One of the highlights of yesterday’s walk was seeing this little geranium in flower. Though thought to have an offensive odour – some say it smells of burning tyres, others that it emits has an unpleasant mousey smell, hence one of its common names, ‘stinking Bob’ – I admit I haven’t noticed its stink and instead find myself attracted to its delicate ferny foliage, its reddish stalks, and its pretty pink flowers.
This is Geranium robertianum, most commonly known in Britain as Herb Robert but with a plethora of other common names which, in part, reflect the folklore around it: Storksbill, Crow’s foot, Death comes quickly and Red Robin are just a few of its 100-odd regional variants. The origins of the name ‘Robert’ are disputed – some attribute it to the abbot and herbalist Robert of Molesme, others to Saint Robert or Rupert of Salzburg, and there appear also to be associations with the German hobgoblin Knecht Ruprecht and the English equivalent Robin Goodfellow (Puck in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). (You can read more in this excellent blog on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.)
Herb Robert has long been valued by herbalists, for its healing properties – everything from wounds and toothache to its supposed ability to increase oxygen at a cellular level in the human body, thus assisting in the body’s fight against cancer. Personally, rather than ingest it, I think I’ll just continue to enjoy the dainty dabs of colour this pretty little plant adds to the countryside of my walks.
p.s. Some of these photos were taken last summer.