Understanding where your Rose Geranium essential oil comes from can be confusing because Mother nature has created chaos by allowing plants from the various species of Pelargonium to interbreed freely and produce many very similar hybrids. Botanists have increased that chaos by going wild with their naming and renaming of all the species and hybrids of the Pelargoniums.
There are, in fact, over 250 species in the genus Pelargonium and a daunting number of hybrids. It takes a better botanist than I am to keep up with all the name shuffling in this multitude of plants, especially since the same plants sometimes have different names and different names sometimes signify the same plant! It’s a mess.
So, let’s forget the botany for a moment and just think about the essential oils. Anyone who has smelled high quality Geranium and Rose Geranium essential oils knows there is a difference in the aromas. While each oil has a distinctive “Geranium” signature, the Rose Geranium essential oils are richer in the rose notes and, to my nose, possess an overall better-rounded, more complex, and more sensual fragrance. I think the question that most people have is “What’s the difference (other than aromas); do the two oils come from different plants or what? Do they work differently?”
As to the question of how they differ in their actions, the answer is “very little” in terms of broad effects and safety issues. If you or a client prefer the aroma of one over the other, then go with the choice you like the best. Most people prefer the aroma of Rose Geranium to that of Geranium but some don’t and men, especially, might prefer plain Geranium. It’s a matter of personal preference.
Now the issue of how they differ in what plants they come from is a difficult one, as you’ll see. If you do a quick survey of essential oils of Geranium and Rose Geranium offered by retail companies on-line, you’ll probably find that the botanical source of Geranium essential oil is most often identified as Pelargonium graveolens or as its synonym, Pelargonium x asperum. You may also find a few retail companies selling Geranium essential oil sourced from other species; these offerings have usually been produced by small distilleries that sell to retail companies like Artisan Aromatics.
The botanical source for Rose Geranium essential oil is most often identified by online retailers as Pelargonium roseum or, less frequently, as Pelargonium var. roseum, which is the same thing. Pelargonium capitatum is another species that is considered to produce a rose-scented Geranium essential oil. Finally, the so-called Bourbon Geranium, which is named for the French Island of Bourbon (now called Réunion) also produces a rose cultivar, often identified as Pelargonium graveolens var. roseum or sometimes as just Pelargonium graveolens or as Pelargonium cv rosé which I have seen only on rare occasions among on-line retailers. Are these all the same plant? Are they always correctly identified? I don’t know.
The proper botanical identification of the source for any offering of Geranium or Rose Geranium essential oil is difficult because the various species and cultivars of Pelargonium can be very difficult to identify based on observable characteristics (morphology). In fact, most of the research that has enabled botanists to differentiate between these cultivars and species has been based on genetic analysis since morphology is so unreliable in some cases. Some experts have argued recently that much of the essential oil sold as extracts of Pelargonium graveolens may actually be other species, due to the difficulties inherent in making distinctions. This is not a matter of growers or distillers lying: it’s a matter of how difficult it is to know which species you have.
There is no easy answer to the question of how to know the exact botanical source of a given Geranium or Rose Geranium essential oil, but this is one instance in which I’m more concerned with the purity and quality of the oil and its aroma than I am with splitting hairs on the botanical source. As long as I know the product that I have is a real Geranium or Rose Geranium essential oil, and not one of the fake or adulterated products, I rely on my nose to decide whether or not I like a particular choice. That’s more important to me than whether or not it’s Pelargonium graveolens or Pelargonium cv rosé.
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