Scented plants can add an extra dimension of interest to a garden. While the smell of its flowers is the first thing that comes to mind when someone mentions that a plant is scented, it can instead actually be the leaves that are valued for their scent.
The smell of plants with scented foliage comes from aromatic oils held within their leaves which are released (vaporise) into the air when the leaf is crushed. While most scented plants smell pleasant to humans, it’s thought that the strong scents of these plants serve as a deterrent to insects which try to feed on the foliage. Mankind has used this property of these plants to their advantage. Citronella scented mosquito repellent coils is just one commercial example, but there’s a host of homebrew organic pest control recipes on the internet that make good use of scented leaves.
One of the easiest groups of all the plants with scented foliage has to be the scented Geraniums (Scented Pelargoniums for purists, as the genus name Geranium actually belongs to a similar but different group of plants). While most Geraniums have a distinctive scent which some people even find unpleasant, the term scented Geranium refers to varieties specifically bred so that their leaves have a pleasant scent reminiscent of another plant.
The common name assigned to a scented Geranium cultivar is often just the name of the scent they smell of, a rose-scented Geranium is simply called a Rose-Scented Geranium, while an apple-scented Geranium is simply called an Apple-Scented Geranium. Unfortunately this can result in confusing as there are at least several different, distinct cultivars that carry a rose scent, all of which carry the common name of rose-scented Geranium. This is likely the case with other scented Geraniums also.
There’s a whole range of different scented Geranium cultivars in existence from common ones such as lemon and rose-scented, to a range of more rarely seen ones including nutmeg, coconut, apricot, peppermint, apple, ginger, lime, orange and even one which is said to smell like fruit tingle candy. Like most things in life, some of these varieties are no doubt closer in scent to their namesakes than others.
Propagating Scented Geraniums
Geraniums are one of the most easily propagated of all plants, and scented varieties are no exception.
To propagate them simply take a stem cuttings about 6 inches long during the warmer months of the year, plant them into pots filled with moist potting mix and keep them well watered until roots form. Rooting hormones are not required to get geranium cuttings to strike and the powdered types can even increase the chance of rot (as the powder will absorb and hold onto water).
Some people leave their Geranium cuttings exposed to air for about half a week to allow a callous to form. The callous helps to reduce the chance of the cutting rotting, although I generally find this step unnecessary. I’ve even had success planting the cuttings directly into the ground as long as they’re not left to dry out.
The most common reason Geranium cuttings will rot is if they are planted too deep in the soil. To avoid this at most plant the cuttings only a few nodes deep. For those needing a refresher of botanical terms, nodes are the points on the stem where new shoots come from just above where each leaf comes out of the stem, they are also where new roots develop from. Geraniums have large leaf scars on the stem where the dried leaves have fallen off so it shouldn’t be hard to count the number of nodes deep you are planting.
Before planting, cut off the any lower leaves so that they don’t become buried by soil and rot. You can also cut back some of the higher leaves if the cutting is particularly leafy, this will help to reduce water loss via the leaves while the cutting becomes established.
The roots will take between one and three to start to grow. If you planted stem tip cuttings (those taken from the end of a stem) you should pinch out their tops once they have rooted to encourage lateral branching, resulting in a bushier Geranium plant.
If you live in a climate where temperatures drop below freezing, you should bring your plants indoors during Winter as most Geraniums won’t tolerant frost at all.
Creating Potpourii With Scented Geraniums
Scented Geraniums make an excellent ingredient for potpourii, simply collect the leaves after they dry on the plant or harvest fresh leaves and place them on a rack in a dry place for a few weeks. Once you have a decent amount of dried leaves you can crush them up using your hands, they’ll flake into small pieces really easily. You can use just one or combine the crushed, dried leaves of several different scented Geraniums.
Once you have your crushed Geranium leaves you can then mix then mix them with other dried botanical ingredients which smell nice. Some suggestions include crushed herbs, ground or whole spices, grated citrus rind, crushed scented flower petals and wood shavings from conifer trees (particularly cedar, cypress or juniper). You can spend an entire afternoon mixing together your own unique potpourii blend.
Using Scented Geraniums in Cooking
While the Geranium leaves themselves are rather tough and inedible, you can infuse their scents as a flavouring into other things for use in cooking.
You can infuse sugar with the flavour of your favourite scented geranium by alternating layers of leaves and sugar in a jar or container and allowing time for the scent to infuse through the sugar. The flavoured sugar can then be used to sweeten drinks or added to cakes or biscuit recipes in a similar fashion to vanilla sugar. You can even use the leaves to infuse whipped cream for use in cake decorating.
You can pour boiling water over scented Geranium leaves to make a delicious herbal tea, especially good when sweetened with infused sugar made with the same scented cultivar. You can also make scented geranium jello and jellies using infused sugar and tea and a firming agent.
While the leaves are too tough and fibrous, the flower petals are entirely edible and can be used to provide colour to salads, and non-white flowered varieties will even leech some of their colour when seeped in boiling water.
Scented Geranium Use In Aromatherapy & Cosmetics
Scented Geranium leaves can also be infused into alcohol to create perfumes and tinctures or into oil to create perfumed massage oils. There are plenty of homebrew recipes available on the internet, some better than others.
Distillates from scented Germaniums are commonly used in the commercial perfume industry as a cheaper way of adding a familiar, pleasant scent to a product. The Rose-Scented Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) shown in the photo at the beginning of this article is of particular importance to the cosmetic industry. Because the cost of real rose scent distillate is far greater than that those made from rose-scented Geranium leaves, commercial rose-scented perfumes are more likely to contain the scent of rose-scented Geranium than real roses.