Take a Look at Geranium

Posted on Sunday 17 January 2010

Historical Insights

If you have had the opportunity of smelling a geranium flower, you will remember a type of sweet, rosy herbaceous fragrance – a perfume onto itself. This perennial plant, which can grow up to one meter in height is commonly known as geranium and botanically identified as the genus Pelargonium. Confusingly, there is a related plant with the genus Geranium but commonly known as cranesbill. Both genera share the same family of Geraniaceae. Gardeners often refer to the Pelargonium genus as “pelargoniums” rather than geraniums, in order to avoid continual confusion. There are also morphological differences between the two genera, specifically in their flower formation.

Indigenous to South Africa, geranium was first introduced into Europe in the 17th century and later hybridized. These hybrid cultivars have a wide variety of scents, including rose, citrus, mint, coconut and nutmeg. The main species cultivated for the aromatherapy and perfume industry is Pelargonium graveolens, or rose geranium. This specific species is indispensable in the aromatherapy industry and highly prized in the perfume industry. Extracted by steam distillation of the leaves and branches, the rose geranium essential oil is used by aromatherapists to assist with a wide array of maladies such as mood swings, skin disorders and feminine menstrual irregularities as well as to balance feminine hormone levels during menopause. Rose geranium has similar chemical constituents as those present in rose oil, namely geraniol, linalool and citronellol, thus making it a favorable alternative for the perfume industry to the more expensive essential oil of rose petals. Such a fragrance is also widely used by the cosmetic industry as a component in soaps, detergents, creams and lotions. The essential oil itself is extracted from the leaves and branches of the plant. After cutting, a common practice is to partially dry the plants in order to increase the yield of oil.

Beginning in the 1880s the much revered French perfume industry established extensive plantations of geranium on Reunion (a small French island located in the Indian Ocean). Geranium oil is also produced in other parts of the world namely China, Egypt, and Morocco. Geranium oils are usually distinguished by its country of origin prefix with the Reunion (known as Bourbon) essential oil regarded as the most significant variety of geranium oil due to its pronounced rosy fragrance as well as potent medicinal qualities.

Geranium Oil May Bring Hope to Hospitals

In the last decade there has been a rise in attention given to antibiotic-resistant microbes, especially ones that cause severe infectious diseases and lead to fatality. On the first day of this new year of 2010, researchers from the National University of Ireland in Galway announced to the world that disinfectants can cause bacteria to resist antibiotics. Their study, published in the January 2010 issue of Microbiology, looked at the response of Pseudomonas aeruginosa to increasing levels of disinfectant. (P. aeruginosa is a bacterium that is a known occupant in hospitals, causing a wide range of infections in hospital patients. Standard hospital procedure is to use a surface disinfectant to prevent the spread of bacteria. If bacteria manage to survive and in turn infect patients, then antibiotics are administered.) The researchers found that P. aeruginosa adapted to increasing levels of disinfectant and even developed a resistance to an antibiotic (ciprofloxacin) without being exposed to the drug directly. More specifically, the researchers revealed that the bacteria had created a more efficient means of pumping out the antimicrobial agents (such as disinfectants and antibiotics) through their cell wall and developed a mutation in their DNA to resist ciprofloxacin-type antibiotics specifically. With such findings, the researchers concluded that such bacterial adaptations could be of great harm to hospital patients and advised to reconsider how disinfectants are used in hospital settings.

Pseudomonas aeruginosa is wide-spread in soil and water and any surface in contact with soil or water. Yet, it is an opportunistic microbe and will only infect a compromised host or tissues of that host that have been compromised in some way. It is an epitome of an opportunistic host in humans. If a person’s immune system is compromised, it can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory system infections, dermatitis, soft tissue infections, bacteremia, bone and joint infections, gastrointestinal infections and a variety of systemic infections, particularly in patients with severe burns and in cancer and AIDS patients who are immunosuppressed. As seen above, P. aeruginosa can be a serious threat to patients in hospitals, especially patients with cancer, burns and cystic fibrosis. The case fatality rate in these patients is near 50 percent. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the overall prevalence of P. aeruginosa infections in US hospitals is approximately 4 per 1000 discharges (0.4%). According to one report, the gastrointestinal infection rates among hospitalized patients increases to 20% within 72 hours of admission. With such findings, it is clear that other solutions must be found.

There are an increasing number of studies being published in peer-reviewed journals on the potent antimicrobial properties of essential oils, including geranium. A 2004 study (Burns 2004 Dec; 30(8): 772-7) found that geranium in combination with Citracidal (grapefruit seed extract) had great effectiveness against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and in combination with tea tree was highly effective against methicillin-sensitive Staphylococcus aureus. These researchers concluded that essential oils serve as highly useful antimicrobial agents and in treatment of MSRA infection. A more recent study (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2006 Nov 30; 6:39) found that essential oils, including geranium were effective against Staphylococcus aureus, including the ubiquitous bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Concluding Thoughts

For a number of centuries, nations and people groups have been using geranium oil for its various medicinal and therapeutic properties. In the last few decades, there has been an inundation of laboratory derived antimicrobial products for individuals to use and come to rely upon. Yet, current research is pointing to a distinct rise in antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Medical services, especially hospitals are now being encouraged by researchers to restructure their current practices against infection and the spread of disease. With the very recent study from the National University of Ireland documenting that bacteria can survive in increasing amounts of chemical disinfectant, it is clear that other treatments will need to be implemented. Essential oils may just be part of the solution; the research indicating as such is quite promising.

The writer is an enthusiastic practitioner of aroma-therapeutics, and teaches extensively on how to use flower essences at home with your family and friends.

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