flower. The great variation in the foliage of each variety is part of the scented geranium’s appeal. They all have different colored flowers as well. Scents include apple, chocolate mint, cinnamon, ginger, lime, lemon, orange, rose, strawberry, peppermint, nutmeg, coconut, and even pineapple – there are at least 200 varieties of scented geraniums.

Originally from South Africa, scented geraniums have been cultivated for hundreds of years. Sailors traveling from South Africa first introduced the plants to Europe in the 1600s and by the late 17th Century, over 150 varieties were available. Their popularity grew and by the 1800s, the Victorians used them in bouquets, potpourris, ointments, teas, cakes, cookies, jams, jellies and wine.

Scented geraniums captivated Thomas Jefferson who brought an assortment with him for the White House garden. The height of their popularity came during the 1800s when French chemists discovered rose scented geranium oil could be distilled and used in place of the more expensive attar of roses in perfume production. The essential oils are still used today in the perfume industry.

Growing Scented Geraniums
The scented Geranium is a perennial in Africa, but is considered a tender perennial in most of the lower 48 states. Many varieties will die back in the winter if left outdoors, but
re-sprout from the base in the spring. Most varieties grow beautifully in planters. Keep the blooms pinched back to discourage overly rapid growth.

Scented geraniums are said to be a gardener’s dream. They thrive on heat and infrequent watering, and grow best in smaller pots. Fertilizers will lessen their aroma so you need not worry about regular feeding. The plant’s biggest enemy is frost. Most scented geraniums are grown as annuals although they are classified as a tender perennial.

Choose a warm site with a well-drained soil for your scented geranium. A good method is to sink the repotted, over-wintered geraniums into the soil. Stem cuttings can be rooted in water and then planted in soil to start a completely new plant. This is a common method for propagation of scented geraniums as they are slow to germinate from seed.

You do not have to cut the leaves to enjoy them. Scented geraniums are a decorative extra in window boxes or patio plantings. Consider placing a few around your front door where visitors will brush against them and experience their wonderful aroma.

Pick leaves just as flowers begin to appear. It is best to harvest early on a sunny, dry day. Dry the leaves away from direct sunlight to preserve their fragrance.

Culinary Uses
Before artificial food flavorings were produced, the Victorians used scented geraniums leaves to flavor a variety of foods. Cut the leaves from the plant where they emerge from the stem. You can preserve them by making flavored sugar – just alternate layers of leaves with granulated sugar and set aside for two or three weeks.

One of the most popular uses of scented geraniums is to arrange larger leaves in a cake pan before pouring in the batter. As the cake bakes, the leaves perfume and flavor it, but before serving, they can be peeled off the top leaving a decorative imprint. Jelly and tea flavorings are other common uses for scented geraniums in the kitchen.

Medicinal and Cosmetic Uses
Medicinally, scented geraniums have been used primarily as an astringent in cosmetic formulas. The leaves have been used in potpourris, in aromatherapy (as essential oils), and as a flavoring in cooking. In aromatherapy, scented geranium oil is relaxing, but it is recommended to use in small quantities. Dilute 2 drops of oil for a massage, or to relieve premenstrual tension, dermatitis, eczema, or dry skin.

Craft and Other Uses
Outside the kitchen, consider using the leaves for sachets and potpourris or create old-fashioned finger bowls. Add them to your bath water for a bit of aromatherapy.

The scented geranium is a great as a room freshener or added to potpourri. Try adding some to your vacuum bag or put them in a mesh bag and add them to your dryer for a new fresh scent for your clothes.

Scented Geranium Recipes

Herb Butter
(From MHS Recipes for Scented Geraniums cookbook)

1 tsp. fresh chopped chives
1 tsp. fresh chopped Italian parsley
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp. fresh, finely chopped lemon-scented geranium leaves
6 oz. salted butter, softened

Work the herbs into the butter, mixing until they are evenly distributed. Chill for a few minutes. Turn onto aluminum foil or waxed paper and pat into shape, forming the butter into a long roll about 1-inch wide. Wrap and chill thoroughly. Before serving, cut into slices about 1/3 inch thick. Make a delicious garnish for steaks, fish, baked potatoes, and steamed vegetables.

Rose Geranium Cookies
2 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. ground mace
1 c. butter (8 ounces)
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar (can use rose geranium or vanilla flavored sugar)
1 whole egg
1 T. water (I substituted homemade Rose Petal Cordial; you may also substitute rose water)
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 T. rose geranium oil concentrate (or 2 T. chopped fresh leaves)
1 1/2 cups finely ground, toasted almonds
2 tsp. freshly minced orange peel

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine flour, baking powder and mace with a wire whisk and set aside.

Cream butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl until fluffy. Add egg and mix well. Add dry ingredients to creamed butter a little at a time, then water and almond extract. Stir in rose geranium oil concentrate or chopped leaves, toasted almonds, and orange peel. Mix thoroughly.

Roll into small balls (walnut size or smaller), then roll in sugar. Press flat with the bottom of a slightly dampened glass or your hand. Bake on ungreased cookie sheets at 350°F until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Makes about 75 cookies.

Variation: Substitute other nuts for almonds; vary the spice and citrus peel. Toasted pecans, pistachios or walnuts are equally delicious.