Carol Stein grows it
Scented geraniums are one of my favorite summer-flowering perennials. Their blossoms come in a wide range of colors, from white with splashes of purple to pink candy-striped to deep red. The leaves can be ruffled, curly or lacy.
But the real draw for these herbs is their aromatic leaves. Ive grown scented geraniums with the fragrances of peppermint, nutmeg, orange, apple, apricot, lime, lemon, rose, ginger, chocolate mint and cinnamon.
Scented geraniums are part of the Pelargonium genus, a diverse family that includes large ornamental geraniums and the strong-smelling citronella, which is billed as an insect repellent. However, dont try to cook with either of these plants neither is edible.
Plant scented geraniums where they will receive 4 to 6 hours of sun daily, in loose, well-drained soil with organic matter mixed in.
For container growing, use pots that are at least 12 to 16 inches wide and deep. Use equal parts of a light, fluffy potting mix with composted pine bark (sold as organic soil conditioner).
Set the plants into the soil at the same depth as in the nursery pots and water well. A couple of weeks after planting, sprinkle a balanced, slow-release fertilizer on top of the dirt and add a couple inches of mulch to keep soils moist but not soggy.
This tender perennial requires a little cold-weather care. In autumn, add extra layers of mulch before soil temperatures drop below 45 degrees to protect roots over the winter. Bring containers into a warm garage, or enjoy the plants in sunny windows inside the house.
Debbie Moose cooks it
Scented geraniums are not as familiar in the kitchen as other herbs, but they are worth including in sweets and beverages, where their unusual flavors probably will mesh better than in savory dishes.
Let me reiterate what Carol said: Do not use regular geraniums or citronella leaves for cooking. At one garden shop, a staff member tried to sell me citronella as a culinary scented geranium, so beware.
As with most fresh herbs, pick unblemished scented geranium leaves just before you plan to use them. And do not use leaves that have come in contact with any chemicals. You will likely need to grow your own plants or find a friend who has them to acquire the leaves. Rinse the leaves and dry them completely before using them.
Heres an easy way to use scented geraniums: Bury two or three leaves of any scent in a cup or so of sugar and place it in an airtight container for about a week, or until the sugar achieves the flavor level you want. Use the flavored sugar (avoiding the leaves) in such things as teas or shortbread.
For something really different, a friend told me he places one layer of lemon geranium leaves in the bottom of a cake pan, then pours in his pound cake batter. He says the leaves almost caramelize, and flavor the whole cake.
And, of course, scented geraniums would be fun to use in making flavored vinegars (try one cup of fresh herbs to two cups of white wine vinegar).
Reach Carol Stein and
Debbie Moose at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strawberry Rose Geranium
This recipe from Jerry Traunfeld’s “The Herbal Kitchen: Cooking with Fragrance and Flavor” (William Morrow, 2005) gives a different twist to fresh strawberry ice cream. If you can’t find rose geranium leaves, a few drops of culinary rosewater, available at Middle Eastern markets, might be a good substitute.
2 cups half-and-half
1 ½ cups sugar
8 medium rose geranium leaves
1 ½ pints very ripe strawberries
BRING the half-and-half and sugar to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir in the rose geranium leaves, cover and remove from the heat. After about 10 minutes, strain the liquid and let it cool.
WASH and hull the strawberries. Puree them in a blender or food processor until fairly smooth. You should have 2 cups.
STIR the strawberries and infused half-and-half together and chill in the refrigerator or over ice until the mixture is cold to the touch. Freeze in an ice cream maker. Scoop the ice cream out into a lidded container and store it in the frezer until serving time.
Yield: 1 quart; 8 servings