Scented geraniums are a group of flowering plants native to South Africa, the pelargoniums. Members of the Pelargonium genus are of the Geraneaceae family, or Geranium family, so they are often called geraniums. However, they’re not to be confused with the North American native wild geranium, Geranium maculatum, commonly known as ‘crane’s bill’ for the look of its seed pod.
Scented geraniums are grown for their blooming tea balls scented foliage, not their flowers. Indeed, some gardeners clip off the flower stalk before it gets a chance to bloom, instead enjoying the aroma of the leaves. Many varieties have been developed with different scents. Rose, lemon, orange, chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon, lime, ginger, apple and mint are some of the dozens of scented geraniums that may be available at your local garden center.
The flowers bloom in white, pinks, corals, reds and purple in round umbels. Each blossom has heart-shaped petals that make a cute addition to potpourri or romantic offerings. The foliage may be variegated or draped from a hanging basket in certain varieties. Leaves are soft and velvety due to a coating of soft hairs. Some leaves are scallop-edged, large and roundish, while others are palmately compound or deeply lobed or dissected.
Scented geraniums require full sun for the best growth. Dry, sandy soil is preferred over clay or wet conditions. These hardy summer-blooming plants can survive drought conditions and will attract insects when its feet are wet. Let the soil at the top of the pot dry out before watering again. Geraniums are frost tender, so they need to be potted and taken indoors or overwintered in a greenhouse. Otherwise, they can be treated as annuals in northern climates.
Leaves and flowers are edible and used to flavor sweets, cakes, custards and puddings with a floral scent. Heat the liquid for a recipe with dried rose geranium leaves, let the mixture cool and strain. The resulting liquid will have a rosy, floral aroma. Jellies and herb vinegars can be accented with scented geranium leaves. Petals can be pulled off the flowers and used to decorate salads and sweet dishes.
The leaves can be layered in a sugar bowl to give the sweetener a pleasant scent that is truly appreciated in herbal teas. Press leaves into pie crust before filling and baking for a surprising and uplifting scent. Scented leaves are used in herbal tea blends to impart a large variety of aromas.
Pelargonium leaves are steam distilled to produce essential oil of geranium, which smells like rose oil. Geranium oil can be substituted for the more expensive rose oil and is often found as an adulterant in rose oil. The leaves, or oil from the leaves is used to scent linens, bed pillows, wine, foods, medicinal ointments, perfumes, potpourri and bath oil. A massage oil for aromatherapy is used to balance the mood, lift depression and relax anxieties. Geranium oil is generally recognized as safe when small amounts are added to foods for seasoning or flavoring.