Or, Geranium, America Salutes you!
By Christi R. Pugh
For Nature’s Gift, Inc.
I recently heard an interesting anecdotal story outlining reasons the French decided to offer the Louisiana Territories for sale in 1803. Apparently young Frenchmen were returning to France with yellow fever transmitted by Louisiana mosquitoes and some mosquitoes were hitching a ride from the young American Nation to Europe via ship. According, to this version, the French were none-too-happy about the arrival of these pesky flying insects, and all-too-happy to sever any connection to the United States. Thus, they willing sold the territories (over 800,000 acres) at a bargain price. (I guess they really, really despised mosquitoes!) In this storyline, it is said that the French grow geraniums in flower boxes and around their homes to ward off mosquitoes to this veryday!
I imagine more serious reasons contributed to Napoleon Bonaparte’s change of heart, such as the Haitian slave uprising and French defeat in Haiti; but that is a story for another day…For Americans, Jefferson directed the Louisiana Purchase and assured coffee and beignets would forever represent New Orleans, LA, USA, alongside humidity, alligators, jazz music, and “Skeeters.”
So, what is it about Geranium (Pelargonium graveolens), that mosquitoes, ticks, and some other pests find “repelling?” Remarkably the chemical properties of both the infused oil from the flower/plant and the steam distilled essential oil are quite similar (which is not always the case between oil/herb/plant.) We find it is highest in Citronellol, the main component in Citronella oils, often used to ward off summer pests. (Rose Geranium also contains Citronellol) Have you ever used a Citronella candle? (If you really want to plunk down the chemistry rabbit-hole, Citronellol can be broken down into + or – “versions” for lack of better wording, and these “Stereoisomers,” as they are called, have different scents and can be utilized quite differently.) Of course, Geranium should also contain Neral and Geraniol.
Interestingly, our Skeeter Beater blend does not contain Geranium or Rose Geranium, although we often encourage those who are so inclined to add it themselves. Kristen Leigh Bell recommends a blend with Geranium to keep ticks off dogs in Holistic Aromatherapy for Animals: A Comprehensive Guide to the Use of Essential Oils and Hydrosols with Animals. The Whole Dog Journal recommends diluted Rose Geranium as a tick repellant.
We suspect due to its high Citronellol content, that it is helpful, but we’ve found Lemon Tea Tree to be most effective based on personal use and feedback and of course, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends Lemon Eucalyptus for this purpose. Our time-tested blend contains Lemon scented Tea Tree, Lemon Eucalyptus, Atlas Cedarwood, and Patchouli. Adding Geranium is truly based on personal preference as the aroma can be overwhelming to some, yet pleasant to others.
Back in 1803, they didn’t know why it worked, and truly, they did not need to know. What they did know from experience, is that it DID!