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

Source: Simon, J.E., A.F. Chadwick and L.E. Craker. 1984. Herbs: An Indexed Bibliography. 1971-1980. The Scientific Literature on Selected Herbs, and Aromatic and Medicinal Plants of the Temperate Zone. Archon Books, 770 pp., Hamden, CT.

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.

As a medicinal plant, geranium has traditionally been considered an astringent and used as a folk remedy in the treatment of ulcers (11.1-50). A terpine hydrate synthesized from geraniol is known to be, an effective expectorant (11.1-96). Leaves are reported to have antifungal activity (7.5-124). Scented geranium and oil of geranium are reported to cause contact dermititis (8.2-79, 11.1-96). Geranium is reported to repel insects because of its citronellol content.

Several forms, varieties, and hybrids of geranium exist. Rose-scented geranium, Pelargonium capitatum (L.) L'Her. ex Ait.; nutmeg geranium, Pelargonium fragrans Willd.; apple geranium, Pelareonium odoratissimum (L.) L'Her. ex Ait. and crowfoot geranium Pelargonium radens H. E. Moore, represent the wide diversity of plants that contribute to the production of geranium oil. Geranium macrorrhizum L., an aromatic plant, and wild geranium, Geranium maculatum, are members of the Geraneaceae family and should not be confused with the scented geraniums. Although used in flavoring and perfumery, East Indian geranium is actually Cymbopogon martini Stapf., of the Poaceae family.

Pelargonium species are generally recognized as safe for human consumption as natural seasonings/flavorings and as plant extracts/essential oils (21 CFR sections 182.10, 182.20 [1982].

[Note: References listed above in parentheses can be found in full in the original reference].

Aromatic and Medicinal Plants Index

Last modified 6-Dec-1997