21 April 2013

Geranium flower water (Pelargonium graveolens)

Tunisian women with flair, expertise and knowledge have been at their local markets these past three weeks buying either whole plants or just the flowers of a type of geranium known as Pelargonium graveolens.  Traditionally, in late spring when the flowers of the fragrant Pelargonium graveolens have been harvested they are sold at markets across Tunisia and are bought by women who have the savoir-faire or the know-how to distill these plants in order to extract the geranium water.
I wanted to photograph the scented Pelargonium as it is seasonal and will disappear from the markets in a few weeks time.  I also wanted to find out from the vendors and the shoppers how they obtain the geranium flower water.  The people I spoke to were very helpful and eager to share their experiences.  A shopper was even kind enough to show me the home distillation equipment known as "kattar" which was on sale at a nearby store and explain the procedure of the water distillation in Arabic.  From my limited comprehension of the language I understood that the geranium is cut into approximately 5cm long pieces which is about 1.96 inches and placed in the lower section of the kattar with some water then, cold water is placed in the upper section which is the condenser and the kattar is heated until the mixture in the lower section starts to boil. Once boiling point is reached the temperature has to be kept constant.  The plant + water solution in the lower section begins to vaporise and is led into the condenser where the cold water allows it to cool (note that the cold water in the upper section or the condenser and the vapour do not come into contact) and once the vapour cools it reverts back into water and travels down the long spout of the kattar and is allowed to trickle into glass bottles. 

Pelargonium graveolens flowers with stalks

Pelargonium graveolens the entire plant

The above equipment is called a kattar and is used for distillation 

A top-down photograph looking into the condenser section of the kattar.  Note that the cold water in this section does not come into contact with the vapour.  The vapour upon cooling  reverts back into water and trickles down the long spout and is collected in the receiving container which in this case has to be a glass bottle.  Plastic bottles would taint the fragrant geranium flower water obtained at the end of the distilling process.
Exactly the same method is used for obtaining orange flower water from orange blossoms which I will write about in a separate blog post.

Geranium flower water has many uses culinary, cosmetic as well as medicinal.

I am including a link to a website explaining distillation for people who would like to gain a better understand of the process involved. 

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