Geranium is one of my favorite essential oils in aromatherapy use – and also one of my favorite plants in the garden! I find that it grows well here in northern Arizona, and the rose-like scent of the leaves is always a welcome gift as you brush by it on a hot, summer day. I even manage to keep it growing throughout the winter months on my covered porch – in pots, of course.
When you use the English name, geranium, you have to be clear whether you are referring to the Pelargonium species, or the plant known as Robert geranium. They are both very different plants – with different uses. Here’s a quick look at these two plants and their aromatic uses.
The common botanical name for (rose) geranium is Pelargonium graveolens; the botanical name refers to the Pelargonium genus of flowering plants which includes about 200 species of perennials, shrubs, and succulents. To create greater confusion, in aromatherapy use, there is a sometimes a distinction between geranium essential oil and rose geranium essential oil. Rose geranium essential oil can simply refer to a particular species of geranium essential oil – or it can be a distilled mix of geranium and rose essential oils.
Robert geranium, or herb Robert, is known by the botanical name of Geranium robertianum and belongs to the Geranium genus of approximately 422 species of flowering perennial, annual, and biennial plants, also referred to by the name of cranesbill. Robert geranium has medicinal properties (albeit different to those of the aromatic essential oil extracted from Pelargonium graveolens). It is used in the practice of homeopathy.
The Origin of the Confusion Between Geraniums and Pelargoniums
Both plant genera are of the botanical family of Geraniaceae; however, when plants were originally classified by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus, both plant species were classified into one genus, that of Geranium. In 1789, French botanist, Charles Louis L’Heritier de Brutelle, separated each genus into individual plant genera. Although members of the Pelargonium genus are often referred to as Pelargonium, many people still use the older common name of Geranium.
Origins of the (Rose) Geranium
The Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens) is native to South Africa but the genus of Pelargonium is native to the Mediterranean and the Middle East too. Rose geraniums were popular in England, firstly with the upper classes when conservatories were first introduced; rose geraniums later gained wider popularity in the 19th century as potted rose geraniums, grown on cottage windowsills. Today, you will find them in many gardens throughout the world.
Geranium Essential Oil
Geranium essential oil is distilled in many places of the world including from plants grown in Egypt and South Africa. Rose geranium also produces a hydrosol – a product which can be home distilled from the plant with the right equipment.
The essential oil of rose geranium is extracted by steam distillation of the leaves and the essential oil is commonly used in aromatherapy. Both the essential oil and the hydrosol have a green, rose-like scent, which varies slightly in pronunciation depending upon where the origin plant was grown and when it was harvested.
Geranium essential oil is a versatile essential oil and can be used for skincare, stress, anxiety, menstrual and menopausal problems in women, teenage acne, and insect bites. It is a “gentle” oil and can be used safely with babies, children, and seniors, with the correct application and dilution rate.
The Characteristics of (Rose) Geranium
The original Pelargonium of South Africa had small leaves and pink flowers; today, there are many cultivations of Pelargoniums, flowering in a variety of colors including pink, red, white, and purple. The leaves of rose geranium are rose-scented, although some species of Pelargoniums have scented flowers too, such as Pelargonium gibbosum and Pelargonium triste. Pelargonium graveolens is a perennial shrub, which usually flowers in the summer months and sometimes in the Fall; many Pelargonium species are now cultivated as annuals.
The Characteristics of Robert Geranium
Robert geranium, or herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) is an annual or biennial plant growing to approximately one foot in height; it is found at elevations of up to 4,900 feet. Robert geranium grows in Europe, North America, North Africa and most of Asia; it has small, symmetrical pink flowers which bloom from May to October and it is found in habitats of forest, clearings, scrub, and walls.
Medicinal Uses of Robert Geranium
Robert geranium has the active ingredients of bitters, tannins, and essential oils. It has traditionally been used to treat toothache and nosebleeds and it is used in the practice of homeopathy to treat internal bleeding. Robert Geranium has diuretic properties too and has been used as a mouth antiseptic and gargle.
Learn More About Aromatic Plants with Sedona Aromatherapie
Learn more about the similarities and differences in plant species such as geranium with a course from the Sedona Aromatherapie Linguistics of Aromatics Home Study Program.
Lawless, Julia 2001 The Aromatherapy Garden London, UK: Kyle Cathie Ltd
Podlech, Dieter 2001 Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe UK: Collins (Collins Nature Guides)
Author is a 20 year veteran in the health care and aromatherapy industry, a UK-certified aromatherapist, published author in aromatherapy, an approved education provider for the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), an aromatherapy business owner, a consultant, and Chief Editor for the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal.