Scented Garden: Palmarosa and Lemonade Recipe

palmarosa

by Elise Pearlstine

Victoria’s Note: Wildlife ecologist, natural perfumer and avid gardener, Elise Pearlstine has an intimate connection to the world around her through her diverse interests. Her philosophy may be summed by the word “bellyflowers” (also the name of her own blog.) Bellyflowers are aromatic wildflowers so tiny that you have to get on your belly to smell them. It is about slowing down and taking in your surroundings.
In this series of guest articles, Elise will be sharing with us her passion and enthusiasm for scented plants as well as
her extensive knowledge of gardening. Please welcome Elise with her first post on palmarosa, a fascinating grass that smells of roses and green citrus rinds.

If you chew on a blade of palmarosa grass you get a sharp, sweet and tangy taste that is very slightly floral, almost citrusy and the smell of the essential oil seems to sneak into your nose. The smell is rich and floral, seemingly more complex than the essential oil. The plant from which I have picked the blade grows next to the front porch of a lovely small house in Miami. It has exploded from a small houseplant to a grassy clump with stalks over eight feet tall and is mingling with a large Jasmine auriculatum. Seeds cover the tops of the palmarosa stalks where it bends over the sidewalk and steps. It is a rangy plant with a reed-like center stem and grass blades growing along the sides. New tender growth is coming up from the bottom of the clump and will soon replace the part I have cut.

Palmarosa (Cymbopogon martini), sometimes called rosha grass, is a tall grass that is native to Southeast Asia, especially India and Pakistan. It is related to lemongrass and citronella. It can be grown either from cuttings or seeds. Seeds may need an overnight soaking to enhance germination and like to be kept moist during this time. Palmarosa is a tropical plant and likes a moist, sunny spot in tropical and sub-tropical zones. In temperate areas I would suggest planting it in small indoor pots in the early spring and then moving it outside when the weather warms up.

The scent of palmarosa is rosy, floral, sweet and reminiscent of roses and geraniums. The essential oil has been used to adulterate rose oils and can be used in soaps for a long-lasting rosy scent. It is also often used in skin care products. In addition, the plant is used in savory dishes in India and West Africa and, when used in cooking, can assist in fighting bacterial contamination as well as in the digestion of fatty foods.

I have cut the top four feet of the plant and will harvest the seeds, dry the stalks and leaves, and then chop up the plant material to do a small distillation. I might even mince a few leaves and add them to alcohol to see if that gathers the scent. Or the leaves might just add a slight flowery note to fresh lemonade from the home-grown lemons in my refrigerator. I always enjoy the rich floral scent of palmarosa as it warms in the sugar syrup along with the lemon peels. The subtle floral aspect it lends to the tangy lemonade is wonderful.

Palmarosa Lemonade

While the rosy-citrus note of palmarosa adds a special accent to lemonade, other flavorings can be used instead such as lemongrass or mint.

2 cups sugar
1 cup water
Rind of 1 lemon, cut into strips
Pinch of salt
Juice of 6 lemons
1-2 tsp minced palmarosa leaves

Mix together 2 cups sugar, 1 cup water, the rind of one large lemon cut into strips and a pinch of salt and boil it for about 5 minutes. At the very end, add a large teaspoon of chopped palmarosa leaves, trying to use the younger, fresher ones. Let the syrup cool and steep. Meanwhile, squeeze 6 lemons to add to the syrup, filter the liquid, and fill a sterilized quart jar. Store in the refrigerator. Use 1-2 tablespoons in a glass of water with ice.

Sources for palmarosa: check your local nursery for palmarosa plants. Seeds can be found online at ebay or bonanza.com.

Photography by Elise Pearlstine.

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26 Comments

  • Rita: What a great post! I heard of palmarosa before, but I had no idea what it was. I thought that it was a flower, but it is a grass that smells of roses. Who knew! Thank you for this informative post. January 26, 2011 at 9:03am Reply

  • Mark C: So I learned something new! Thank you. :-)) January 26, 2011 at 9:19am Reply

  • Mark C: Ok, now I admit that I thought the same thing! January 26, 2011 at 9:20am Reply

  • Elise: Rita and Mark: So glad you read the post and learned something. I really enjoyed spending some time with palmarosa. January 26, 2011 at 9:45am Reply

  • marla: I love the idea of gardening scented plants. I have a little herb garden going on my windowsill with basil, rosemary, thyme and chervil. I feel sorry to cut them down for cooking, but I love rubbing the leaves and smelling them. It makes me happy. January 26, 2011 at 10:53am Reply

  • ScentScelf: Vicarious introductions to certain plants are sometimes all I can get without actually boarding a plane and traveling to them…so they are much appreciated. Thank you for conjuring palmarosa for me, and for the recipe.

    Not sure how/if I could grow it up here in Zone 5…would it overwinter inside? I’ve grown lemongrass, but treat it as an annual. Hmmm.

    Smiling at “bellyflowers”…very similar to what we call “fairy flowers,” which are flowers seen beneath the leaves (rather than the usual in your face display). Interestingly, in our zone, many of these flowers are also ephemerals…you not only have to know how, but when, to look, otherwise you miss them. January 26, 2011 at 12:29pm Reply

  • Victoria: I am sure Elise can explain more about palmarosa, but I grow many tropical plants such as jasmine, tangerines, black pepper vine, ginger in our far from tropical East Coast zone. They winter indoors. Ginger was especially rewarding. I just stuck a piece of rhizome into the pot, and it sprouted into a lush bush within weeks. It even blossomed! January 26, 2011 at 12:56pm Reply

  • Elise: I agree and grow as many as I can. I don’t have a good spot indoors for herbs but put them wherever I can in my garden. They make me happy too! January 26, 2011 at 1:11pm Reply

  • Elise: Victoria is exactly right – I think you could start some indoors and put it in a pot outside for the summer. When it starts to get cold, bring the pot right back inside. It may not grow as tall but I would expect it to do fine with some good light. I had not heard of fairy flowers – what a great term! January 26, 2011 at 1:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: Oh, yes, good light! I forgot to mention that I use a tall lamp from a gardening store for my tropical plants. It was rather inexpensive, but the light it produces is so soothing that I think that I enjoy it as much as my plants do. 🙂 January 26, 2011 at 1:22pm Reply

  • ScentScelf: I’m pretty good at overwintering plants, including most herbs–though I’m apparently a black thumb when it comes to rosemary. :/ However, I will search for some palmarosa come the annual spring trekking to my favorite greenhouses, and enjoy it throughout the summer.

    For now, I am enjoying the first blooms of some paperwhites; there is nothing hidden about the flower, nor edible about the greenery, but I do enjoy their aroma…not to mention the little tweaking of Old Man Winter’s nose. January 26, 2011 at 1:35pm Reply

  • ScentScelf: Oh, and very fun/cool about the ginger growing! You give me added inspiration. 🙂 January 26, 2011 at 1:36pm Reply

  • Victoria: Here is another one that is very rewarding (and do not laugh!)–potatoes. They bloom really well. Of course, potatoes grown in a pot will produce tubers the size of cherries, but the plant itself is very pretty and has a great dark-green scent. 🙂 January 26, 2011 at 1:46pm Reply

  • Elise: Sweet potato vines are beautiful and I see them sold for the garden quite a bit here in south Florida. I had one that tried to take over my side yard. I think ginger would try to do the same thing but maybe I could grow it in a pot. January 26, 2011 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Victoria: I have killed a number of rosemary plants myself, so maybe something about growing them is tricky.

    Your mention of paperwhites reminded me how much I love their scent. And how right you are that they hold a strong promise of spring. I should get some too! Now, we’ve inspired each other. 🙂 January 26, 2011 at 2:34pm Reply

  • ScentScelf: Oh, potatoes I know. I’ve grown them “hilled,” in special baskets…but am looking forward to putting a mound in the “V” formed by a couple of raised beds. Will be a pretty and productive mask for the not so attractive sides of the plastic walls. All that foliage, along with nasturtiums at other edges…::smiling at the thought of it::. Yes, and sweet potato vine is a good trailer for baskets, with many colors of leaf to choose from. January 26, 2011 at 2:38pm Reply

  • Victoria: Since I have only a patio for my garden, I like invasive, hardy plants like that. 🙂 They survive even despite my questionable gardening skills. January 26, 2011 at 2:40pm Reply

  • Victoria: I just added sweet potato vine to my gardening store list. I have not seen them before, but a quick internet search revealed that they are very lovely plants.
    Thank you, ladies, for inspiration! January 26, 2011 at 2:51pm Reply

  • Marina: A subtly floral lemonade sounds fantastic! Thank you for such a delightful and educational post! January 26, 2011 at 3:21pm Reply

  • Elise: Thanks Marina! We certainly enjoyed it. January 26, 2011 at 7:32pm Reply

  • Olfactoria: How interesting to learn about Palmarosa, it sounds delicious and exotic! January 26, 2011 at 11:27pm Reply

  • Elise: Glad you enjoyed the post. I had fun working with palmarosa. January 27, 2011 at 8:47am Reply

  • fender: I thought this was excellent.This is a really simple recipe for a classic dish. February 2, 2011 at 2:58am Reply

  • columbine: i have bought a palmarosa essential oil, i will try this recipe with it… March 24, 2011 at 3:48am Reply

  • Victoria: Just be sure that it is pure and preferably food grade! March 24, 2011 at 1:29pm Reply

  • Visithor: I have a Palmarosa plant (a tall grass compared to their relatives Lemongrass and Citronella), that reseeds discreetly (very low germination rate). Unfortunately, it has a very particular herbal scent (not bad, not good) that DOESN’T resemble roses or geranium. Lemongrass and Citronella have the most potent scent by far. Lemongrass smells like Melissa officinalis or Lippia alba (citrusy, very pleasant and suitable for culinary use); Citronella smells like bathroom disinfectant (pleasant, but not suitable for culinary use, at least not for my taste, hee). I bought Palmarosa seeds from Chiltern Seeds years ago. February 14, 2016 at 10:46am Reply

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