Geraniums are aromatic perennially growing plant species that are found in a wide variety of forms, dimensions, colors, and scents. Subject to the cultivars or species, these plants, which are grown as annual plants in the northern gardens, can have different aromas resembling a rose, apple, mint, cinnamon, lemon, pineapple, camphor, coconut, orange, lime, or nutmeg. Mostly indigenous to the southern regions of Africa, aromatic geraniums grow to a height of anything between 0.3 meter (one feet) to 1 meter (three feet).
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The leaves of these perennials differ significantly in their form, dimension and even in texture subject to the cultivar or species. While the leaves of a number of species are intensely cut similar to those of the oak leaves, there are others that are very delicately cut akin to ferns. There are some types whose leaves are curled or crinkled similar to those of parsley. Aromatic geranium leaves may either by delicate or even strong, clammy or hairy. Then again, some species of scented geraniums have pale green leaves, while others have deep green leaves. In addition, the leaves may also have grayish-green hue and all the species have their characteristic aroma and flavour.
The flowers of scented geraniums emerge in open clusters. However, the blooms of the common garden geraniums are much more attractive than the scented germaniums. The colors of the scented geranium blooms vary and may be found in white, light pink, cerise and even lavender.
You may grow scented germaniums in containers and pots, indoors as well as outdoors.
The flowers as well as the leaves of all species of scented geraniums are edible.
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Scented geranium has been extensively used by traditional folk medicine for treating various conditions like headaches, ulcers and earaches. People in some regions of Latin America bathe in water perfumed with scented geranium and claim that the herb has been helpful in alleviating skin irritations. Scented geraniums are native to South Africa, where people use the Pelargonium species for treating dysentery, diarrhea and even syphilis.
In addition to the above use of Pelargonium, people have also employed this species to cure respiratory problems, intestinal disorders, and wounds, in addition to treating problems related to the kidneys and other disorders. In effect, it is believed that geranium (Pelargonium) oil has a relaxing effect when used in aromatherapy. Recently, manufacturers in the United States and Europe have prepared and marketed remedies for cold and respiratory problems from the species O. reinforme and P. sidoides. In fact, P. sidoides has also been combined with Echinacea to prepare medications for treating bronchitis. On the other hand, the geranium species P. odoratissimum possesses astringent, antiseptic and tonic/ stimulant properties and, hence, is used for therapeutic purposes. This geranium species has internal use for treating gastroenteritis, weakness and hemorrhages, while it is used topically for treating skin problems, throat infections, neuralgia, and wounds. The essential oil extracted from P. odoratissimum is employed in aromatherapy. In addition, this essential oil is also excellent for maintaining hormonal balance, regulating menstrual discharges as well as rinse out toxic substances from the body.
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Besides cultivating scented geraniums for their attractiveness, some species like P. graveolens are of great importance for the perfume industry. They are cultivated and later distilled for their pleasant aroma. While there are several species of Pelargonium that have aromas akin to mints, citrus, spices, pines, and different other fruits, the ones having the aroma of roses are commercially viable and most important.
Occasionally, distillates as well as absolutes of Pelargonium, generally called 'scented geranium oil', is used as a substitute for the pricey rose oils or even used to adulterate them. In addition to the essential oils, the leaves and flowers of geranium are also edible and are used to add flavour to teas, desserts, jellies, and cakes. You can use the aromatic geranium leaves to add essence to iced teas, ice creams, cakes, jellies, butters and other delicacies. People mostly use the geraniums having rose, peppermint and lemon scents, besides using those having traces of orange, cinnamon and peach aromas. The most common geranium species that are used in culinary include P. citronellum and P. crispum. Geranium species whose aroma is akin to that of the roses include P. graveolens and several varieties of the cultivars P. graveolens. A number of geranium species as well as cultivars are also used and these include P. Lime having the scent of lime, P. Lemon Balm having the aroma of lemon balm, P. tomentosum having the aroma of peppermint and P. Lady Scarborough having the aroma of strawberry as well as lemon.
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As discussed above, scented geranium leaves and flowers are used for culinary purposes and adding some fresh geranium leaves in green salads will enhance their color as well as fragrance. Similarly, placing freshly obtained leaves of scented geranium in the pan's bottom will augment the essence of butter cake, angel food cake and even sponge cake.
You can prepare a flavouring liquid by infusing fresh or dry scented germanium leaves in water or milk. Filter the liquid after the leaves have infused for some time and use it to add essence to jellies, sauces, sweet breads, sauces, sherbets, ice creams, jams, butter, syrups and even vinegar. You may also freeze the scented geranium twigs in ice cubes and include them in iced tea as well as summer punches.
You may also prepare a cup of refreshing tea by brewing three teaspoons (15 ml) of crushed fresh geranium leaves or one teaspoon (5 ml) of dried leaves in roughly one cup (250 ml) of boiling water. Different varieties of scented geranium, including those having rose, lemon, orange, peach, apricot, coconut and nutmeg, are all ideal for preparing herbal teas.
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Scented geraniums also find their use in crafts. You may use fresh scented geranium blooms for making a scented table centerpiece. In addition, fragrant dried flowers and leaves of geranium may be included in sachets and potpourris.
It has been found that scented geraniums grow excellently in soil that has a proper drainage system and in well-rotted compost. It also thrives in fertile soils. While scented geraniums thrive well and also blossom most excellently when the conditions are cool and also in total sunlight, they are also able to tolerate drought conditions. However, these plants may be destroyed if there are heavy rains.
It is possible to propagate majority of the scented geranium species from their seeds. However, propagating these plants from their seeds may take a very long time - anything between many weeks and many months. It is advisable that after sowing the seeds in a thin flat you cover it with a warm mat. Ensure that the temperature does not fall under 13°C (55°F) as this is important for the germination of the seeds. You may transplant the seedlings when they have grown somewhat into small containers or pots.
On the other hand, it is preferable to propagate scented geraniums from stem cuttings. You need to take the stem cuttings during the period between the early fall when the flowering season is over and the first frost of the season is yet to occur. Use a sharp-edged knife to cut the stems just under a node - the place where the leaf emerges from the stem. Ideally, the stem cuttings ought to be roughly anything between 8 cm and 13 cm (3 inches and 5 inches) in length. Except three leaves, get rid of everything from the stem. Then immerse the cut end of the stem in a hormone that will stimulate the growth of roots. Subsequently, put the cutting in a combination of peat and sand to allow it to develop roots. Water the root cuttings and put them in a shady place for some days. Subsequently, bring them into contact with sunlight little by little. From then on, you need to place the cuttings on their dry side. Plant the cuttings in pots when the cutting have developed roots roughly 2 cm (0.75 inch) in length.
When transplanting outdoors, keep them at intervals of 30 cm (12 inches) from each other. You may also transplant the cuttings from the small pots to larger pots with a view to allow the plant to grow freely. It is important to bear in mind that scented geraniums are vulnerable to wilting due to bacterial infections, root decay, whitefly infestations and botrytis (a type of fungal infection). Moreover, it is important to note that plants belonging to this family cannot endure frost and, hence, need to be grown indoors during winter, especially when cultivated in the northern climates. While you are growing the plants indoors, you should continue watering them.
Even if you are growing scented geraniums indoors, it is essential to expose them to direct sunlight for no less than four hours every day. In case it is not possible to give them sunlight, you may expose them to artificial light for roughly 14 to 18 hours daily. Since these plants have a preference for somewhat cool places, put the pots near a sunlit window that is otherwise a cool place. Water the plants in moderation to enable the soil to remain somewhat dry during the period between two watering. It is important to ensure that the soil does not become completely arid, because when the soil turns dry the leaves on the lower part of the stem will turn yellow and wither away.
While providing the plants with houseplant fertilizer, use it in half of its original potency one in two weeks in the flowering season and just once monthly afterwards. In order to curb the indoor plants from excessive growth and occupying excessive space, you need to ensure that the roots do not grow out of the container. The tips of the stem require trimming on a regular basis with a view to promote branching of the plants. As mentioned earlier, whitefly infestation may debilitate the indoor plants, but generally they will recover when they are again placed outdoors during the spring.
Although scented geraniums have a number of therapeutic, culinary and craft uses, a number of people handling this plant or its products may suffer from skin irritations.
If you want to use the leaves of scented geraniums fresh, you may collected them anytime of the year provided they have grown to a height of 15 cm (6 inches). On the other hand, if you want to dry the leaves and store them for future use, you should collect them before the plants' flowering season.
The flowers too may be collected for fresh use as well as drying. Ideally, the flower clusters should be cut at such a time when some buds of the bunch are yet to blossom.
After cutting the flowers and leaves for drying, you need to spread them on a cookie tray and keep it in a well ventilated and shady place. Crumble the leaves after they are dry. Always store the dried leaves and flowers in a sealed container.