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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Geranium Essential Oil Offers Many Therapies, Fights 'Superbug'

Historical Insights Into This Very Diverse Plant Genus

Commonly known as geranium, species of Pelargonium are widely cultivated around the world. Of the hundreds of varieties of this perennial shrub, only about a handful are actively cultivated for commercial use. There is an actual botanical genius called Geranium that shares the same family as Pelargonium, known as Geraniaceae. Although they are similar, their uses are quite different. Pelargonium is cultivated and used in perfume and aromatherapy, while Geranium species grow almost anywhere except in water logged soil and sometimes used in the horticulture trade. Physical differences are also apparent with Geranium (commonly known as cranesbill) having symmetrical flowers and Pelargonium having irregular or maculate petals. Gardeners have taken up the practice of distinguishing the two by using their genus names versus their common names.

Geranium Essential Oil BottleAlthough geranium has been used for thousands of years going back to the Greeks and Romans, it was not until the late 17th century that this plant, indigenous to South Africa, was introduced to Europe. Soon after European introduction hybrid cultivars were created and distributed around the world. During the Victorian era, potted rose geranium was often kept in parlors in order to revive the senses. Another Victorian practice was to place geranium leaves in finger bowls at formal dining tables. Today, as in Victorian times, the most widely used Pelargonium species is Pelargonium grave lens, or rose geranium. The essential oil of rose geranium is prized by aroma therapists and cosmologists alike. P. graveolens is used in aromatherapy for its medicinal applications such as an antiseptic, as a haemostatic (stops bleeding), a tonic to regulate the nervous system, a diuretic (to treat edema) and a hormone balancer. In the perfume industry, rose geranium oil is often mixed in or even replaces the more expensive rose petal essential oil. Cosmologists also use this aromatic oil in lotion, soaps, shampoos and creams. One might presume that geranium essential oil comes from the flower alone, yet it is the leaves and branches where the oil glands are found and through a process of steam distillation the oil is extracted. In order to increase the yield of oil during this procedure, processors will often partially dry the plant.

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.

Further Consideration of Geranium Essential Oils as Medicine

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.


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