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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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geranium the common and familiar name of popular garden plants of the genus Pelargonium (there is a genus Geranium, to which some small-flowered plants like the cranesbill geranium belong, but most garden geraniums are Pelargonium spp).

Geraniums, which are native to southern or tropical Africa, were introduced to Europe in 1690. The leaves (not the flowers) of a number of species, especially Pelargonium capitatum and P. odoratissimum, have a roselike scent. This is because they contain the same essential oils, geraniol and citronellol, as attar of roses (see roses). The proportions of these vary with the strain of the plant, soil conditions, and degree of maturity; and other essential oils are often present. So the scent of geraniums may be lemony, or like orange, apple, or nutmeg, besides resembling rose. Since the mid-19th century the rose-scented geranium has been cultivated for the production of ‘rose geranium oil’, which is used in perfumes but also for flavouring and scenting food, in the manner of rosewater. In Tunisian confectionery geranium water largely replaces rosewater.