For many of us, geranium has an incredibly nostalgic scent: the scent of a grandmother’s greenhouse, rubbing a furry-leaved plant between our fingertips. In fact, there are hundreds of species of geranium, with scents that conjure up many other plants: lemon, apple, lime, mint, orange, rose, citronella, camphor, pineapple, sage and more. The leaves and stems can be steam-distilled to produce oils, then, with quite different characters – depending on the variety.
Mostly, the type used in perfumery is Pelargonium graveolens, or rose geranium: it gives a scent that’s similar to rose, but with a lemony twist, and less of the powderiness. The most prized geranium of all comes from the Ile Bourbon, with its rich, green, fruity-mint rosiness. (Such complexity, in a single ingredient: no wonder many perfumers love it.) But it’s also grown in Algiers, Morocco – and in Grasse, we saw Chanel experimenting with growing geranium in their fields. Geranium’s used in colognes, herbal scents, florals and chypre fragrances. (Plus the fougère family, which is mostly men’s scents.)
Legend has it that geraniums first grew where the prophet Mohammed hung his shirt to dry in the sun. And there are other myths linked with geranium: they’re said to grow in pots near witches’ cottages. (Which probably pegs most British gardeners as witches, then.)
Smell geranium in: