Type of plant: A climbing vine that can grow to 80 feet long but is pruned well back, with orchid flowers that produce the fruit, known as pods, which are 6–7 inches long
Part used: Bean pod
Method of extraction: Solvent and CO2 extraction
Data: The now ubiquitous vanilla started life in a very specific area of eastern Mexico, looked over by the Totonaco tribal people and pollinated by a tiny bee called the melipona bee. But the Aztecs invaded, and they in turn were invaded by the Spanish conquistadors in 1520, led by Hernán Cortés. The Aztec leader Moctezuma offered Cortés a nice drink of cacao beans and vanilla, but Cortés proceeded to trash the entire civilization and steal their gold. Everyone in Europe wanted the vanilla he brought back, but without the little bee, all plants taken away remained sterile. Hundreds of years passed. Eventually people realized they would have to hand-pollinate the flowers, on the one day they open, and the vanilla industry was born. Today, the best quality vanilla still comes from Mexico, and also from Madagascar and nearby islands. The unripe green fruit pods are put through a fermentative process to develop the familiar vanilla fragrance and become the pliable black cured pods that we recognize as natural vanilla.
Principal places of production: Réunion, Comoro Islands, Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti, India
When buying look for: A dark-brown, very sticky, viscous liquid with a warm, rich, sweet balsamic, vanilla aroma. The classic vanilla aroma is released when the essential oil is diluted.
Therapeutic properties: Antidepressant, balsamic, calmative, sedative, stimulant
Therapeutic uses: Stress-induced conditions, nervous anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and restlessness, unexplained painful limbs, nervous stomach, nausea, inability to relax
Blends well with: Amyris, balsam de Peru, bay (West Indian), benzoin, cananga, cardamom, cedarwood, chamomile maroc, chamomile roman, cinnamon leaf, clove bud, frankincense, geranium, ginger, ginger lily (white), ginger lily root, jasmine, lemon, lime, linden blossom, magnolia leaf, mandarin, mimosa, narcissus, neroli, nutmeg, orange (sweet), rose absolute, rose otto, rosewood, sandalwood, tangerine, ylang ylang
Precautionary advice: May cause irritation on highly sensitive skin; a patch test is advisable. GRAS status.