Vanilla is a very interesting plant, botanically and aesthetically. Besides their delicious flavor and scent, vanilla beans are a bit complicated to obtain. But it is not impossible. Vanilla beans have a lot of great virtues and properties. Except its uses in cooking and cosmetics, vanilla is also used in Aromatherapy. But is vanilla an essential oil, and how could you possibly use it?
That’s what you’re about to find out right from the first chapter of the article. You’re also in for some really interesting facts about vanilla and the way it’s grown. You’ll find a great video about its growing a bit later. Find out how to tell whether you’ve got a good product, and what its properties and benefits are.
Next, you will see the details on some of its best uses with Aromatherapy blends for each. Surely that will give you some inspiration and help you start using the oil right away.
The thing with vanilla is that it’s very expensive. Because of that, you might also consider making your own infused oil or extract. You will find out how to do so in the last chapter of the article.
Did You Know?
- Naturally, vanilla can grow only in Mexico. Vanilla has to be manually pollinated to grow elsewhere. Because of that, vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron.
Is Vanilla an Essential oil? Types, Extraction Methods and Properties
Botanical name: Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla fragrans
Color and Texture: Thick, deep brown oil.
Aroma: Strong characteristic, warm and oriental perfume.
Shelf Life: 2 – 5 years if the extract is from maceration in 60% alcohol. 6 months – 1 year for extracts from 35 – 40% alcohol. 6 months max if the extract is obtained from glycerin.
Vanilla is part of the orchid family. It grows as a vine and makes beautiful yellow-green orchid-like flowers. These flowers only bloom one day a year, and the blooming lasts only a few hours.
They also don’t bloom at the same time. Here comes the weird part: the plant grows naturally only in Mexico. It was Hernán Cortés who brought vanilla (and chocolate) to the European continent.
The reason why vanilla grows only in Mexico is because there lives a small type of bee. That bee can enter the flower and pollinate it. The bee is called Melipona. Normal bees that grow in the U.S or any other part of the world are too big to fit into the flowers.
Without pollination, the flower dries out and falls off, without making any fruits. For about two centuries, no one was able to get vanilla pods outside Mexico. They only got the flowers. Until one day in 1841, when a slave named Edmond Albius discovered that the plant could be hand pollinated.
Ever since, vanilla grows now in almost all tropical climates. The best quality oils and extracts come from Madagascar. This one contains the highest amount of vanillin commercially available (around 26%). But we can also find vanilla in India, Haiti, South Africa, Northern Europe and Canada. Of course, vanilla grows in Central and South America too.
Here’s a nice video on how to hand pollinate vanilla and how its beans get to mature:
Now, is Vanilla an essential oil? After its extraction, the essence looks like an oil but it is not an essential oil. Essential oils are usually steam distilled from parts of the plant that can handle heat. Vanilla beans can’t handle the heat of the steam distillation.
The beans can’t yield any oil through mechanical processing either. To give you an example, citrus rinds are mechanically processed.
For a product to be called essential oil, ISO clearly states that it needs to be steam or water distilled, or, mechanically processed. Anything that involves physical methods can yield true essential oils. ISO is the International Organization for Standardization, with headquarters in Switzerland.
Because of their sensitive nature, vanilla beans have to go through solvent extraction. That way, the beans are forced to release their aromatic oils.
There are many extraction methods available. Depending on their purposes, companies use them all to get essential oils or fragrances.
The best extraction method is the CO2 method. This method involves the pressurization of carbon dioxide over the vanilla beans.
When the carbon dioxide drops down to 91.4 F (33 C), it becomes somewhat liquid. That’s when it can extract the aromatic oils from the beans. The carbon dioxide is not toxic and it turns back into gas once the pressure is lifted.
That way, the vanilla CO2 extract will be pure. It will contain all its chemical constituents and properties. This is considered the best way to get vanilla extracts, but it’s also very expensive.
Other extraction methods that use solvents won’t produce high quality extracts. There is a big chance that there are still traces of the solvent in the oil, even if it has been purified. Aromatherapists don’t recommend oils that are obtained through solvent extraction methods.
Is Vanilla an essential oil? Knowing what you know now, I’m sure you’ll be able to explain others why Vanilla is not an essential oil. Especially since companies are free to label their products the way they want to. That is allowed because there is no official body that regulates the standards of essential oils.
Vanilla absolutes and vanilla oleoresins are not pure extracts. They involve the use of solvents to extract the aromatic oils from the beans. They can successfully be used in perfumes, but not in Aromatherapy.
A pure vanilla extract contains:
- 90% vanillin.
- Traces of anise alcohol, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, guaiacol and eugenol. But it also contains traces of furfural and a few acids (acetic, isobutyric and capric).
Vanillin is easy to produce with the help of guaiacol, which is a petrochemical. Natural vanillin can also be found in cloves and beaver glands. But it can be found in oak moss and in the balsam of Peru too.
How to Recognize a Good Quality Vanilla Oil
- Read the label to see exactly what type of extraction method was used.
- Remember that CO2 extraction can guarantee a good, concentrated product.
- Depending on their extraction methods, other vanilla extracts could be good quality too. For infused oils, you must look at the carrier oil used. Some may not last a long time. Tinctures are usually alcohol macerations. If you prefer alcohol-free extracts, you should use glycerin macerates. But I will detail these methods later on.
- Make sure the oil has its botanical name on the label. You’ll also need to know where the vanilla came from.
- Usually, a high price is a good indicator of the quality of your oil.
- Make sure the oil comes in a dark colored glass bottle.
- Lastly, find out its storage conditions and continue keeping your oil in a dark, cool place.
Benefits and Properties of Vanilla Oil (Extract)
- Relieves stress and anxiety symptoms.
- It can improve the libido, as it’s considered a great aphrodisiac.
- It is an excellent anti-aging oil.
- It is also antioxidant, protecting all the cells against free radicals.
- It is soothing and calming for the skin, body and mind.
- Vanilla oil can also help the tissue regenerate faster.
- It can help with insomnias too.
- It has disinfectant properties.
- It hydrates and nourishes the skin.
- It tones up the skin.
- It stimulates all bodily functions.
Is Vanilla a safe oil? Generally speaking, vanilla is safe to use by people with a good health. However, under certain circumstances, you still need to handle it with care.
- Perform an allergy test on the soft inside of your elbow before you use it for the first time.
- Do not use it on babies younger than 12 months.
- Consult a doctor before using it if you suffer from seizures or other serious illnesses.
- Don’t use large doses of Vanilla oil because it can cause nausea or headaches. It has been reported that large doses can also cause difficulty in breathing or kidney and liver damage.
- Do not expose yourself to sun after using this oil because it is phototoxic.
- Pregnant or lactating women should still consult a doctor first.
Did You Know?
- The vanilla name we know today comes from the Spanish word of “vaina”. Even though vaina means pod, when it comes to vanilla beans, in Spanish the name represents a “little pod”. The Aztecs called it “tlilxochitl”.
7 Best Uses for Vanilla Oil with Blends for Each
The oil has many properties and benefits, but I figured you need a more specific sort of guide to using it. Is Vanilla an essential oil? No it’s not, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be diffused just like any other essential oil.
Vanilla extracts, absolutes or oleoresins are thick. You can make them thinner by placing the bottle on another recipient with hot water. After that, you can take out a few drops with a pipette or syringe. Dilute the oil/extract with a few drops of another essential oil and diffuse normally.
Once melted and mixed with other oils, CO2 extracts don’t solidify back.
Now let’s see why and how exactly you can use Vanilla oil.
1. Improve your libido.
The scent of pure vanilla can have quite an impact on the mood of a person. Paired with a few lit candles and a good wine perhaps, the oriental scent will help you relax and feel more confident. You can either use it in massage lotions or diffuse a few drops for a romantic atmosphere.
- Vanilla Oil: 5 drops
- Ylang-Ylang essential oil: 5 drops
- Bergamot essential oil: 10 drops
- Rose Otto (essential oil): 5 drops
- Carrier oil: 2 Oz. (60 ml – Optional)
You can blend all the oils together and use as massage lotion. Or you can mix just the essential oils and keep them stored in a dark glass bottle. Pour only 3 – 4 drops in your diffuser. Any massage with this lotion will also relax and tone up the skin.
2. Relax and nourish your skin with a vanilla bath.
This couldn’t be more pleasant. Vanillin has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory qualities. Vanilla can keep your skin hydrated and nourished. All these qualities make the oil very good in the improvement of eczema or dry skin.
- Vanilla oil (CO2): 5 drops
- Mandarin essential oil: 7 drops
- Milk: 1 cup
Mix the oils with the milk and pour it into your bath water. The milk will act as a carrier and the oils will dilute in it. That way, they will all disperse really well in your bath water and you’ll feel like a queen. Massage your skin with the oils in your water.
3. Enlighten your complexion with a scrub.
At least twice a month it’s good to exfoliate your skin. Your complexion will then look more radiant, glowing and firm. Vanilla is full of antioxidants. They make the oil great against wrinkles and other signs of a dull complexion.
- Vanilla oil: 3 drops
- Lavender essential oil: 3 drops
- Lemon essential oil: 4 drops
- Vitamin E: 3 drops
- Carrier oil: 1/2 Oz. (15 ml)
- Brown sugar: 1 cup
The carrier oil must be suited for your skin type. Oily or acne prone skin should use Hazelnut or Grapeseed oils. Dry or normal skin could use Avocado, Jojoba, Argan, Almond etc.
Mix all the ingredients together and massage your face with gentle movements. Rinse with a bit of warm water and leave it like that for a few minutes before applying more lotion. Or you can just leave it like that for the night.
4. Enhance your favorite night cream or body lotion.
The lotion or night cream you’re using now may work just great for your skin. But it’s never a bad thing to add a few vanilla oil drops in it. Whenever you’ll use them, you’ll feel relaxed and in a better mood. Not to mention that it will do your skin a lot of good. With all its antioxidants and antibacterial properties, the oil will keep your skin clear and toned.
- Vanilla oil: 7 – 10 drops per 3 Oz. lotion
- Favorite cream or lotion
You can also add the extract in a certain carrier oil, instead your usual cream. Use normally and enjoy the effects of vanilla on your mind and skin.
5. Remove anxiety feelings.
Anxiety is usually a very serious issue. Many tests have shown that anxious people perceive the world a lot differently than normal people. An effective prevention measure turned out to be the use of certain essential oils.
When you feel relaxed, diffuse Vanilla and inhale deeply. Whenever new anxiety attacks occur, try to inhale the scent again. In time, your brain will come to associate the scent of vanilla with relaxation, peace and well-being. But it takes a lot of practice.
- Vanilla oil: 2 drops
- Carrier oil: 1 tablespoon
Massage this blend onto your chest, temples and pulse points. Repeat on a daily basis while acknowledging all the good moments.
6. Improve the aspect of stretch marks.
The oil can help the tissue regenerate and stimulate the circulation underneath. That will result in a more firm and toned skin.
- Vanilla oil: 6 drops
- Rose essential oil: 6 drops
- Sage essential oil: 8 drops
- Rosehip carrier oil: 1 Oz. (30 ml)
- Avocado carrier oil: 1 Oz. (30 ml)
Blend all the oils together and apply on the stretch marks daily. Try using the blend for a longer period of time. The carriers are known to help the skin too, with their essential fatty acids.
7. Get rid of bad smells around the house.
Its strong aroma can overpower anything else in the house. But vanilla is also a good disinfectant. That means your home will smell very nice and it will be clean too. Just like essential oils, the oil can also kill the germ colonies that thrive in the atmosphere.
- Vanilla oil/extract: 4 drops
- Clove essential oil: 3 drops
Diffuse this blend of oils in your diffuser. Or add them in some Rosemary floral water or Lavender and spray around the house.
Vanilla may not be an essential oil, but if it’s pure and good quality, it can still be used in Aromatherapy.
Did You Know?
- Besides a high percentage of vanillin, vanilla also has around 150 other aromas. But these other aromas are only found in trace amounts.
Ideas and Tips on Making Your Own Vanilla Extract or Infused Oil
We’ve seen how difficult and expensive it is to make commercial pure Vanilla oil or extract. But how about you try to make your own, instead of risking using bad products on the market? Maybe you don’t have the patience to do a lot of research to find the proper seller and the proper essence.
If that’s the case, or you simply don’t trust your merchant, then you have a better option. That is to make your own infused oil, or a macerate. It really depends on your preferences. Macerates can be done with high quality alcohol or with vegetable glycerin. An infused oil is even simpler. You just need a good quality carrier oil (vegetable oil).
As a good tip, make sure the vegetable oil has a long shelf life. For that, you could use Jojoba, Coconut, Avocado, Sunflower, etc. Also, they need to have a very faint odor or none at all, so it doesn’t alter the vanilla scent.
All you need for the oil infusion is a clean jar, vanilla pods (or beans), and a carrier oil. Take the pod’s seeds out and then chop the pod into medium pieces. That way it will release more of its aromatic oils into your carrier oil.
Another tip: the longer you let them into the sun, the stronger your vanilla scent will be. After a long enough time, filter the oil into a different clean jar and keep it stored in a cool dark place.
Macerates or tinctures can be done with vodka. Immerse whole pods into a full jar of vodka (or rum, as some prefer). Keep in mind that the tincture will also borrow the taste of the alcohol you used. Keep them like that for two weeks then filter the macerate into a different clean recipient.
The same process can be done with vegetable glycerin and water. Pour half and half over the vanilla pods until you fill the jar. Filter after you’ve decided how strong you want the aroma. A strong aroma also means more chemical constituents and stronger properties into your resulting product.
I must admit, I believe that vanilla is a very interesting plant. From the way it is grown and pollinated, to the fruits it bears. The way it needs to be extracted, by solvent or carbon dioxide, it’s also interesting. Few plants or fruits are so hard to be drained of their aromatic oils.
All these are even more interesting when you think about the thousands of tons of extract needed each year. Natural and pure Vanilla oil production is less than a quarter of the total needed around the world.
That may look like it’s very hard to find pure oils or extracts, but it’s not. It just depends on how much you’re willing to pay for your Vanilla oil.
Is vanilla an essential oil? Nope, unfortunately it is not. But luckily, we do get CO2 vanilla extracts which yield pure oils. They are the best available option to use in Aromatherapy right now.
Have you ever used pure Vanilla oil or extract? How did you know it was real and not synthetic? Have you ever made your own? Your input will be precious to everyone, so don’t be shy and give us your thoughts.