Geranium sanguineum

The Virtues

There is no consensus on the usefulness of Geranium sanguineum between the writers of the seventeenth century. The apothecary John Parkinson, in his book Paradisi in Sole, published in 1629, praises it and closely related species as “great wound herbes”, adding that they are “effectuall to stay bleedings”. He also called the plant “a singular remedie against the stone, both in the reines [kidneys] and bladder”. By contrast, the herbalist John Gerard appeared underwhelmed by Geranium sanguineum, writing, “There hath not as yet any thing beene found either of their temperature or faculties, but may be referred unto the other of their kinde”.

The Names: A bloody mess

The common and scientific names of Geranium sanguineum are closely linked, both referring to the blood-red colour of its leaves in autumn. This pattern in the naming has been present in all of the names used for the species, with both Greek and Latin roots being used. The species is named ‘Geranium sanguinarium’ in both editions of the Garden catalogue, with the names ‘Geranium sanguineum’, ‘Geranium sanguinarium’ and ‘Geranium haematodes’ being used almost interchangeably on dried specimens after that. Linnaeus chose to use Geranium sanguineum in his book Species Plantarum, and it remains the accepted scientific name for the species.

A Geranium invasion

Geranium sanguineum is not native to the British Isles. Parkinson says that most Geranium species are “strangers unto us by nature”, but adds that they can be and have been “endenizond” in gardens around the country. The species originally came from the Eastern Mediterranean region of Europe and Turkey; it has become naturalised in Britain after escaping from the gardens where it was introduced and cultivated.