Sunday, 10 January 2016

Uses of Pelargonium

We arrived in Melbourne a few days ago to spend time my family - my parents, my brother and his kids. They all live in the home I grew up in.

There is a huge library of books here that I love to explore that includes a wonderful array of topics that all fascinate me - natural health, natural building, organic gardening, design, ecological thinking, creative thinking, history, education philosophy...

On this visit, my eye has been drawn to the herb titles. I am intrigued by herbs and grow a wonderful diversity of them in my own garden and the university sensory garden. The more you learn about herbs, the more you realise how much more there is to know about them. I find myself drawn more closely to herbs this past year and I want to delve so much more deeply. I have even developed a series of herb workshops that I'll be teaching in 2016 on a rooftop garden and city farm, and I will be working to further develop the local university's sensory garden for occupational therapists.

My garden is filled with a diversity of perennial and self-seeding herbs. The form a key part of my resilient kitchen garden design strategy.

From my parent's library I have pulled out around twenty herb books that I will endeavour to read in the next ten days. The one I am spending most time with so far is The Book of Herbs by Dorothy Hall, first published in 1972.  Dorothy's grandfather was a British Government botanist and her mother was a dedicated herb gardener. She herself was an advocate for natural health, natural food and natural medicines using herbs. She set up her own herb nursery to make a wider variety of herbs more readily available to people, and regularly gave educational sessions. She has a number of other books, including Herb Teas which I am going to try to find. It's amazing to think she released this book when I was as old as little Monty is now.

The Book of Herbs presents interesting insights into the history and use of around forty herbs. In amongst the text are some wonderful gems of information about these herbs.

Take for example the chapter on Scented-leafed Geraniums, or pelargoniums...a plant I have growing abundantly in the driest corners of my garden as a hardy drought-tolerant companion plant and pest repellent. I like it next to a path too so I can brush past and release the lovely scent.

Lemon-scented Geranium: deeply cut leaves with a strong perfume. Grows into a big bush. Small pinkish-mauve flowers.
 Dorothy Hall wrote:

"Recent experiments in the study of plant perfumes have shown that molecules of the plant's substance are present in the perfume exhaled by the flowers or leaves. So sniffing a perfumed flower can not only be pleasant by therapeutic as well...."


"The leaves of scented geraniums, bruised and used as a poultice applied to cuts and grazes were often mentioned in the old herbals. They have quite pronounced antiseptic properties."

Dorothy also describes how pelargoniums have various culinary and other uses:
  • place pats of butter on a bed of the leaves
  • put a leaf on the bottom of a greased pan before baking a cake or muffins
  • add a leaf or two into jellies or milk puddings
  • crush a large handful and put them in the bath
  • use them in flower arranging - they harmonise well with floral blooms such as roses and bulbs
  • add them to a float bowl of pansies
"Scented geraniums are all hardy perennials and will grow easily and quickly from stem cuttings. They all tolerate heat and dryness and can be used as street or footpath plantings. The grow so easily from cuttings that striking these is a sure-fire way to gain a good stock of new plants to give away come Christmas, or to swap with gardening friends."

I love the fact that she is talking about footpath plantings back in 1972. This is such a big trend in urban areas right now. I also like how she talks about giving away herbs. Herb cuttings are a great way to cultivate a gift economy amongst your friends and community. Perennial herbs respond well to being trimmed and they are abundant.  My garden has provided many thousands of cuttings over the past couple of years.

A hardy herbaceous border in my garden with fennel, sorrel, garlic chives, parsley, cosmos, tarragon, rhubarb, turmeric .... full of edibles, medicinals, companions, mulch and plant material.
In this book are a great chapters on other herbs including Fennel, Comfrey, Horseradish, Tarragon, Yarrow and Sorrel.  I'll summarise some of the interesting passages and share in other posts soon.

The flowers of yarrow. Dorothy Hall recognises this as a sacred herb of some of the earliest cultures. Apparently Druids used yarrow to divine weather very accurately, and hot yarrow tea made from a handful of fresh leaves can break the most stubborn cold.


  1. Lovely photographs of your own garden.
    What a treat to have all of those books available to you. One of my aims this year is to learn more about herbs, and grow a wider variety in my allotment.

  2. Rose geraniums = best plant :)

  3. I wish I could walk through your garden! I bet it smells amazing with all those herbs and flowers. I have two scented geranimum plants, one of which I grew from a cutting. They are rose geraniums but I plan to expand my range to include other scented varieties. Many of my garden beds are edged with society garlics (which can be used like garlic chives) and they work well to stop the soil and mulch slipping away. My main veggie patch is edged with herbs and beneficial flowers - thyme, oregano and alyssium. The bees love alyssium. I'd like to try comfrey too. Thanks for such an informative blog, I'm learning a lot!

  4. Hi Meg, I love it too when I fill my car with herb cuttings to take to my talks. I use them as my 'props' and then give them all away at the end. It's amazing - the scent fills the rooms - I can't remember when someone hasn't made a comment about this. I think the scent of fresh herbs and flowers make people feel happier. It certainly makes me feel happy wandering around my garden brushing past the herbs and rolling leaves between my fingers. Your garden sounds lovely too. I use society garlic a lot around the edges too - and pretty much every meal gets some.