I have a few carnations at present, grown from a packet of mixed seeds. They are pink, coral scarlet and a white flecked with red. The scent is pleasant but not overwhelming, unlike a wonderful plant I had a few years ago – it was called the ‘clove scented carnation’, a rich burgundy colour that smelled fabulous – rich, deep and spicy. Carnations like drier soil and more warmth than they get here, but they don’t seem to mind. They are flowering their heads off just now, along with the chamomile, borage, marigolds, meadowsweet and the first poppy, a deep and exciting genuine blood red.
It seems almost wasteful to use carnations as herbs, but they have a long history of being used for flavouring drinks, decorating salads and as candied petals for cakes. You could also make a conserve by bashing up the petals with three times their weight in honey ‘to comfort the heart’, but it is now regarded as obsolete in medical terms.
In my house they are cut flowers. I don’t care how cheap they are (though I do care that in some countries they are grown in conditions where those who grow and pick them can be severely harmed by excessive pesticides), they are elegant and colourful, and they last for ages in water. What they won’t do, however, is keep their scent when they are dried. If you include them in pot pourris, which you can, if you dry them in silica or silver sand, it has to be for the freshness of their colour and they way they hold their shape. They will smell of nothing at all.
Incidentally, ‘carnation’ (which is derived from the Latin carnis – ‘flesh’) is the old word for what we now call pink. Pinks are called after the jagged edges of their petals, and the colour is called after the flower.