It’s easy to see why the Victorians were so fond of scented geraniums. Bursting with the scents of citrus, rose, spice or mint, these native South African plants are easily grown inside and offer an olfactory treat to winter-weary gardeners. They also lend themselves well to culinary uses, such as herbal scented sugars.
Scented geraniums were so named in the 1600s and have been mistakenly referred to since. Part of the Geraniaceae family, scented geraniums are actually pelargoniums and are grown for their scented leaves, not delicate flowers. There are more than 200 varieties of this lovely plant, all distinctly scented with enticing names such as ‘Fringed Apple’, ‘Peppermint Lace’, ‘Prince of Orange’ and ‘Rober’s Lemon Rose.’
Infusing the leaves’ oils in food is the most successful way to flavor foods with a geranium’s scent, and one of the easiest ways to do this is with a simple syrup. Measure equal parts granulated sugar and water in a saucepan and, without stirring, place on high heat until sugar dissolves. Reduce temperature and continue to simmer until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add 1 cup cleaned geranium leaves. Allow leaves to steep for up to an hour, remove leaves, and store syrup covered in the refrigerator for up to two weeks
Flavoring sugars with scented geranium leaves is another way to cook with their subtle scent. Add cleaned and dried ‘Nutmeg,’ ‘Chocolate Mint’ or ‘Ginger’ leaves to light brown muscovado sugar, cover and allow to sit for up to one week. Remove leaves and sprinkle flavored sugar on top of baked goods before they go in the oven. Rose-scented leaves can be treated the same way with granulated sugar and used to sweeten whipping cream and hot tea.