Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla fragrans ) is a large green-stemmed perennial herbaceous vine belonging to the Orchidaceae Family. In its wild state it can reach a length of 25 meters or more. It is native to tropical America (especially Mexico) and is also cultivated in the tropics (Madagascar, Comoros Islands, French Polynesia, Tahiti, Indonesia, Reunion, Seychells, Mexico, Tanzania, Uganda, etc).
The true aomatics of Vanilla available on the marked today are produced from the dried bean. A resinoid, or oleoresin is extracted by solvent extraction from the ‘cured’ vanilla beans. Sometimes an absolute will be produced by further extraction from the resinoid. A CO2 extraction is also available. When it comes to aroma the absolute always has a more intense aroma than the resinoid, and has long been a staple in the perfume industry. The major chemical components found in this aromatic are the phenols (vanillin, 4-hydorxybenzyl methyl ether) and they are present at around 86%.
Vanilla extracts are used in pharmaceutical preparations such as syrups, primarily as a flavoring agent. It is used extensively by the fragrance industry as a perfume ingredient. Vanilla absolute is an ingredient I have enjoyed experimenting with in the Introduction to Natural Perfumer Workshop.
With its sweet, typical, aroma it blends well with most essential oils and its antidepressant, balsamic, calmative, sedative and stimulant properties make it an effective addition to blends created for issued affecting the digestive and nervous systems. In perfumery, it is often used as a modifier, a single note oil that will change the character of the core theme of a natural perfume, or smooth the rough edges of a necessary note. For example, when evaluating a Citrus Theme composition, it might come across as one dimentional. Adding a drop or two of vanilla absolute to the composition might add a warmth and roundness without losing the initial brief of a bright, effervescent, feminine, citrus blend. Vanilla is also an aromatic that seems to blend seamlessly and harmoniously with nearly everything on the perfumer’s palette, while at the same time contributing to the creation of a pleasing and well-constructed accord.
Psychologically, vanilla is considered to be helpful in times of anger and frustration. On the physiological level inhalation, or simply sniffing this oil, may be helpful in curbing sweet cravings. On a subtle level vanilla encourages feelings of safety and comfort. It may also promote sensuality.
Contraindications: Generally considered non-toxic, non-irritating, non-sensitizing and non-phototoxic.
Albert Y. Leung & Steven Foster, Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, John Wiley & Sons, 1996 Beverley Hawkins, Aromatherapy 201 Course 1999 revised 2000…2013