Tag Archives: Geranium

From the bird’s mouth: geranium

Have you ever wondered about the origin of rose geranium essential oil’s name?  Pelargonium graveolens, the botanical name of the source of this oil, is not a geranium but a species in the Pelargonium genus, which is indigenous to various parts of southern Africa. So how did the essential oil get the name geranium if it is not from the geranium plant?  An interesting explanation for this was found in the book Cape Floral Kingdom by Conrad Lighton.

The garden and pot plants we commonly call geraniums are classified botanically as pelargoniums and they represent one of the Cape Floral Kingdom’s big contributions to the gardens (and window-boxes) of the world. There are actually very few true geraniums in South Africa and geranium is by far the older of the two names. The generic names for both species come from the mouths of two birds: geranium (geranos the Greek word for crane) was bestowed some 1800 years ago on a plant whose long-beaked seed vessel resembled a crane’s bill. More recently the name pelargonium (pelargos the Greek word for stork) was given to the plant whose seed vessel looked more like a stork’s bill. An example of the “crane’s bill”:

The seed vessel of Geranium sanguineum / Image: Wikipedia

If you’re still confused (as I was after this explanation) there is another way to tell the one from the other: the pelargonium has five petals which are unequally divided and the geranium has five equal petals symmetrically arranged.  This is an example of the geranium’s equal petals:

Geranium incanum / Carpet geranium / Horlosie / Vrouetee / Bergtee / Image: newplant.co.za

Pelargonium graveolens cultivars have a wide variety of smells, including rose (rose geranium), citrus, mint, coconut, nutmeg as well as various fruits.  Here is an example of the unequally divided petals of a pelargonium also used for the distillation of rose geranium essential oil:

Pelargonium capitatum / Image: http://www.newplant.co.za

Whether the seeds resembles a stork of a crane’s beak or the petals are equally divided or not, geraniums and pelargonium are both from Geraniaceae family, therefore the name of the essential oil. These modest plants bring colour to our gardens and window-boxes. And fragrance to our homes via the essential oil being used in food, soap (the Spanish Maja soap), and perfume (Geranium pour Monsieur by Frederic Malle and Geranium Perfume for Women by Yardley London). Indeed a word traveller from southern Africa!

Geranium against the bugs

Pelargonium Graveolens / Roosmalva (Afr) / Rose-Scented Geranium (Eng)

A bottle of rose geranium essential oil in my “Drift” cupboard saved my life today. It may sound a bit dramatic, but I’m really grateful for this herb with its wonderful fragrance that not only lifted my mood but also helped chasing  a tummy bug away.

The pelargonium species are indigenous to South Africa and were traditionally  used as perfumes.  Dassiepoeier (Afrikaans) is the crushed and dried leaves of Pelargonium crispum that was used as a fragrant deodorant powder.

During Victorian times geraniums were exported to Europe to be planted indoors in winter and then taken outdoors in summer to release their fragrance when women brushed against them with their dresses. The antiseptic properties of the plant was already acknowledged at that time.  During the First World War geraniums were planted in boxes outside the windows of German hospitals to keep germs away. Maybe that is why we still find them in window boxes through Europe.

The traditional South African malvapoeding (translated as geranium dessert) is baked with the fresh leaves of the geranium plant. Talking about recipes, I’ve decided to share a recipe with every post, and the first home-made product will be a room spray I’ve created and named “Fynbos Mist”. It is uplifting and will  take you outdoors when you are confined to your bed on a sunny public holiday.

Fynbos Mist

200 ml distilled water, 5 ml ethyl alcohol, 5 drops rose geranium essential oil, 5 drops cape snowbush essential oil, 5 drops cape chamomile essential oil.

Combine all the ingredients in a bottle with a spray pump, give it a good shake and enjoy!