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:
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!
My nose prefers natural. Gradually he started rebelling against the artificially fragranced aroma’s I been wearing on my skin and using in my home. My mood joined forces and it seems as if only natural essences can make my happy or lift me up. What happened?
Maybe I want more authentic and genuine experiences now that I’m in my middle years? Maybe I need a closer or deeper connection with nature? To find answers to these questions I’ve been exploring natural perfume and the sense of smell.
According to Mandy Aftel natural essences bring emotional depth, mystery and complexity to a fragrance experience. Although synthetic essences have the same aroma they will not be able to “reach the animal place inside a person”. As scent is not rational and a very un-languaged way of communication, we can’t always explain the emotional intensity and memories an authentic smell can create.
From an aromatherapy perspective the body knows what to do with natural ingredients. Antoinette Pienaar mentions in her book The Griqua’s apprentice that the herbs and plants from the region you grew up in, works best for you. For those fortunate enough to spend their childhoods on wine farms, Tammy Frazer created a natural perfume that reflects the terroir of the Helderberg Vineyards (and the wine from the grapes grown there).
So I came to the conclusion that a simple combination of rose and sandalwood essential oils as a perfume works in perfect balance with my (middle years) soul. And for home fragrance fynbos essential oils transports me to the coastal plains of Cape Agulhas where I grew up. Soon I may want something more exotic and challenging but for now my nose is happy and content with authentic and natural!
The perfume of sandalwood,
the scent of rosebay and jasmine,
travel only as far as the wind.
But the fragrance of goodness
travels with us
through all the worlds.
Like garlands woven from a heap of flowers,
fashion your life
as a garland of beautiful deeds.
The fragrance of buchu is strong, wild and I would like to call it an “inner male” or animus aroma. Carl Jung described the animus (or a woman’s inner male) as positive energy that represents empowerment, the capacity to engage in and fight for what she wants, and the assertion of the live force.
My initiation into buchu was facilitated by the late Eps Joubert, an eccentric and passionate mathematics teacher and nature lover from Bredasdorp. He is also known as the “father” of the Foot Of Africa Marathon and his lasting gift to athletes from over the world is the fynbos route in the Bredasdorp mountain.
If I had to select one plant for introducing a visitor to South African fynbos fragrance, it would be the green, minty and fruity aroma of the Agathosma species. Agathosma betulina or round-leave buchu played an important role in the Khoisan culture, and have been used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes since early days. Brandy tinctures (“boegoebrandewyn”) for stomach problems and vinegar infusions for washing and treating wounds are early Cape remedies.
The Khoisan’s close relationship with buchu includes this fragrant plant being an agent of both physical and mental transformation. During initiation rites for girls reaching puberty, buchu was sprinkled on standing water to pacify the “watersnake” or “rainbull”. Its invigorating and stimulating properties were also utilized in rituals to “wake up the body”. For an interesting article about buchu as presenting the “life force” in the Khoisan tradition, please visit africanaromatics.com.
Buchu essential oil with its intense and overpowering fragrance should be used with care, but in times when you want a strong, blackcurrant or Bourgenons de Chassis flavour in you home or life, it is perfect. As a men’s cologne or facial wash for teenagers it may create a balance between “pacifying” and “lifting up”!
After experimenting with buchu essential oil in soap making and solid perfume, I came to the conclusion that this fragrance I would keep close to my body (as in a Khoisan tortoiseshell powder compact) but not directly on my skin. And used daily in an exfoliation soap, it might keep the “inner man” alive and happy!
Honeybee / Apis mellifera / Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes nature shows us a more elegant, but not necessarily simpler, way of going about our everyday lives. Last week while experimenting with home-made lip balm, I received unexpected guests in the form of four honeybees. It could be the fragrance of the melted beeswax or the added essential oils (Rose geranium, Lavender and Cape snowbush) that attracted them to my kitchen. Although an experienced beekeeper remarked that the beeswax lured them, I prefer to think that the bees loved the blended fragrance!
This experience made me think about how much the amazing honeybee (Apis mellifera) can teach us about sense of smell and fragrance preferences. Bees have an acute sense of smell and are choosy about which plants they pollinate. While reflecting on this, the following questions came to mind: How do they choose flowers from a bewildering number of options? Do they also feel overwhelmed by all the fragrances at their “perfume counter”? And how do they inform their friends about their discoveries?
The Beekeeper explained: A scout bee goes out foraging for nectar and pollen. She is attracted to the brightly coloured flowers and their fragrances. Eventually she will find flowers with usable nectar and will return to the hive to communicate her discovery by doing a waggle dance. Research indicates that the waggle dance of the scout bee transfers the direction, distance and quality of the food source.
If I could be a scout honeybee for a day, I would spend most of my time visiting the following fynbos flowers and their wonderful fragrances:
If an inspired perfumer could create a fynbos perfume with these floral notes, I will do my best waggle dance for him or her! If you want to read about natural perfume and floral notes visit the perfume blog Olfactoria’s Travels
. Her beautiful descriptions are so uplifting that you can indirectly experience the positive effect of the lovely fragrances and visualize yourself being a honeybee for a day!
Cape Chamomile / Eriocephalus punctulatus / Boegoekapok
Whether you are reflecting on the past year or planning for the next one, Cape Chamomile can assist you in this time of transition. This deep blue essential oil with its fine fruity fragrance is distilled from Eriocephalus punctulatus, an aromatic bush from the mountainous areas of the Eastern Free State and Eastern Cape Province.
Cape Chamomile will be my EOTD (Essential Oil of the day) for the last two days of the old year. In some African cultures the fumes of the burning leaves, twigs and flowers are used to disinfect the home after a death has occurred and also to clear away any evil spirits (a similar way to Kooigoed) In the absence of having a twig to burn, I will have to use the essential oil in a burner.
Apart from the transitional properties, Cape Chamomile oil is used to alleviate stress, depression and anxiety. The presence of linalyl acetate in the oil means it has similar properties to lavender as a sleep enhancer and relaxant. It is not related to German and Roman Chamomile essential oil and is 100% South African.
Perfumers use Cape Chamomile to blend with delicate scents such as rose. I’ve discovered natural perfumes and candles with fynbos fragrances made by Mandy Aftelier. She combined Cape Chamomile with Blue Mountain Sage to create a true South African fragranced candle.
Whether you use Cape Chamomile for its fine fragrance, as a stress reliever or to clear your mind, heart or home – have a wonderful transition to 2012!
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.
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!
This aromatic herb with its grey woolly leaves and persistent flower heads is one of the many everlasting species. It is said that the oil that keeps the flowers “lasting forever” will also stop your skin’s aging process, which makes it a must have for your vanity case.
A dried bundle of this strongly aromatic herb is called Imphepho (Zulu) and is burned to invoke the goodwill of the ancestors. The smoke is reported to be sedative and inhaled by traditional healers to induce a trance.
The Khoisan stuffed mattresses with this herb, therefore the Afrikaans name Kooigoed or Hottentotskooigoed. This everlasting is also used as cosmetic and perfume and is effective in keeping insects and parasites away.
For survival in veld this should be your number one emergency plant: it can provide fragrant bedding without parasites, you can burn it to relieve insomnia and the oil from the crushed leaves may protect your skin against the harsh conditions. You might just return with a Botox from nature…