Wild Geraniums – Geranium SPP.: Edible & Medicinal Uses of One of the Strongest Astringent Herbs

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Wild geraniums are not your common garden centre “geraniums” (Pelargonium spp.). Today’s featured plant is from a different genus. Sometimes called cranesbills, this species is slightly edible, a popular medicinal astringent and also wonderful for native landscaping.

Around Haliburton, Ontario, Northern Cranes-bill (Geranium bicknellii) and the more common herb Robert (G. robertianum) are found. In Haliburton Flora, they are both listed as uncommon and found in sandy soil. Herb Robert may be found on disturbed, partially shaded roadsides or in grassy, sparsely wooded slopes. The geranium pictured was found on the later so these areas seem to attract both species.

Wild Geraniums - Geranium SPP.
Wild Geraniums – Geranium SPP.

Other geraniums native to Ontario including spotted cranesbill (G. maculatum), which is the most popular both medicinally and for landscaping. And Carolina geranium (G. carolinianum). There are many nonnative or near-native species around here too!

Edible Uses of Wild Geraniums

Some folks have eaten the young greens of cranesbills. The species is only covered in a side note in Sam Thayer’s recent book and his is the only foraging book I have that even mentions geranium species/cranesbill. While likely not very toxic, he found none of the species he has tried palatable. It’s probably somewhat due to the 30% tannins!

Medicinal Uses of Wild Geraniums

Wild geranium is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive
  • Integumentary
  • Reproductive
  • Respiratory

Medicinal tags include Anticatarrhal, Astringent and Styptic. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes the powdered root as a strong astringent used to stop bleeding, especially for oral inflammations like ulcers. These plants are some of the strongest astringent herbs out there with up to 30% tannins; the strongest of the species being American geranium (G. masculatum). Herb Robert is also used frequently in Western herbalism. Specifically the dried root or rhizomes gathered in autumn or winter, and sometimes the leaves.

For peptic ulcers you can combine wild geranium with agrimony, comfrey, or marshmallow as a few examples.

Of course it’s a wonderful astringent for other issues that require the binding action of astringents, e.g. diarrhea, excessive mucous.

Growing Geranium SPP.

Native geranium is on my list of plants to buy this year! The northern varieties are quaint plants with small flowers, and as you might guess by my one not very great picture of it, they are hard to notice in the wild! The perennial (fyi geranium spp. are not all perennial) Wild geranium (G. maculatum) has a larger pink flower and is the easiest to find from native plant shops. The leaves turn reddish colours in Autumn. They do like sandy loam and can be planted in any shade or sun condition that’s at least medium dampness.

Small flies and bees will collect the pollen and nectar. Wild geranium has a specialist mining bee called the cranesbill miner (Andrena distans). The closest sighting of this bee on iNat is south of Peterborough, but I’m going to watch for it anyway! Wild geraniums are also a host plant for a couple moths. Some birds will eat the seeds.

Native plants to pair geranium species with include baneberries, fire pink, goldenseal, heartleaf foamflower, red columbine, true and false solomon’s seal, sweet cicely, Virginia waterleaf and woodland phlox.


Take only for a few weeks at a time.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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Sam Thayer’s Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants of Eastern & Central North America

Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs

Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine: 550 Herbs and Remedies for Common Ailments

Reader’s Digest Magic and Medicine of Plants

The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal: A Safe and Practical Guide to Making and Using Herbal Remedies

A Harvest of Herbs

Medicinal and Other Uses of North American Plants: A Historical Survey with Special Reference to the Eastern Indian Tribes

Field Guide to Medicinal Wild Plants

The Earthwise Herbal, Volume II: A Complete Guide to New World Medicinal Plants

The Herb Book: The Most Complete Catalog of Herbs Ever Published (Dover Cookbooks)

The Yoga of Herbs: An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine

Indian Herbalogy of North America: The Definitive Guide to Native Medicinal Plants and Their Uses

The Herbal Apothecary: 100 Medicinal Herbs and How to Use Them

100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants for Canadian Gardens

A Modern Herbal (Volume 1, A-H): The Medicinal, Culinary, Cosmetic and Economic Properties, Cultivation and Folk-Lore of Herbs, Grasses, Fungi, Shrubs & Trees with Their Modern Scientific Uses

How Indians Use Wild Plants for Food, Medicine & Crafts (Native American)

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