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Rose Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens var.roseum and variants) Hydrosol and Plant

An air of mystery as well as a rich, floral fragrance surrounds rose geranium, the plant from which we obtain the aromatic hydrosol and essential oil.

Linnaeus originally placed rose geranium in the genus Geranium. But by 1789 Charles L’Héritier placed them in the distinct genera of Pelargonium due to differences in flower, fruit, and nectar tube shape.1

The Pelargonium genus of flowering plants belongs to the Geraniaceae family, which contains three genera: Geranium, Erodium, and Pelargonium. The names are derived from the Greek words for crane, heron, and stork respectively and refer to the shape of the seed case and its resemblance to the slender bill of each bird.

The genus Pelargonium is said to contain 280 species of shrubs, perennials, and succulents commonly know as geraniums or storksbills, the majority of which are native to South Africa.2

It’s no mystery that we obtain rose geranium hydrosol and essential oil from the Pelargonium genera. The mystery lies in which species yields the lovely fragrant hydrosol.

If you search for rose geranium hydrosol or essential oil you may notice that the botanical name varies from one supplier to the next. Who exactly shows up when you purchase rose geranium hydrosol? Is it Pelargonium graveolens? Or perhaps Pelargonium graveolens var. roseum? Pelargonium x asperum perchance? Pelargonium roseum is that you? Hello Pelaronium spp. here to join in! Hey Pelargonium capitatum here.

According to one producer of rose geranium essential oil the “rose” geranium comes from Pelargonium graveolens var. roseum while “regular” geranium essential oil comes from Pelargonium graveolens.

Traditionally, the distiller says, “rose” geranium was applied to specific cultivars of geranium known as geranium bourbon, produced on the island of Reunion. This cultivar, they note, was originally produced in only small amounts, but is now produced in other countries. These also note that several species of Pelargonium yield an essential oils but the one used most frequently is P. graveolens.3

But what about the botanical names listed by other suppliers?

As many avid gardeners know Pelargonium or geraniums are easy to grow. What may not be so readily discerned it that they hybridize easily.

So if several Pelargonium species are growing alongside one another and bees are busy pollinating amongst them the resulting offspring may be a bit of a mystery – that is cultivars or hybrids. There is confusion over which Pelargonium are actually true species and which are cultivars.

And to truly dissect the botany of Pelargonium is beyond the scope of this article. So we’ll just take a look at which species tend to show up in the rose scented Pelargonium group.

Cultivated Pelargoniums are commonly divided into six groups as well as species pelargoniums and primary hybrids. (ref) The scented-leaved variety (Sc) is grown chiefly for their fragrance and includes a plethora of scents such as almond, coconut, citrus, cinnamon, rose, and many more.

Rose scented Pelargonium species include Pelargonium graveolens (syn Pelargonium roseum), Pelargonium capitatum, and Pelargonium radens. And from these a variety of cultivars such as “Attar of Roses” a cultivar of P. capitatum, “Crowfoot Rose” a cultivar of P. radens, and “Grey Lady Plymouth” a cultivar of P. graveolens have been noted.4

The designation P. spp. refers to all species in the Pelargonium genus. If the exact species is not know the abbreviation Spp. is used.5

Thus, it appears that rose scented geranium hydrosol is most likely from the Pelargonium graveolens (syn Pelargonium roseum), P.capitatum, or possibly P.radens species, cultivar, or hybrid there in. If a distiller is uncertain which specific species, cultivar, or hybrid of rose scented geranium was used they will simply regard it as Pelargonium spp.

Pelargonium growth forms exhibit a wide range of variation and include herbaceous annuals, shrubs, subshrubs, succulents, and geophytes. The plants bear 5 petal flowers with zygomorphic or single plane symmetry, where the two upper petals are differentiated from the three lower petals. The flowers form pseudo umbel clusters. The nectary tube can range from a few millimeters to several centimeters and stamen number can vary from two to seven.6

The number of stamen, position, and curvature can be used to identify individual species. Leaves tend to be alternate, palmately lobed or sometimes pinnate, sometimes have light and dark patterns, and are often on long stalks.6

The Pelargonium is a large genus within the family Geraniaceae with a worldwide spread in temperate to subtropical zones. Pelargoniums are tolerant of heat and drought and tolerant of only minor frosts.

Native to South Africa, which harbors 90% of the genus, only thirty some species are found elsewhere. The majority found in the East American rift valley and Southern Australia and the remaining in southern Madagascar, Yemen, Asia minor, Iraq, northern New Zealand, and isolated islands of Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha in the southern Atlantic, and Socotra in the Indian Ocean.6

The German botanist Johann J. Dillenius first proposed the name Pelargonium in 1732. He described and illustrated seven species of geraniums from South Africa that are now in this genera.

Johannes Burman formally introduced the name in 1738, but Carl Linnaeus grouped the three similar genera Geranium, Erodium, and Pelargonium together in the genus Geranium. Given Linnaeus reputation the grouping stood for some forty years with the eventual distinction being made based on the number of stamens or anthers by Charles L’Héritier.1

Cultivation History:

P. triste, a native of South Africa was the first species of Pelargonium to be cultivated. Most likely it was brought to the Botanical Garden in Leiden on ships that had stopped at the Cape of Good Hope before 1600. John Tradescant the elder purchased seeds from Rene Morin in Paris in 1631 and introduced the plant to England. By 1724 at least five additional species of Pelargonium were introduced to Europe.7

While there was no real attempt to group the cultivars early on, attention to their growth and grouping was revived in the mid twentieth century by the American botanist Liberty Hyde Bailey, who introduced new terms for zonal and regal Pelargoniums.8

Listings began by the late 1950s and Pelargonium and Geranium societies (such as the Australian Geranium Society, the British Pelargonium and Geranium society for example) furthered these efforts by producing checklists and more complete lists.

The Pelargonium and geranium society (PAGS) now administers the International Register of Pelargonium cultivars.9

Pelargonium Therapeutic Benefits

Pelargonium has been used for wounds, respiratory issues, and digestive support as well as for kidney complaints and fevers.10 In aromatherapy rose geranium essential oil is considered grounding and balancing. Although the exact species may vary it will no doubt be an aromatic scented Pelargonium with a good amount of citronellol and geraniol. Rose geranium is used to reduce feelings of worry or stress and is considered a tonic to the body. It is wonderful for supporting skin health, can soothe nerve issues, and is said to be a bringer of grace and harmony.11 For respiratory complaints the roots of Pelargonium sidoides or Umckaloabo are used.12

Rose Geranium Hydrosol Characteristics, Uses, and Benefits

Rose geranium hydrosol like the plant, has a sweet, floral fragrance with a rose like afternote much like the essential oil. Undiluted it tastes overly floral, but when diluted it is palatable. The pH typically falls between 4.9 and 5.2.13

Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry analysis of hydrosols can be tricky as compounds as can react and transform more readily in the water based hydrosols. GC/MS reports on rose geranium hydrosol share similarities but are variable. The main components of the hydrosol typically include citronellol, geraniol, and linalool. Bisabolol oxide A was present in an analysis of the first of four fractions of a Pelargonium captiatum distillation but did not appear in subsequent fractions.14

The African varieties tend to last fourteen to sixteen months, while European varieties are less stable. Catty suggests constant monitoring of rose geranium hydrosols as they can rapidly develop a “very curious white, ball like bloom shortly after contamination”. Filtering before such growth can take place is important.13

Rose geranium is a favorite for skin care. It’s suitable for all ages and adaptogenic and balancing for a variety of skin types, from oily to dry and both sensitive and acneic. Rose geranium is a welcome addition to lotions, toners, face masks, moisturizers, cleansers, or simply spritzed on the face and skin. 13

Rose geranium hydrosol is a humectant and attracts and holds moisture in the skin. Thus when used as a compress it is excellent for rough, dry skin or calluses. 13

The hydrosol also has cooling and anti-inflammatory properties. It can be used to calm sunburn, soothe a rash or insect bite, or dispel heat related issues when used topically. 13

Alone or combined with German chamomile, cornflower, or rock rose hydrosol, rose geranium hydrosol can be useful for redness, broken capillaries, or rosacea. 13

Rose geranium hydrosol is also noted as a hemostatic making it useful for cleaning cuts and scrapes. Children and adults enjoy the scent and it can work wonders to soothe the itch of scabs and promotes healing. 13

Given its cooling effects, rose geranium can be useful for menopausal hot flashes when used as a spritz as well as for balancing the emotions and supporting the endocrine system. It’s also useful for PMS and hormone related moodiness, especially when used in conjuction with omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids or alongside Vitex agnus-castus or fleabane hydrosol. 13

This hydrosol is said to balance the twin spirits of the male and female energy and makes a wonderful perfume or body spray. Some men enjoy using rose geranium combined with other hydrosols such as wild ginger, yarrow, rock rose, or German chamomile as an aftershave. 13

A bit mysterious but sweetly sophisticated, luscious and floral, rose geranium hydrosol has much to offer. Rose geranium soothes and supports the skin, balances the body, cools heat, or simply makes a lovely body spray, even if you’re not quite sure precisely who she is.

Rose Geranium Clay Mask

Cleansing and cooling rose geranium hydrosol can benefit all skin types and works wonderfully in a mask. You can try different types of clay and add in skin safe essential oils. Package the dry mixture in a glass jar and pair with a bottle of rose geranium hydrosol for a unique gift.

Ingredients and Equipment:

  • One 4 oz. new/clean glass jar with lid.

  • Measuring spoons

  • Stainless steel or glass bowl for mixing

  • Spoon for mixing

  • 8 teaspoons of kaolin, Rhassoul, French green, or Bentonite clay (see note below)

  • 4 teaspoons arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea) powder

  • 2 teaspoons finely ground oats (Avena sativa)

  • 2 teaspoons finely ground almond (Prunus amygdalus syn Prunus dulcis) meal (omit if sensitive to nuts and replace with 2 tsp. oats)

  • 10 drops of skin safe essential oils (optional)

  • Rose geranium (Pelargonium spp.) hydrosol

Directions for Making the Mask Base:

  1. Clean equipment with 70% isopropyl alcohol and/or warm water and dish soap.

  2. Add clay, arrowroot powder, oats, and almond meal to the bowl and mix well.

  3. Add essential oils if using and stir well to prevent clumping.

  4. Combine the aloe vera gel and water in a second bowl and mix gently to combine.

  5. Spoon the mixture into jar and store in cool place or freezer.

Directions for Mixing and Using the Face Mask:

  1. Use 3 tsp of mask base and add enough rose geranium hydrosol (1 to 1 ½ tsp or so) to form a soft paste.

  2. Spread mask on face and neck

  3. Relax 10 to 20 minutes

  4. Rinse mask with warm water and pat face dry

  5. Enjoy your radiant skin

Properties of clays:

Bentonite clay: detoxifying, soothes skin irritations, improves circulation

French green clay: detoxifying, decongesting, useful for blemishes and spot treatments

Rhassoul clay: detoxifies, decrease skin dryness, improves skin tone

Kaolin clay: draws impurities, reduces swelling, improves circulation, exfoliates

Rose Geranium and Witch Hazel Hydrosol Aftershave

Rose geranium hydrosol paired with witch hazel hydrosol plus glycerin and aloe makes a fantastic cooling, tonic aftershave for both men and women. This version does not contain essential oils but can be desired as added for further benefit. The recipe below will make about 4 oz of aftershave. It is not preserved so it should be used within a few weeks.

Ingredients and Equipment:

  • One 4 to 8 oz. new/clean glass spray bottle

  • Measuring spoons

  • Glass or stainless steel mixing bowl

  • Stirring rod or spoon for mixing

  • 70% Isopropyl alcohol for sanitizing equipment

  • 70 mls (about 5.5 tablespoons) Distilled water

  • 15 mls (1 tablespoon) of aloe vera gel (preferably organic)

  • 2.5 mls (about ½ tsp) glycerin (preferably organic and palm free)

  • 20 mls (about 1 ¼ tablespoons) witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) hydrosol

  • 15 mls (1 tablespoon) Rose geranium (Pelargonium spp.) hydrosol

  • Funnel (optional)

Directions for making the aftershave:

  1. Clean equipment with 70% isopropyl alcohol (you can put the alcohol in a spray bottle and spritz the bowl and spoons and let air dry or wipe with a clean towel or paper towel).

  2. Combine water, aloe vera gel, glycerin, witch hazel hydrosol and rose geranium hydrosol.

  3. Mix the ingredients with a spoon or stirring rod until well combined.

  4. Pour the aftershave into your glass spray bottle (a funnel may make this easier if available).

  5. Close eyes and spritz onto facial area after shaving or to refresh the skin. Can be used on legs after shaving as well. Avoid eyes and sensitive areas.

  1. Boddy, K. (2013) Geranium Reaktion Books LTD, London, p. 11-12

  2. The Geranium Page website, accessed October 15, 2018:

  3. Data Sheet Rose Geranium and Geranium PDF website, accessed October 10, 2018:

  4. Arnoldia Arboretum Harvard website, Aromatic Pelargoniums PDF (no authors listed), accessed October 10, 2018:

  5. The International Register of Pelargonium Cultivars website accessed October 15, 2018:

  6. Pelargonium website, accessed October 10, 2018:

  7. Taylor, J. (2014) Visions of Loveliness: Great Flower Breeders of the Past Swallow Press, Ohio p.365

  8. Wilkinson, A. (2007) The Passion for Pelargoniums: How they found their place in the garden, History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire p.79

  9. The Pelargonium & Geranium Society website, accessed October 10, 2018:

  10. An Herb Society of America Fact Sheet PDF, accessed October 15, 2018:

  11. Puchon, N. and Cantele, L. (2014) The Complete Book of Aromatherapy and Essential Oils Robert Rose, Ontario

  12. WholeHealth Chicago website, accessed October 15, 2018:

  13. Catty, S. (2001), Hydrosols The Next Aromatherapy, Vermont, Healing Arts Press

  14. Circle H Institute website, Cinnamon Hydrosol PDF, accessed October 10, 2018:

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