Friday, July 16, 2010

Pelargonium species

I grew up calling these useful and delicious things Geraniums and it's hard to get out of the habit. But the name 'Geranium' should really be reserved for their cousins.

Actually anything that can be done to reduce the confusion round these plants' taxonomy is welcome to me! Pelargoniums do my head in with all their species, sub-groups and varieties. The most reliable and clear explanation of them all that I can find is at PAGS - the Pelargonium and Geranium Society in Britain.

They also have a little Pelargonium cookbook available in their shop - 'Geranium cookery'. (They do mean pelargoniums though! :)

Are they really foraging fare?
Well, they are a lot like lavender and rosemary, in that they haven't escaped from gardens and become weeds ... they just look like they want to.

They stand on the edges of gardens, poking out through fences, or at the street ends of driveways, or out on grass verges, just public enough that you can whip a few leaves or flowers off. And they grow vigorously.

Using pelargoniums
They hail from South Africa, where they have a long history of medicinal use - for many different ailments.

They all have edible leaves that you can boil as a vegetable, and the petals are a pretty addition to salads.

Most exciting of all are the scented Pelargoniums. The leaves have glands that give off a strong scented oil. The fragrances range from apple, to mint, to rose, to lemon, to spice ... and more.

Pour boiling water over them to make tea, flavour ice cream or jelly with them, chop them up and put them in biscuits, or line a caketin with them for the flavour to permeate the cake.

Here's a lovely webpage with a brief look at their history in the west, as well as some delicious looking recipes, both sweet and savoury.

Google will reveal many more recipes.

Pelargonium graveolens
On This Way Up, Richard and I looked at a Pelargonium graveolens - often known as a 'rose geranium'. (Its essential oil is a staple of the aromatherapist's and natural perfumer's palette!)

Richard thought it smelled more like lemon; I thought it was more rosy, although I get a bit of the lemoniness too.

From what I understand (please someone correct me if I'm wrong!) there are range of different fragrant compounds in Pelargonium graveolens, and in some varieties (and perhaps individual specimens) one scent will come to the fore, while in others, another scent will.

I'm guessing this particular Pelargonium graveolens had a lot of both the rosy and the lemony scent, and Richard and I, with our different noses, each perceived the overall fragrance differently .... Kind of like two people will look at the same colour, and one say it's blue while the other will say it's green.

Pelargoniums are not flowering much round here yet, but their leaves are both diverse and distinctive. Here are some google images.

Above photos of Pelargoniums courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Kelly said...

I didn't know you had this blog Johanna - I love that you're sharing all this wonderful info with the world. I, for one, never think of anything in my environment as edible so this is a very interesting read. Off to share on facebook now :)

Heather said...

Have you tried the leaves in water kefir? I have a peppermint and a rose pelargonium (and also a 'chocolate' that doesn't smell anything like chocolate), and like them both very much in kefir. I put the leaves in right at the beginning of the brewing, and sometimes do just the pelargoniums or sometimes put lemon balm with the peppermint or kaffir lime leaves with the rose. The rose pelargonium has more scent than flavour in the drink, but it still lends a lovely exoticism to it :-)

Johanna Knox said...

Kelly, thanks very much for your nice comment!

Heather, that's a brilliant idea! Will try them in kefir this week!

What does the chocolate one actually smell or taste like?

I recently bought some apple scented pelargoniums and they have a fascinating smell - there's an apple scent in there, but also a sort of tom-catty smell ... like blackcurrant buds!

They are not as strong as the rose scented ones.