The cranesbills or geraniums are with about 400 species the most species-rich genus of the plant family of the geranium family (Geraniaceae). They are common on all continents. On this page, one of their growing wild representatives, the herb-Robert, is described.
Profile of herb-Robert:
Scientific name: Geranium robertianum
Plant family: geranium family (Geraniaceae), cranesbill
Other names: herb-Robert, red robin, death come quickly, storksbill, fox geranium, stinking Bob, squinter-pip, crow’s foot, Roberts geranium
Sowing time: February to August
Planting time: in spring
Flowering period: April to October
Location: semi-shady to shady
Soil quality: gritty to loamy, nutritious, humus rich
These information are for temperate climate!
Use as a medicinal herb: bleeding, diarrhea, nosebleeds, rashes, skin disorders, ulcers
Use as spice herb:
Use in: ground cover, green roofing, dry wall, plant under trees, apothecary garden, roof garden, natural garden, rock garden, forest garden
Winter hardiness: hardy, USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3
Bee and insect friendly: yes
Plant characteristics and classification of herb-Robert
Origin and occurrence of herb-Robert
The herb-Robert (Geranium robertianum) is an annual to biennial plant that occurs naturally in Europe, Asia and North Africa and is widespread. It is probably the first species of cranesbill to be cultivated in gardens, since it was already known as a medicinal plant in the Middle Ages. Its unflattering name “Stinking Bob” date from the fact that it exudes a tart, spicy fragrance that justifies the word smelly when the leaves are rubbed. Another common name is red robin, the origin of which has various theories. Perhaps the red coloring of the leaves in sunlight is responsible for this, which brought him the old high German word “rotbrecht” for reddish as species name. Perhaps it was also St. Ruprecht, who had taught the use as a medicinal plant as bishop and regional saint of Salzburg (Austria), or it was Carl von Linné, the founder of the botanical nomenclature himself, who gave him the species addition “robertianum”. The smell of this cranesbill species is said to have reminded him of an unappealing, malodorous acquaintance named Robert.
Plant order of herb-Robert
The generic name Geranium is undisputed, which reveals that the red robin belongs to the geranium family (Geraniaceae). It is probably the most inconspicuous of all garden-worthy cranesbill species, but often settles in inhospitable places in the garden.
Characteristics of herb-Robert
At first glance, herb-Robert’s growth pattern can be described as untidy. Its shoots branch out strongly and irregularly, reaching a height of 20 to 50 cm (8 to 20 in). It grows either as an annual plant or as a biennial semi-rosette plant. The herb-Robert’s adaptability is due to its leaf joints, which can align its leaves to the greatest incidence of light. In rocky locations, the petioles of the lower leaves sustain the plant on the substrate. The leaves and stems are mostly softly hairy. All parts of the plant contain essential oils, which are responsible for its typically bitter, often unpleasant fragrance.
The palmately lobed leaves of t herb-Robert are stalked and threepart to fivepart. They are about 4 cm (1.6 in) long and at least as wide. In brightly sunlit locations and in autumn they turn reddish.
In contrast to the other cranesbill species that are cultivated in our gardens, the flowers of Geranium robertianum are significantly smaller. They appear from late April to October. Its radially symmetrical structure consisting of five pink petals is typical. A closer look reveals fine stripes in the middle. The flowers are about 1 cm (0.4 in) in diameter. Mostly bees are used as pollinators, but the flexibility of the flower stalk also allows it to curve down and self-pollinate.
As is characteristic of cranesbill family, the fruit of the red robin is long petiolate. When the seeds dry out, they are thrown away when ripe, but spreading through cling-hair is also possible.
Herb-Robert – cultivation and care
The herb-Robert is characterized by the fact that it can cope with even the most inhospitable places, such as in wall joints, at cave entrances or within the deepest shadow. Research has shown that it is viable even in only a third of normal daylight. In places with strong sunshine, the stem and leaves turn bright red due to light protection pigments.
In nature, the herb-Robert prefers nitrogen-rich soils and likes scree. Except for waterlogging, it tolerates almost any surface.
Cultivated seedlings are best put in place in spring. When using red Robin as ground cover, about 12 specimens are planted per square meter.
Often Roberts geranium settles in the garden all by itself, mostly in places where you least expect it. By self-seed, it then ensures its continued existence. You can get the seeds in specialized nurseries. From February to August, sowing can take place outdoors, preferably in partially shaded areas. The seeds should be covered with soil only slightly or not at all.
Care / Fertilization / Watering
The Roberts geranium is a natural character that thrives without any special effort where it feels comfortable. It’s best to let him vagabond in the garden. In places where it is undesirable, you can keep it under control by removing the seedlings.
Diseases and pests
In rare cases, fungal diseases can affect the leaves, otherwise the adaptable herb is extremely robust.
Herb-Roberts is hardy down to -40°C / -35 °F.
Use in the garden
Depending on its occurrence in nature, Geranium robertianum can be used in the garden: As ground cover in shady garden areas, as joint plants in walls and gravel areas, or at inhospitable locations. Especially in the natural garden, it can be used at the wayside, in shrubbery and wooded areas. Where the magnificent flowers of other cranesbill species seem too dominant, it convinces with its natural charm.
Herb-Robert as a medicinal plant
In folk medicine, herb-Robert was used for many complaints: It was used for kidney and lung diseases as well as for diarrhea, fever, gout, bruises or toothache. In addition, an infusion was used as a tonic and for women’s disorders. Scientific confirmation of its curative effects is pending, but today the plant is used in homeopathy as a mother tincture in shock states of both physical and mental nature. The essence of herb-Robert is described as pulling, cleaning, detoxifying, relieving shock and lymphatic agents.
Herb-Robert can be used for these ailments and diseases
- chronic inflammation of the stomach
- mouth and throat inflammation
- open legs
- sore nipples (if you are breastfeeding)
- skin disorders
- stimulating Metabolism
- relieving shock
- lymphatic agents
The herb-Robert can be used as tea. To do this, use the herb.
Put 1 tea spoon of the herb in a tea strainer in a cup, dash with hot water, cover and let it steep for 10 minutes. Drink up to 3 cups a day if you have diarrhea. In the case of skin diseases, apply externally in the form of compresses.
You can also use it as a tincture, wine or powder and have it conveniently at hand at all times.
Externally, it is particularly suitable as fresh juice. However, if the fresh plant is not available (e.g. in winter), you can use a tea instead.
Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.
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