It's easy to see why the Victorians were so fond of scented geraniums. Bursting with the scents of citrus, rose, spice or mint, these native South African plants are easily grown inside and offer an olfactory treat to winter-weary gardeners. They also lend themselves well to culinary uses, such as herbal scented sugars.
Scented geraniums were so named in the 1600s and have been mistakenly referred to since. Part of the Geraniaceae family, scented geraniums are actually pelargoniums and are grown for their scented leaves, not delicate flowers. There are more than 200 varieties of this lovely plant, all distinctly scented with enticing names such as 'Fringed Apple', 'Peppermint Lace', 'Prince of Orange' and 'Rober's Lemon Rose'.
Infusing the leaves' oils in food is the most successful way to flavor foods with a geranium's scent, and one of the easiest ways to do this is with a simple syrup. Measure equal parts granulated sugar and water in a saucepan and, without stirring, place on high heat until sugar dissolves. Reduce temperature and continue to simmer until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add 1 cup cleaned geranium leaves. Allow leaves to steep for up to an hour, remove leaves, and store syrup covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
Flavoring sugars with scented geranium leaves is another way to cook with their subtle scent. Add cleaned and dried 'Nutmeg,' 'Chocolate Mint' or 'Ginger' leaves to light brown muscovado sugar, cover and allow to sit for up to one week. Remove leaves and sprinkle flavored sugar on top of baked goods before they go in the oven. Rose-scented leaves can be treated the same way with granulated sugar and used to sweeten whipping cream and hot tea.
Cultivation of Scented Geraniums
Site: Scented Geraniums like a sunny, well ventilated postion. Use a well drained potting compost. Average fertility is fine; you do not want to grow your scented geraniums in excessively rich soil as this can cause the leaves to have less fragrance. The pH should be neutral to slightly acid, about 6.0 is fine. They are easy to grow in containers, both indoors and outside during warm weather.
Propagation: Stem cuttings, can be rooted in water and then planted in soil to start a whole new plant. This is a common method for propagation of scented geraniums as they are slow to germinate from seed.
Growing: Do not over fertilize your scented geraniums. This is a case where it is better to underfeed than oversupply the plant with nutrients, especially Nitrogen. Use your favorite complete organic formula fertilizer Fertilizer from spring through fall, do not fertilize during the winter when growth naturally slows or stops.
Scented geraniums are quite drought tolerant and do not need frequent watering. This is one of the reasons they are so easy to care for. Do not allow them to dry out completely between waterings, but do not over water. Do not keep the soil saturated as this can cause root rot problems. If you tend to over water, use a terra cotta clay pot rather than plastic for your scented geranium.
Harvesting: Pick leaves just before flowers open
Culinary Uses: Use flowers in salads. Chop leaves finely or infuse in liquid and then discard leaves and use to flavor sauces, custards, jellies, buns, water ices, butters, jams, sugar, syrups and vinegars.
Crystallize to decorate cakes. Lay leaves under baked apples or cakes to impart flavor. Infuse as a tea or add to a wine cup (Rose-peppermint scent).