Other Names geranium, garden geranium, scented geranium, zonal geranium, stork’s bill, herb robert
There are over 200 species of pelargonium, far too many for me to list them all here. These are very popular bedding plants (treated as annuals in most places) and houseplants (especially scented geraniums). These are African natives for the most part that were brought by traders back to Europe and quickly became extremely popular.
The leaves are alternate and often have interesting variegated patterns. They may be palmately lobed (esp. the scented geraniums) or pinnate. Flowers can be star-shaped or funnel-shaped and come in a wide variety of colors. Because these plants have been bred for the garden industry (and perfume industry) for so long, the variety is endless and it is difficult to make generalized statements about their appearance and nature. One defining characteristic is the shape of the flowers. There are five petals in an arrangement of two up and three down.
History and Folklore
The word Pelargonium comes from the Greek pelargos meaning stork, because the seed pod is said to look like a stork’s bill.
When Linnaeus created his plant taxonomy, he placed geraniums and pelargoniums in the same family due to the similar shape of their seeds. They have since been separated, but pelargoniums are still called geraniums by most gardeners.
Pelargoniums are subtropical plants and are not frost hardy. Thus, they are usually treated as annuals in the garden or grown as house plants. Outdoor plants may be brought indoors in the fall and replanted again in the spring. They transplant well. There are many extremely fragrant varieties, (try Pelargonium graveolens) as well as some lovely trailing varieties that make attractive additions to the indoor garden.
Soil should be quick draining and high in organic matter and these plants should be fertilized monthly from early spring to early autumn, but do not need to be fertilized in the dark half of the year. Allow the soil to dry between waterings.
Pelargoniums can be propagated by cuttings. Simply clip off a bit of an existing plant, preferably a young shoot up 3 to 5 inches long, and put the end in moist sand or vermiculite. Keep the cutting in a warm, bright location and keep the vermiculite moist, but not wet. When a good root has formed you will not be able to easily pull the shoot straight up. It is now time to pot your new baby plant. Once it starts showing new growth, you can start your fertilizing regiment.
If you prefer to start your plants by seed, you’ll want to begin about six weeks before your last frost date. Scrape the seeds with a nail file to stratify them and plant in flats about 1/8 inch deep. Keep it moist, but not wet and keep the temperature around 70 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. You should have baby pelargoniums in about two weeks. Make sure the babies get plenty of sunlight. You can transplant them when they are about an inch tall. Do not plant them outside until you have reliable daytime temperatures of at least 60 degrees. Cooler nights are okay.
Pelargoniums are hassled by various insects including aphids, tobacco worms, spider mites, slugs and caterpillars (but we like caterpillars). They are also susceptible to various fungi. Make sure that you’ve got good soil drainage and that your plants aren’t overcrowded so there’s good air circulation between them to minimize these problems.
Harvesting & Storage
Scented geranium leaves can be used to scent sugar, jams, and jellies or dried for use in potpourri.
Pelargoniums can be used in any spells related to happiness, prosperity and fertility, especially talismans and sympathetic magic. Also, health. protection and love.
The color of the bloom and the scent can also determine the magical attributes of these plants. Rose scented geraniums, for example, can be used in place of roses for many uses and as is often done in the cosmetic industry.
Some Pelargonium species are said to repel mosquitoes.
Scented geraniums are excellent for use in cosmetics as well as in potpourri.
You can combine cornstarch, arrowroot powder, and baking soda and layer this with scented geranium leaves of your choice to make a great scented body powder.
To make your own herbal household cleaners, layer scented geranium leaves with baking soda, let it soak it up for a couple of months and sift for an all-natural carpet fresh or add some borax for a scented scouring powder.
Fragrances range from spicy (nutmeg, cinnamon) and citrusy (orange, lemon, lime, and citronella), to the famous rose-scented geraniums. There is even a chocolate variety. These can be used in place of the real thing for most magickal and aromatherapeutic uses.
Pelargonium sidoides may be useful for respiratory tract infections by preventing bacteria and viruses from getting a hold on mucus membranes.
Scented geraniums are used in many aromatherepeutic remedies.
Layer scented geranium leaves with sugar and let it sit for a month or two. Sift out the leaves and you’ll have lovely scented sugar.
Heat apple jelly until it is liquidy, add several rose geranium leaves, pour into a jar and allow to cool and refrigerate. After several days, remove the leaves. You can try this with other types of scented geranium as well. Or try it with real rose petals. (You don’t have to remove the rose petals but you do have to remove the scented geranium leaves.)
Also try steeping scented geranium leaves in wine, lining the bottom of the baking pan with leaves of your preferred scent, or added to cider or tea, blended into butter, the possibilities are endless. Be sure to remove the leaves before eating.