Looking for something new to plant in your summer garden? Add scented geraniums to the list. They’re worth every square inch of earth they occupy and they’re glamorous in a beautiful-on-the-inside sort of way. More than just a shock of pretty flowers, the deeper appeal of scented geraniums lies in their fragrance that doubles as flavor.
A variety for almost any pallet, scented geraniums (Pelargonium spp.), can be found in bold fragrances of apricot, apple, strawberry, rose, nutmeg, ginger, lime and the list continues. It’s a perfect reminder that some of the most amazing kitchen garden ingredients are best grown at home. Lucky for us, it’s not hard to grow and it’s even easier to find ways to add it to everyday recipes where it quickly imparts unique floral notes. With summer coming, I’m thinking cocktails but teas and fresh baked treats are also in order.
Relatively hardy, scented geraniums can be treated an a perennial is USDA hardiness zones 9 (sometimes 8) and above. If temperatures drop below 30 degrees, bring plants inside. Grow in full sun and in almost any soil as long as it has good drainage. Let soil dry out between waterings and when you do water, water deeply.
Consider planting in containers so they can be moved easily from outside in or vice versa.
Start new plants from cuttings. Using a sharp tool or clippers, take cuttings directly above the branching point on a stem, where the leaves meet the stem. A 4 to 6 inch cutting from the tip down is best. Place in a 50/50 mixture of vermiculite and perlite, water and wait. Be sure the mixture stays moist and add a plastic covering to hold in heat but allows for ventilation. You’ll know when it’s rooting and ready to plant out when you give it a gentle tug and it holds firm (usually in 4 to 6 weeks).
Gather leaves as you need them. Separate the leaf stem (the petiole) from the main stem by gently bending and snapping the leaf perpendicular to the main stem or use clippers to remove.
Infuse scented geranium (and most other herbs for that matter) in simple syrups, teas, flavored sugars, baked goods and roasted veggies or soups to release the aromatic oils. Like bay leaves, it’s generally not advised to eat the leaves themselves, but use them to enhance and brighten flavors.
For quick, on the fly enjoyment, gently bruise or crush the leaves before adding to a thirst-quenching lemonade or cocktail. To experience deeper, complex flavors, make a simple syrup or tea — both of which are infusions. (With infusions, you’re simply breaking down the cell walls of the leaves to expose and extract the constituents within the leaves.)
Simple syrups can be made with sugar or honey. Combine sugar or honey with water using a 50:50 ratio. Warm the mixture in a sauce pan until the honey or sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and add your leaves of choice. Set aside to cool before using or let simmer for 2 to 3 minutes before removing from heat. The longer it sits the stronger the infusion. If using honey, taste test before combining, keeping in mind it has its own set of complex flavors.
This is where the fun begins and experimentation starts! In general, rose, citrus, mint, fruit, nut and spiced varieties of scented geraniums are used in cooking. Already an endless number of possibilities!
Let the zest of the plants shine with paired down recipes that require just a handful of ingredients.
Geranium Gin Sour
What You Need:
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup water
- 10 lemon geranium leaves (or other citrus variety)
- Crushed ice
- 1 lemon cut into wedges
- 4 ounces gin
What You Do:
Make a simple syrup as described above, combining 1 part sugar to 1 part water. Heat in a saucepan until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in leaves. Once cool, combine with gin and pour over crushed ice. Garnish with a fresh geranium leaves and wedge of lemon. Makes 2.
Rose Geranium Vodka
Vodka and simple syrup of rose geranium made with sugar. Use the “what to do” instructions above, garnish with blueberries, lemon or lime.
Bourbon with Honey and Lemon Geranium
Bourbon or whiskey and a simple syrup of lemon geranium made with honey. Follow the same basic recipe, play with varying proportions of honey and garnish with lemon.
Mix and match this basic recipe using a liquor of your choice. Experiment with different varieties of geraniums or other herbs and pair with citrus, cucumber, berries or rhubarb.
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