From My Garden – The essence of spring is scented geraniums
Published - 04/07/19 - 08:05 AM | 3080 views | 0 0 comments | 94 94 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Essential oils from rose-scented geranium leaves are used in aromatherapy, perfumes and beauty products, as well as flavoring for foods, such as jams, syrups and teas. / LINDA MARRONE / VILLAGE NEWS
Essential oils from rose-scented geranium leaves are used in aromatherapy, perfumes and beauty products, as well as flavoring for foods, such as jams, syrups and teas. / LINDA MARRONE / VILLAGE NEWS
Native to regions of South Africa, scented-leaf geraniums may share the same name with true geraniums, but they are actually from the genus pelargonium.  True geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are mostly native to the Northern Hemisphere where they tolerate colder climates.  Pelargoniums grow in tropical warmer climates and cannot survive if there is frost and cold weather.  As their name implies, scented-leaf geraniums, unlike the true geraniums, have heavily scented foliage that comes in a range of aromas that include; rose, mint, lemon, strawberry, peach, apple, apricot and cinnamon, just to name a few. In the spring through early summer, these attractive herbaceous perennials produce sprays of small flowers in shades of pink, lavender, or white. 

Besides their fragrance, each variety of scented geraniums has its own growing habit.  Some grow upright and others are perfect for hanging baskets, since they have long wispy branches that will spill over their container.  I have a rose-scented geranium on the edge of a flowerbed that grows almost like a ground cover and its small pink blossoms are getting ready to bloom. I also have pots filled with peppermint-scented geraniums outside my kitchen door that have sprays of tiny white flowers for most of the year.  Their thin vine-like stems allow them to cascade down over their containers.     

Plant all varieties of these easy-to-grow evergreen plants in full or partial shade and in an area where you will brush against them as you walk past, which allows the plant to release the essential oils that creates their scent.  They prefer soil that drains very well, and only water them when the soil becomes completely dry. While these hearty plants are virtually pest free, springtime can bring aphids that are easily removed with a spray of water from a garden hose.  They do not require a lot of fertilizer and I only give mine a diluted amount of a balanced organic fertilizer in late February, just before the spring growing cycle begins.  As the flowers fade, clip them off to encourage more flower buds and remove any yellowing or dead leaves from the plants, as well as from the soil around them. 

In late fall when the weather cools, scented-leaf geraniums will need to be pruned back, which will encourage new growth and allows you to shape the plant. Pruning is important because, over time, older growth can become woody and leggy, which means less leaves and flowers. This past fall, I cut my peppermint geraniums back and left only 6 inches of the plant sticking up above the soil. Today, these indestructible plants are overflowing their containers and I just planted two more in pots (from Green Gardens Nursery) outside my garden gate.  

My favorite way to use rose-scented geranium leaves is in strawberry jam. Only use leaves from organically grown plants.

Easy strawberry rose jam

This simple recipe doesn't use pectin and makes a small batch, but you can double the recipe. For best flavor, harvest the leaves as the plant begins to bloom.

4 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped;

2 to 3 cups sugar, depending on the sweetness of the berries;

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (Meyer lemon is nice);

4 rose scented geranium leaves, bruised; 

Place all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.  Cook on medium low heat about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Let the mixture cool and remove the geranium leaves.  Store in sterilized sealed jar(s) in the refrigerator.

You can also take leaves from scented geraniums to make flavored sugar.  Layer several leaves (lemon is lovely) in between adding the sugar to a jar with a tight fitting lid.  Store for several weeks and your sugar will be filled with the leaves’ essence.

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