Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sharing "The Good Herb"

Happy Spring!

I found an awesome book to share with you today. It's called The Good Herb and was written by the co-author of The Healing Foods Judith Benn Hurley, which I also have in PA. Have I ever told you I went to school to become a nutritionist? Probably not. Well, its a long story so I'll spare you the details. In any case, it was while attending nutritional school that my affair with herbs really got rooted. I have always been fascinated by the healing properties of herbs, and, as most of you already know, I'm equally as intrigued with culinary exploration. When I was introduced to herbal medicine as prerequisite to nutritional well-being, I was indeed hooked!

Did you know each year The International Herb Association celebrates National Herb Week? It's the week before Mother's Day. This year, they have named Bay Laurel the herb of the year. "Bay has amazing medicinal properties." However, today, I would like to introduce you to one of my very best favorite culinary herbs, the scented geranium. Scented leaf Pelargoniums, otherwise known as scented geraniums are not like your typical garden type geranium. While it shouldn't be, it sometimes gets confusing. I searched and I searched to find a basic explanation for the difference and this website is the best I could do for now. Although I'm not in the habit of leaving amazon links on this blog, I thought I would point you in the direction of an excellent book available which explains the difference between Geraniums and Pelargoniums. If you read the reviews, you will get a general idea of the difference.

After all this searching, I'm even confused. The easiest way for me to describe the scented geraniums I grow is to say, they are not hardy geraniums. In other words, I bring them in the house for the winter which, by the way, they absolutely love, almost as much as they enjoy the outdoors. The last time I went back home to PA in early March, one of the cuttings I took off my lemon scented geranium (Pelargonium crispum) was just about to bloom. Oh how I wish I could see it now:( The picture you see to the left is a picture of the mother plant when it was outside this past summer. It has grown straight and tall at least a foot since being brought inside. What I usually do when I get back home is give it a bath in the bath tub. I did buy those new glass watering bulbs a while back but, I'm not sure if they work. It doesn't seem to matter though, scented geraniums are native to South Africa (where they have been cultivated since the 17th century) and don't depend on water as much as the hardy geranium. I usually try to get back home at least every two weeks. I do believe they look forward to their baths though. Once they get in that bath tub and I turn on the hot water, the steam filters under the door and the tangy aroma wafts throughout the house. It's a GREAT way to freshen the house after I've been gone for two weeks. That's only one of the gifts scented geraniums offer. You barely brush past them and the aroma nearly knocks your smelly socks off! They say the cluster of flowers aren't much to look at but, I happen to disagree. Yes, the scent may be in the leaves however, the flower clusters are perky reminders of simplicity at its best.

There's one dilemma that you may encounter when shopping for scented leaf geraniums. Choosing. There are approximately seventy-five different scented geranium varieties. I think the easiest way to decide which foliage scented geranium will bring you the most pleasure is by selecting for purpose.

Do you dread the thought of those pesky mosquitos invading your backyard barbecues this summer? One Citronella Geranium (Mosquito Plant) is said to repel the buggers for about 10 square feet. Buy one less oil of citronella candle this year and give this lavender bearing flower little gem a try. It may not get rid of all your garden mosquitos but it sure will reduce their visits. A sort of natural mosquito repellent! Perhaps the greatest use for scented geraniums is cosmetics and perfume. Pelargonium oils are extracted for use in aromatherapy and perfumery. Rose Scented Geraniums are one such Pelargonium grown for the perfume industry. They also make a refreshing tonic for your skin as Ms. Hurly mentions in The Good Herb.

...To try it, add three drops of the essential oil to half cup of your favorite commercial cleanser, toner, or moisturizer. You can also combine three drops of essential oil of rose geranium with half cup of spring water in a spray bottle. Use it to mist your face before applying moisturizer (or after shaving) and through out the day, even over makeup.

There are a variety of ways to extract the essential oils from the petals and leaves of plants. I have found the easiest way is with the use of almond oil, although any unscented oil can be used. I don't want to get all "scientific" today, else you may just get distracted before you even realize how simple it can be. The methods used in the making of perfume and aromatherapy are usually concerned with optimum quality while concentrating on little waste. As you may already know, essential oils can be quite costly. Here is a link which offers tips for harvesting essential oils at home. The other basic method I have used is a bit tedious but less expensive than investing in a distilling machine. In the most basic explanation, I harvest the leaves, bruise them, put them in canning jars, and pour enough Vodka to cover the leaves. I then set it in the sun for a couple of weeks. What happens is the oil from the leaves separates into the alcohol. Here's the tedious part. Using cotton balls, I soak up the oil which has separated from the alcohol and squeeze into a smaller perfume like jar. I like them with a fairy wide mouth. I've even used prescription bottle because they filter out light. I suppose this is a crude way of doing it but I have used this method successfully for years. I'm a child of the flower power movement and this is how I learned:) I have little droppers that I use to add the oils to soaps, candles potpourris and therapeutic solutions such as aromatherapy. I found a blog which offers detailed instructions for the oil based method which is probably best for beginners.

The Good Herb

All pelargoniums have a recognizable scent. Whether it be nutmeg, coconut, pineapple, (I like pineapple sage too:) apple, peppermint, peach cream, lemon or orange fizz, a brief encounter, a slight brushing or a friendly squeeze, will emit the scented aroma. Herbalist have used the dried leaves in scented pillows and in Victorian times, scented geraniums were strewn across floors during hot summer nights as a way of deodorizing the stagnant air. The undried leaves of scented geraniums are very soft and velvety. They have tiny, almost prickly undersides which are home to the essential oils. Most can be grown from seeds but they are easily propagated by cuttings. The one thing to remember though is, they will not survive outside in gardening zones above zone nine. I keep mine outside in pots filled with a standard herb soil mix in full sun in the warm weather and bring them in when the nights begin to cool. I personally like to add a handful of compost to the mixture which I find intensifies their fragrance. They also may need to be watered more often in pots but that is usually the case with most potted plants. I also find scented geraniums are better in pots anyway as they have a habit of getting a bit unruly in the garden. They like to sprawl and border on become quite pesky like mint.

Now, we get to my favorite quality of scented geraniums. Cooking! Although, you can add the delicate, organically grown flowers to salads, the leaves are the main ingredient used when cooking with scented geraniums. "As we speak" I have tubs of sugar soaking up the essential oils from my lemon scented geranium leaves at home in PA. I also have tubs of sugar doing the same with orange fizz and the nutmeg varieties. (Wonderful in Nutmeg Scented Geranium Jelly. They sit right next to my vanilla bean infused sugar:) Really now, how cool is that!!! Can you just imagine their uses just in the sugar alone. Beverages, baking, and even in sauces and soups. When I get to PA on a permanent basis, I will once again venture into the variety of ways to add scented geranium leaves to my cooking repertoire. Once again from The Good Herb

Scented geraniums, particularly rose, can uplift pallid foods such as custards, and puddings, lending a surprising floral bouquet. Try heating about three tablespoons (not packed) dried rose geranium leaves in two cups of milk. Let the mixture cool, then strain away the leaves and use the milk to make your favorite vanilla pudding. (To dry rose geranium leaves, arrange them in a single layer on a dinner plate and store, uncovered, in a cool, dry place for about a week.)

The fresh leaves can also be a grace note in jellies, vinegars, honey, and dessert syrups-or even floated in finger bowls. Use five fresh leaves for each cup of liquid. Or try an old Shaker baking trick to lend sweetness and aroma to pie crusts by pressing about a dozen fresh leaves into dough before filling and baking. Another lovely way to use the leaves is to tuck one into your sugar bowl to perfume the sugar for future uses, such as sweetening a cup of herbal tea.

The following recipe for Rose Crème Fraîche is also from the book: "Fragrant leaves add floral notes to this classic topping."

Rose Crème Fraîche
8 ounces heavy cream
1/4 cup loosely packed dried rose geranium leaves
1 tablespoon buttermilk
Combine: the cream and the leaves in a small saucepan. Heat until bubbles are just beginning to form around the edges of the pan and the cream reaches about 130 degrees (F) Remove the pan from the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Stir: buttermilk into the cream, then pour the mixture into a glass jar and cover it tightly. Shake for about 2 minutes. Then wrap the jar in a towel and keep it in a warm place for about 8 hours, until it is almost as thick as sour cream.

Set: a coarse mesh strainer over a bowl and pour the Crème Fraîche through it. With the back of a spoon, press the leaves against the strainer as hard as you can to create pale green swirl of aromatic oil from the leaves in the white of the crème. Keep pressing until the leaves are totally macerated and the Crème is fragrant. Serve with fresh fruit salad or drizzled on a fruit tart.

Makes about 1 cup-50 calories per 1 tablespoon serving, 6 grams fat, almost 100 percent of calories from fat. Note: If this recipe is too high in fat for you, cut the fat in half by mixing the Crème Fraîche with an equal amount of nonfat vanilla yogurt before serving.

Here are two "vintage" recipes:

The Settlement Cookbook: Fresh & Stewed Fruit Strawberries au Natural:
Pick over the berries, but do not remove stems. Place carefully in colander in a pan of cold water, so the water will cover the berries; lift colander up and down, change the water and thus wash the berries. Place berries in small plate, on rose geranium leaves, if desired, and at the side put one leaf with a tablespoon of powdered sugar. Or omit the leaves, have small mound of powder sugar in center of plate and surround with the berries, or stem and wash the berries, place in sauce dish and serve with sugar or with sugar and cream.
Tried & True Recipes (1894) Rose Geranium Jelly:
Drop one large or two small leaves of rose geranium plant into a quart of apple jelly a few moments before it is done, and you will add a novel and peculiarly delightful flavor to the jelly.

Not all scented geraniums lend their fragrance to culinary use comfortably. Not to worry, besides their culinary uses, I can not stress enough their qualities as fragrant additions to dusting powders, bath oils, and both facial scrubs and creams. Their medicinal and aromatic qualities are touched upon in an article published in Herbalpedia. (I left the PDF file link below) A recipe from that article: Happy Spring!
Geranium Bath Oil
1 cup rose- or lemon-scented geranium leaves
1 /4 cups baby oil
2 drops oil of geranium
Place all the ingredients in a jar and leave to steep.
Use 1 Tbsp of this oil in bathwater as a treat for your skin.

1. Geranium Culture for Home Gardeners
2. Hardy Geraniums (un-scented variety)
3, How to Grow Scented Geraniums
4. How To Extract Essential Oil From Flowers
5. Herbalpedia
1. Rose Geranium Cream
2.. Scented Geranium Lemonade (The Splendid Table)
3. Scented Geranium Cake (Martha Stewart)
4. Rose Geranium Pound Cake
5. Meringues with Scented Geranium
6. Citrus-Scented Geranium Cookies (Taste Of Home)
7. Rosemary for Remembrance (another favorite herb of mine:) by Adelma Simmons


  1. What a great post! I miss my geranium plant. The scent was just incredible. Sadly, when it perished, I never got round to replacing it. You've just reminded me that there were some things I didn't get to try making, like geranium pound cake and cookies!

  2. Louise,

    Wonderful post! I love herbs, especially since the deer populating my neighborhood here in the Blue Ridge Mountains won't eat them ! Yes! I spent an hour running from one Kroger to another and then to Food Lion to find fresh dill today. I bought the last package of dill in town. Is that auspicious or what?

  3. Fantastic post - Your blog is always so interesting Louise. I too love scented geraniums.
    Ps: I'm really pleased you made and liked the salmon - it's so easy and that has to be a good thing too!

  4. I've always wanted to make a rose geranium filling for my macarons...this will get me started...thanks!

  5. Great post. I never thought of geraniums in food applications. I love the tips for making oils. I have to try that. You seem blssed with the green thumb.

  6. Welcome Y, it was so nice of you to drop by. I'm putting your recipe for Rose Geranium Cream at the top of my list. I have tons of clippings. They are so easy to propagate. If I was sure they wouldn't wilt, I would send some right off to you.

    Thank you Cindy. Oh the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. You've just reminded me about the Blue Ridge Mountain cookbook I have. I must set aside a day to share some recipes. I LOVE herbs too. I was thinking of planting some dill on the window sill this year but for some reason, I'm not as successful as you were. I do believe I would travel the Appalachians just to have dill for my cottage cheese. I adore dill in cottage cheese:)

    Hi Jan, How's the decorating going? The salmon was simply awesome!!! Now you got me to thinking. Citrus scented salmon; hmmm...

    I hope you will share Veron, your fondant topping is a work of art by the way:) as well as you macarons. I can hardly wait. Please let me know when you do:)

    Hi Courtney,
    The possibilities are endless and cost effective too!!!!


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise