Rose geranium is one of my dearest Muses. Somewhat like my grandmother whose youthful beauty, facial traits and the eternal smile in her eyes will always remain a gentle symbol of care and nurture manifesting towards me.
The article was originally written for and published in the issue 2019/3 of Aromatika Magazin, an online publication in Hungary to support holistic living, the practice and professional education of aromatherapy, phytotherapy, naturopathy and related subjects. My special thanks and gratitude goes to Gergely Hollódi, editor-in-chief of this beautifully constructed aromatherapy periodical, for his always encouraging support. Hope you enjoy the English version in this post. The original copy of the electronic magazine in Hungarian is available for download from the website of Aromatika Magazin.
In the last few years I have been fortunate enough to meet with geranium more often, not only as an essential oil, but with the plant itself. As our initially long-distance relationship evolved peacefully and naturally, we got more intimate with each other and our series of rendez-vous got to a point when she accepted my invitation and moved in to my garden on Crete.
I have found that rose geranium is a very hardy plant that you can easily grow from cuttings, and navigates so well under almost any circumstances. Whether I keep watering her regularly, or I happen to not look after her for a while, she would always greet me with flourishing cheer and delicious scent. Geranium lives her life, finds her ways, she is slim and willowy, sprawls like a creeper and creates space for herself.
If I think about it, the geranium character beautifully describes the holistic feminine path I have experienced in my life while working with her along the way. Like a good GPS navigation system that shows you where you are and helps you to recalibrate when you get lost. Holding your hands it will give you decongestion options out of the block, guiding you towards your next destination.
Cranesbills and true geraniums
Speaking of sorting things out, let me just mention here that our plant belongs to the family of Geraniaceae, and has something to do with cranesbills in terms of morphological patterns regarding the seeds. Before hardliners called for a duel, demanding a more precise classification of this fragrant botanical, here is my take on this matter. First of all, I do not intend to give a study on the full history of rose geranium, neither the complications around nomenclature, and the stimulating and entertaining descriptions and cross-referencing I have found in its large coverage of professional aromatherapy literature.
Secondly, I was particularly relieved when doing my research all through the extensive works of major contemporary aromatherapy professionals, and finally got to the Geranium monograph of Jade Shutes that was published in ‘The International Journal of Professional Holistic Aromatherapy’ (IJPHA). I deeply respect Jade’s work and her progressive voice in modern holistic aromatherapy and happily follow her as a leading entity in the aromatic scene. The depths of her teachings are always carefully placed, captivating and balanced, and she keeps distilling educational content that makes knowledge easy to access and integrate for anyone. So don’t get fooled, neither frightened by the excerpt I have chosen from Jade Shutes here, it is intended to illustrate the intricate nature of things around botanicals: “…while the plant which is grown as Pelargonium capitatum is really a hybrid between Pelargonium graveolens and Pelargonium radens which is properly called Pelargonium X asperum. Likewise, at least some plants grown as Pelargonium odoratissimum are probably hybrid seedlings of the species with Pelargonium exstipulatum and should be properly called Pelargonium X fragrans.” As always, life-long learning is your passport to your future, and please do your own research to understand more!
When geranium is greener in your neighbourhood
Sailing the endless seas, as Odysseus did on his travels, gives you experience of a lifetime, initiates inner journeys, and offers self empowerment. A sea of troubles can train us in finding balance and using our skills after settling on new bumpy ground. Wide-awake, keeping our senses open, and being fully aware of the world around us.
Wherever I go, I find beauty and beauty finds me back. Usually, in a new neighbourhood acquaintances get recoloured and naturally shape the next stage of your life. Through a dear friend known of colours and roses, I also developed a new friendship with a textile artist, who proved to become an invaluable support in the revitalisation of my living space. I happened to move in just a few doors down the road from hers in the Cretan village of Armenoi, where being a brilliant bright neighbour she introduced me to the beautiful rose geranium in her garden.
Judith Watson moved to Crete from England a few decades ago, and her artistic sensibility appears on textiles, furniture, as well as every corner of her flower garden. She works with natural materials and often starts creating from the basics making her own botanical dyes. As we started to discover some similarities in each other’s passion, she delightedly invited me for a harvest in her garden. Judith’s geranium was overgrowing and the possibility of a solid trimming meant a noble contribution to my artisan distillery, and recycling the excess plant material for something just as exquisite as the plant itself.
To answer the invite, I turned up in Judith’s garden on this beautiful hot summer morning, properly equipped with my basket and secateurs. And of course, with my camera. As usual, the wonderful richness of garden wildlife captivated me, so first I was just watching the morning shift of the pollinators and other species as they land on one flower, do their job and take off again to the next. Twirling and buzzing around, these hard-working bees and wasps went wing-to-wing, and sometimes arm-to-arm, as they crossed the ways of ants and spiders running into a fatal attractor…
At some point, I had to give up my observing position as a meditative photojournalist, and get to the next job. Balancing amongst hopping bees, I peacefully declared some territories to myself and took the overgrown tops of of the fragrant geranium branches. There are losses in situations, but that’s also an opportunity for growth. Therefore, such a rejuvenation is good for all parties, and mean a conscious, multiple-level contribution from my part to a more sustainable environment, and the well-being of all species within.
Plant distillations and conscious living
There is a long history of distilling aromatic medicinal plants, and this is one of the first exciting things you learn about, when you study aromatherapy. As many things throughout history, the fine craftsmanship of alchemists has been somewhat forgotten over times. With it went the multitude of vocation that requires deep knowledge, patience, perseverance, humility. The honour of humble achievements got into the shadow of quick superficial solutions and gains.
Distilling aromatic plants may be concluded in various manners, and distillers can have different concepts and purposes. The story I am telling you captures the attitude on a very individual personal level, while we need to be aware that, on another level, the majority of the world’s essential oil production falls under the umbrella of what is known as the “Perfume and Flavour Industry”. Industry, in capital letters, you know what I mean. Yet, the noble craftsmen and artisans of the past, are about to emerge again, hence there is much to discover from the past, and rewrite our story in our slowly awakening consumer society.
As the ambiguous safety net of corporate success ideas, so the network marketing businesses that offer community, income and freedom, are typical places where individual responsibility can easily ward off. Meanwhile, hopeful and encouraging to see conscious communities emerge around the world and they bring new opportunities to redefine our human values.
Balance with rose geranium
Here we are, with a short philosophical detour, now let’s see how this all comes down to rose geranium? Indeed, it has a lot to do with conscious ‘slow-living’ and lifestyle alternatives. Provided we share the idea that we do own our creative power and we are able to shape our own world. A world where there is natural environment, natural materials, and real human relationships. With a side note: that’s not necessarily a world with less work, maybe more and different.
What rose geranium tenderly talks about is balance. The kind of balance that refines the extremities by gently handling polarities and dynamics respectfully into their equivalent corresponding position. Simply saying, it is harmonising, balancing and regenerating. Considering beauty skills is always number one, but before we would think anything superficial, let’s acknowledge its truly beneficial and exceptional effects on the skin. And before anything else, as a particularly important companion on the feminine path, thanks to the balancing properties running through the body, especially the job it does for the hormonal system.
A real articulate reading comes from the book of Peter Holmes Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics where he writes: “Acting on the pivotal axis of liver, pancreas, adrenal cortex and spleen, Geranium essentially re-creates proper cycles and timing among these hormone-secreting organs/glands. This establishes its status as the premier essential oil for virtually all conditions of metabolic dysregulation.” Among a long list of things, Peter Holmes highlights that there is clinical evidence about geranium regulating the blood sugar by reducing insulin resistance at the cellular level. Needless to say, with such conditions, as well as others, for instance, fungicidal treatments with geranium’s potency, one should always follow the personalised guidelines of a trained professional.
Geranium and its distillate, however, is one of the most safe plants to use in general. That is especially true, for instance, to the geranium hydrolat, which can comfortably ease a number of symptoms and complaints, and even if ‘only’ for maintenance without issues to address, it can be used in many situations. A very good general purpose aromatic water, that can be considered for use in daily skin-care for both women and men. When applied to the skin as a gentle spray mist. It is a perfect refresher and moisturiser that is also astringent, cooling and soothing. Beyond its properties, already sensing it makes it an excellent application in face and body sprays for hot flashes, stress management and severe mood problems.
Balancing scent notes
The scent of geranium is very pleasant, for some it is reminiscent of roses, others find it slightly lemony first. This is partly a personal perception, partially depends on other factors, for example, where the plant comes from, what variety (Latin name!), when they were harvested, how they were processed, and finally what chemical composition it carries. According to the big books, it is the classic Bourbon geranium coming originally from Réunion Island that incorporates the two main components linalool (+ geraniol) and citronellol equally proportional, and just as balanced as the mechanism of action of the plant and its essential oils and hydrolats.
I have a very exciting and revealing experience to share about the scent notes. And this is due to the way I have been doing my distillation. A practice that has naturally evolved for me, I have been collecting the distillates in separate bottles as they come down, in order to see what happens in phases during the distillation. This would basically be unnecessary for most plants, except for some exotic ones. But for me it is fascinating, informative and a good learning to experience and explore the perceivable differences that is the nature of the process.
The rose geranium I distilled at spring 2018 could be described as follows after a month of resting the hydrolats in stages:
1. Strong, pronounced, loud scent and a large amount of essential oil on top of the hydrolat.
2-4. Less oil and the smell is finer.
5. Creamy, soft.
6. Similar to Stage 1 in terms of strength and intensity, but fuller, more intimate, rounded, more fine and graceful.
7. Light, lemony, as a soft breeze in the wind.
6-7. Together they make up a beautiful perfume.
8. It features a bit lemony, even more mandarin character. Slightly, softly powdery, deliciously sweet. Floral.
9. Fresh spring mist. Remote, almost inaccessible.
10. Oil stains on top. Vinegar-like, sour as pickled cucumber juice. Pungent, but mild.
11. Purity, balance, hidden beauty, powerful background and synergy of components.
12. White veil, cool, beautiful, aesthetic.
13. As the previous one, but stronger, leafier, greener.
You would be interested to know that I did the testing together with a dear fellow aromatherapist Anna Orosz (Illanna), who came from Hungary at the time to visit me in Crete. Our individual write ups brought very similar descriptions of our experiences of sniffing side by side, but writing independently of each other.
Well, could we not sing long odes to geranium? Sure. This time however, closing my song short, just to sum up its ability to being able to help in the spiritual-emotional realm that corresponds to the physical activities. This is a very respectable plant, and as a closing to my words, I chose a tiny teaser of a character description from Valerie Ann Worwood, whose work I love and greatly appreciate: “Geraniums are a much under-valued personality who generously comforts those who suffer, those with broken hearts, the grieving and the stressed-out. Whether male or female, Geranium is a warm, kind and generous personality, which deserves to be appreciated for the very special person they are.” – Valerie Ann Worwood
Valerie Ann Worwood (1995). The Fragrant Mind. Bantam Books.
Peter Holmes (2016). Aromatica: A Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics Volume I. Singing Dragon.
Jade Shutes. Pelargonium graveolens or Pelargonium x asperum. (Aromatic Studies)