This is one plant no garden should be without. Just a small bunch of fresh leaves under your pillow will calm and soothe you so comfortingly you’ll become enchanted with it!
We seem to be living in a state of continual stress. The world as we knew it seems to have fallen apart, and no one can escape the consequences of change. Change can bring us to our knees, as can financial and work stress – even driving through the city streets takes its toll on both mind and body. Sleep patterns are disrupted, clear thinking is destroyed, and road rage, temper tantrums, rudeness and impatience are the order of the day. What has happened to us? Have we lost ourselves?
I know of one precious herb that has helped me cope through many years and has soothed all the troubles, all the shocks and those sleepless nights when I seem to be drowning in worry and fear. It is our own, indigenous to the Cape – the rose-scented geranium. This is a herb that calms, soothes and untangles us. It helps us to stop that frenetic blind rushing, it unwinds us, it gives us a still, quiet moment to draw breath, even a shaky breath but nevertheless a breath, long enough to slow that frantic heartbeat.
My magic formula is this: Crush a few fresh leaves, stand still and inhale the exquisite scent, and in that in-breath just say to yourself: ‘I relax, I let go and I let God take over.’ After even three deep breaths I emerge feeling more peaceful and positive, with my mind eased and my heartbeat calmer.
This much-loved plant has been a part of many South Africans’ lives for centuries – planted under the bedroom windows, protected from the winter winds, always close at hand for the easy picking of its fragrant leaves for the bath, for a ‘cup of calm’ tea, for next to the bed, to be tucked under the pillow. A panacea for the storms of life, calming the angry onslaught. Why are we not growing more of this calming herb? Why are so few South Africans aware of the calm presence of this, our own botanical treasure?
GROWING THE ROSE-SCENTED GERANIUM
The rose-scented geranium is botanically named a pelargonium, and it is perhaps the most treasured of all the exquisite array of South African pelargoniums. Through the years it has become affectionately known simply as ‘the rose geranium’, but this is not its proper name – ‘by any other name it smells as sweet!’ and Pelargonium graveolens is its correct title.
Travellers to our country through the years have been astonished by its scent of roses and have lovingly taken plants and cuttings home, where it has become a highly prized indoor and conservatory plant. Nowhere, however, does it grow as easily and as abundantly as here in sunny South Africa.
Mere cuttings pulled off with a heel and stuck into damp sand will root quickly, but don’t over-water them as they do not tolerate being sodden. Plant the rooted cuttings in full sun in a large, deep compost-filled hole and give them a good weekly watering with the hose running into the hole. In winter water less, and protect against frost by taking numerous cuttings in April. Keep those pots or trays of cuttings in sheltered, warm and if possible sunny conditions. We put the cuttings into our hothouse before the middle of May when winter really sets in, and cover the big bushes in the garden with that useful frost cover membrane, plant fleece, bought from a local nursery, on very cold nights.
But being indigenous these plants are pretty tough survivors, and you’ll be thrilled by their spring and early summer display of little pink tufts of flowers, which are deliciously edible!
USING ROSE-SCENTED GERANIUM
The leaves of the rose-scented geranium are rich in one of the most beautiful essential oils, now well known throughout the world. I was enchanted to see the small plantings on the rocky slopes of mountains on Reunion Island, and the simple little stills set up under temporary shelters to process the oil. Sold in tiny bottles on the roadside, this treasure of beautiful rose-scented oil was snapped up by both locals and visitors. Used with almond oil as carrier oil, usually in a ratio of 1 in 20, this has become one of the most cherished massage oils for aching, tension-filled muscles, for aiding sleep, as a gentle all-over massage oil, and for relieving stress, anxiety and depression.
When massaged into the feet in a good aqueous cream the oil is particularly soothing for athletes, hikers and those whose job entails standing all day. As a physiotherapist I developed a soothing massage cream for aching shoulders, stiff necks and backs and painful arthritic joints that I make for fellow physios to this day, using 2 cups of fresh rose-scented geranium leaves, lightly chopped to release the oils and mixed with 1,5 cups of good aqueous cream (we use our own paraben- and petrochemical-free aqueous cream). Simmered in a double boiler for 20 minutes, stirred often then strained, the mixture quickly becomes rich in the warmed oil extracts. Strain while still hot and add 3 teaspoonfuls of vitamin E oil, mixing in well, and 3 tablespoonfuls of almond oil, again mixing in well. Pour into sterilised jars, seal and label.
Do not throw the strained-out leaves away once the mixture has been through the sieve. Tie them in a piece of muslin or cheesecloth and use with soap in the bath as an all-over massage. Or tie fresh rose geranium leaves and flowers in muslin and use with oats as a cleansing and muscle-relaxing scrub.
Baking with rose-scented geranium is pure pleasure. One of our longest-standing and most loved recipes is our rose geranium scones. Served with home-made strawberry jam and a dollop of fresh whipped cream, they have remained a favourite throughout the years.
Add fresh rose geranium leaves to custards, straining them out once the custard is cooked. When next you bake a plain vanilla cake or a Madeira cake, place a circle of fresh rose geranium leaves onto the base of the oiled pan and pour the cake mixture over it before baking. Remove the leaves once the cake has cooled. The whole cake will taste of rose geraniums!
(makes 12 scones)
1 1⁄2 cups cake flour
1⁄2 cup Nutti Wheat2 tablespoonfuls sugar
4 teaspoonfuls baking powder
1 egg beaten into 1 cup of milk
Pinch of salt
3 level tablespoonfuls finely chopped fresh rose geranium leaves
Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and sugar together. Cut the butter into small pieces and rub it lightly into the flour mixture with the fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the chopped rose-scented geranium leaves and lightly mix in.
Now add the milk mixture until it forms a dough – add a little more milk if necessary. Turn it out onto a board that has been sprinkled with flour and with a very light hand gently pat it out 2 cm thick (don’t knead it). Cut rounds with a cookie cutter or cut into squares and place them onto a well-buttered baking sheet. Bake at 220°C for about 10 minutes until lightly browned. Split in half while still warm and serve with butter, strawberry jam and whipped cream.
ROSE-SCENTED GERANIUM TEA
This tea is excellent for headaches, tension, grief, anxiety, cramps and spasms. It relaxes the digestive system as well as the nervous system, and banishes that feeling of helplessness and tearfulness. One of the most pleasant medicinal teas, it’s a top favourite in our restaurant at the Herbal Centre!
Pour 1 cup of boiling water over 1⁄4 cup fresh rose geranium leaves and sprigs, stand 5 minutes, sweeten with a touch of honey if you like, and sip it slowly.
ROSE GERANIUM SPRAY
For smoke-filled rooms or to freshen up stale air and clear smells, boil up 2 cups of fresh rose geranium leaves in 1 litre of water for 10 minutes. Strain, pour into a spritz spray bottle and spray the room liberally. Not only is it refreshing, but it helps to clear the air and gets rid of the smell of smoke in a room. Spray a fine mist onto the curtains too!