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A Geranium Story

"When the little white flowers had once more withdrawn into the green blades and were transforming themselves into little white grains of rice, there came to the rice country a cousin of Chow Han's who had been living for some years in America. He talked much with Chow Han, and one day Chow Han came to me and said: "'I am bound for the land beyond the sea; but in a few years I will return with a fortune big enough to please your father. Wait for me!' "I did not answer him; I could not." "'Promise that you will ever remember me," said Chow Han. "'You need no promise,' I returned. Chow Han set down the pot of fragrant leafed geranium which he had brought with him as a parting gift. "'As for me,' said he, 'even if I should die, my spirit will fly to this plant and keep ever beside you.' "So Chow Han went away to the land beyond the sea." Ah Sue's eyes wandered to the distant water, which like a sheet of silver, reflected every light and color of the sky. Far, Sui Sin : A Love Story From the Rice Fields of China 1911

Dear Friends,

I hope all of you are doing your olfactory exercises because there are many new oils coming in to enjoy. Today the lovely, rich, complex, Bourbon Geranium(Reunion Islands) Essential Oil arrived. In most instances the leaves of geranium are steam distilled but in this special instance they are hydro-distilled. Last year, just about this time Ramakant, his family and I took a group of 22 people to India to share with them the aromatic botanical wealth of South India.

Part of our journey took us to the Palani Hills at an elevation of 8,000 feet where conditions are ideal for growing geranium. There we were able to see the work of an incredible man whose name is Dr. Shastri. He has devoted many years of his life to the study of the different varities of Pelargonium which are used in distillation. In one place we could see the Moroccan, Egyptian, Chinese and Reunion varities of Geranium which produce uniquely different essential oils.

Here is the description of that visit. "We reached the lovely hill station of Kodikannal in the early afternoon. Everyone was feeling quite refreshed due to the change in climate. The superb Carlton Hotel was also a welcome surprise for most. Each room had a view overlooking the lake and the rooms themselves were tastefully furnished and contained all modern amenities. After getting settled in our rooms, we convened for lunch which consisted of a sumptious buffet served outdoors. It was a true delight to sit on a well clipt lawn, drinking in the beauty of the lake and surrounding hills while eating a tasty repast. At the conclusion of our meal, we prepared for a visit to the CIMAP facility where our host, Dr. Sastry, was doing a wonderful work on geranium cultivation and distillation. This turned out to be quite an adventure as our bus could not negotiate the steep roads leading into the institution. We hired a local mini-bus which also had trouble at one steep juncture. Many people decided that a nice walk on a rural country road was preferrable to trying to negotiate it in a struggling bus.The choice proved to be a good one although the bus sans most of its passengers did finally make it to the CIMAP facility.

Once everyone arrived saftely at the geranium plantation, Dr. Sastry was introduced. He then took us on a tour of the many experimental plots of geranium that were under cultivation. It was a true work of dedication and devotion. In one place one could see geranium of the Moroccan, Chinese and Reunion varieties, each have distinct fragrances based on the balance of major and minor componets. The climate of the area was well suited for the plants growth and several crops a year were being harvested for distillation. We all delighted in going from patch to patch sniffing the different varieties of geranium. On the borders of the geranium plots were planted citronella grass for erosion control and this deep rooted plant was also being harvested periodically for oil production. No pesticides or herbicides were used in growing this crop although a foliar feed of N-P-K was applied at least once in the growing season. I hope to bring a nice amount of seawood foliar feed next time I visit India, so that we can try producing a totally organic geranium oil.

Along with our visits to the field we also saw the simple distilling units engaged in the distillation of geranium oil. A simple but efficient method of recycling the hydrosol back into the main distilling unit had been devised and with a few other minor adjustments a very high quality oil was being produced with a good yield.The subject of distillation techniques is a deep one. It requires more than a cursory observation of equipment.Discoveries are constantly being made as to how to improve equipment for procuring the best quality oil. This is a particularly important topic for aromatherapists as ones aim is to extract as many of the precious aromatic componets of the plant as possible.In the years to come, I think, many new discoveries are to be made in this field which will result in oils of unbelievable healing qualities. Such oils must of necessity be produced on a small scale in units optimized for that particular aromatic plant. India is one of the few places left in the world where this type of attention to detail can be practiced.

There is no doubt in my mind that with the combined efforts of people like Dr.Sastry, Ramakant and many other research oriented people, India will emerge as a prime supplier of high quality oils. Once again we had the good fortune to be outdoors as the sun set in the West. Standing high in the mountains, looking down over a beautiful valley, many of us enjoyed the blessing of the last shafts of golden light before the sun disappeared on the horizon. This concluded our afternoon visit with Dr. Sastry.

" The beauty of a good geranium oil is well known to all of you. The personality of such an oil requires extensive investigation as one goes deep into the heart of the oil exploring all it wonderous aromatic depths. Getting acquainted with such ethereal essences takes time and dedicated efforts because at every phase of the dry out new nuances come into being. I do not think one can ever tire of such explorations because true essential oils are miracles of creation which fill us with wonder, enthusiasm and sparkling joy. Take deep concentrated draughts of these elixirs gives our an entire being an ethereal aromatic vaporous bath. One of the great benefits derived from such aromatic treasures is simply that the oils entreat us to slow down and pay attention to our breathing process. They encourage us in th most gentle way to breathe deeply, sweetly and gently like a child. I think we can say that the plants are really wonderful teachers for us. With their invisible fragrant radiant power they help us remember that within our hearts dwells some wonderful hidden power which infuses our life with meaning.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers.

Edible Uses: Condiment; Tea.

Flowers - raw. Added to salads[183]. The leaves are rose-scented and are used as a flavouring in desserts, jellies, vinegars etc[183, 238]. The fresh leaves are brewed into a tea[183, 238].

Essential Oil.

An essential oil is obtained from the plant, it has an orange-rose fragrance[46, 104, 171]. This plant is the main constituent of geranium oil, which is used extensively in aromatherapy, skin care and as a food flavouring[238]. The leaves are used in pot-pourri[238].

Pelargonium graveolens is an erect, much-branched shrub, that can reach a height of up to 1,3 m and a spread of 1 m. The hairy stems are herbaceous when young, becoming woody with age. The deeply incised leaves are velvety and soft to the touch due to the presence of numerous glandular hairs. The leaves are strongly rose-scented. The showy white to pinkish flowers are borne in an umbel-like inflorescence and are present from late winter to summer (August - January) peaking in spring (September - October).

This plant is confined to two separate areas in southern Africa, one in Limpopo Province, where it receives summer rain, and the other in the south-eastern part of the Western Cape, where it receives rain throughout the year. In both these regions, the summer is hot and the winter is mild, and Pelargonium graveolens is found growing on the mountains, in sheltered positions such as kloofs, usually in relatively moist habitats. Pelargonium graveolens has also been recorded in Zimbabwe and Mozambique

Derivation of the name
The genus Pelargonium gets is name from the resemblance of the shape of the fruit to the beak of a stork, pelargos in Greek. The species name graveolens refers to the strong fragrance of the leaves, graveolens meaning strong-smelling in Latin.

The genus belongs to the family Geraniaceae, which also comprises four other genera, Geranium, Erodium, Monsonia and Sarcocaulon. There are ± 220 species within the genus Pelargonium, and 80% of them are confined to southern Africa and about 80% of these are confined to the south-western corner of the country.


Family: Geraniaceae, (Pelargonium graveolens L'Her. ex Ait.)

Rose geranium, Pelargonium graveolens L'Her. ex Ait., is one of the many fragrant species of Pelargonium used as a source of geranium oil. The woody, perennial herb is native to South Africa and is produced in Egypt, France, the People's Republic of China, Algeria, South Africa, Morocco, and Spain. Reaching a height of one meter, the plant has pubescent, fragrant, green, deeply lobed leaves and rose-colored flowers.

The geranium flourishes in the full sun of temperate and subtropical climates. Best growth is obtained on well-drained, fertile soils and under a high relative humidity. The species are cold sensitive but tolerant of drought.

The essential oil accumulates in small glands found in the foliage and flowers. Harvesting, usually done by hand two or three times annually, begins as the plant starts flowering. The herb is cut in the morning in sunny, dry weather. Distillation begins after a few hours of field drying.

There are several types of geranium oil, the main ones being Reunion or Bourbon, Algerian, Moroccan, and French. The oils are composed chiefly of geraniol, citronellol, linalool, citronellyl formate, and several other compounds (7.5-124, 8.2-13, 8.2-33, 14.1-9). Reunion oil is very rich in citronellol and has a heavy rose and minty odor. Algerian oil has a delicate odor. Moroccan oil is similar to Algerian oil. French oil is thought to possess the finest rose-like odor. The concrete and absolute of geranium are also available commercially.

The oil of geranium, widely used in perfumery and cosmetics, is stable and blends well with other fragrances. Dried leaves are used in sachets and potpourris. Leaves of geranium are also used in herbal teas and the oil is used in baked goods and fruit desserts. The geranium of florists comes from many annual and perennial geranium species that vary in fragrance, growth habit and leaf and flower color. The scented geraniums are extensively used in flower gardens and as potted herbs.

Your friend, Christopher