GERANIUM (Pelargonium spp. – Geraniaceae)

Pelargoniums, commonly called geraniums, should not be confused with the European genus Geranium, which includes crane’s bill or Herb Robert. Pelargoniums – the name comes from the Greek palargos, stork, because of the beak-like fruits – originate from South Africa, and were first formally recorded in Europe in 1690; they are now a popular, familiar and widespread garden plant in frost-free areas. Although there are more than 200 species, only a few are cultivated for the production of geranium essential oil, and these include P. graveolens (rose-scented geranium), P. roseum, P. odoratissimum, P. capita tum, and P. radula. The main areas of flower cultivation and production are Reunion, Madagascar, the Congo, Egypt and most other North African countries; Spain, France, Italy and Corsica produce on a smaller scale, and other species of pelargonium are cultivated in China, India and Russia. The best quality oil is from Reunion, once called Ile de Bourbon (another name for the essence is gernanium Bourbon-La-Reunion’), and that from Egypt is good as well. Climate and soil are vital factors in the quality of the plant and of its essential oil.

There is scant mention of geranium in old manuscripts, although there are references in Dioscorides to ‘geranion’, but is it the same plant? It could be something quite different. There was nothing at all about the oil until the work by Recluz, the chemist responsible for the first distillation of the leaves in 1819; later Demarson, a chemist and botanist, made a study in Paris as to the best varieties to cultivate for the production of essential oil (that of rose geranium began in France in 1847). These researches introduced geranium oil to therapy.


Description: Geranium oil is steam-distilled from the aromatic green parts of the pelargonium, especially the leaves. The plant must be freshly cut just before the flowers open. About 300-500 kg (675-1,125 lb) of plants are needed to obtain 1 kg (21/4 lb) of geranium essential oil so it is quite expensive (though not as much so as rose). The worldwide annual production of the oil is estimated to be in the region of 300 tonnes, an enormous quantity, mostly used in perfumes (of which the oil is the most important ingredient). The oil is limpid, and fairly colourless, although there is a faint tinge of green. It has a wonderful aroma, and that of rose geranium is rather like rose oil: this also contains geraniol and citronellol, which is why geranium is often used to falsify the more expensive rose oil.

The principal constituents: Alcohols (terpenic geraniol, about 75 -80 per cent, borneol, citronellol, linalool, terpineol), esters (acetic, butyric, valerianic), ketones, phenols (eugenol) and terpenes (phellandrene, pinene).

Dangers: The best-quality geranium oil is quite expensive, so it in turn is often falsified with artificial esters,cedarwoodturpentine or lemongrass. These falsifications can easily be detected by an expert, but are sold as true geranium to the public. These falsified oils will obviously not give good results in therapy, so buy very carefully.


In illness
Geranium oil is one of the most important oils in aromatherapy and almost a first-aid kit in itself. It is vulnerary, a tonic, an antiseptic and a haemostatic, and is good for tiredness, general fatigue and convalescence. It can be used for children too, but as always, the remedies must be at half strength or less.

It is particularly useful for many skin disorders, and can help heal cuts and bruises, burns, frostbite, fungus infections, athlete’s foot and eczema. Apply neat on cuts and bruises as you would any antiseptic, and cover with a gauze. Repeat a few times per day when changing the dressing.

For haemorrhoids, add 1 drop geranium oil to a small jar of cold cream or 5 ml (1 tsp) wheatgerm oil. Apply with a gauze, leaving this in place if possible, and repeat several times a day or whenever painful.

Athlete’s foot remedy

Before applying the oil below, have a foot bath of warm water and sea salt, with 5 drops of geranium oil mixed in.

  • 15 ml (1tbsp) soya oil
  • 3 drops wheatgerm oil
  • 10 drops geranium oil

Mix well and put in a dark bottle. Apply on the feet morning and night, massaging it in well.

Geranium tonics
Diffuse the tonic aroma of geranium through the room where you have to study or work late. Apply a few drops of essential oil on a piece of cotton wool or folded tissue, and leave beside the heat of the lamp on your desk. Take a deep breath from time to time.

If feeling very exhausted, and needing a pick-me-up before starting to work – or play – mix 10 ml (2 tsp) soya oil and 5 drops of geranium. Massage this into the temples, back of the neck, sinus area, back of the hands and clockwise into the solar plexus. Rest on the floor for 5 minutes, then you will feel refreshed, with renewed energy. This is particularly effective for when you return from work and haven’t time for a proper relaxing bath before dashing off out again.
(See also abscesses and boils, anthrax, bruises, bursitis, colds, cramp, dental abscess, headaches, pediculosis, shingles, stings and bites and throat, sore.)

In cookery
Rose geranium leaves can give a rosewater fragrance, but many other varieties of scented leaves are available – orange, lemon, apple and nutmeg. Elizabeth David uses leaves in blackberry jelly as a flavouring, and in lemon water ice. Use leaves fresh or dried in cakes and puddings.

Other uses
When travelling, geranium oil can be a wonderful insect repellant and rather more attractive than most proprietary products. Make a simple body oil in the proportion of 20 ml (4- tsp) soya oil to 16 drops geranium, and massage your body with it. If bitten, apply geranium oil neat to the bite, and repeat several times a day to stop the itching. (You can use this on the face but never too near the eyes.)

A few drops of neat oil can be left on a piece of cotton wool or tissue beside your bed at night to keep insects away.

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