Vanilla aromatherapy oil is made from the essential oil of the vanilla bean. It is considered to have a sweet fragrance that is primarily used in aromatherapy for relaxation and to promote restful sleep. Vanilla is a scent that reminds some people of childhood and may promote feelings of warmth, comfort, and happiness.
Essential oils are highly concentrated liquids that contain strong aroma molecules from various plants. The vanilla plant is a tropical orchid native to Mexico and Central America. More than half the world’s vanilla is grown in Madagascar. Vanilla is highly valued for its flavor and scent, second only to saffron as the most expensive spice in the world.
Making vanilla aromatherapy oil is a labor-intensive process. To make the essential oil, the fruit of the vanilla plant is cured, fermented, and dried. This turns the green fruit into a brown vanilla bean. The vanilla oil is then extracted from the bean through enfleurage — a process where the oil is captured in fat and then soaked in ethyl alcohol to draw the fragrance from the fat to the alcohol. The alcohol is then distilled so that only the essential oil is left behind.
Many people think of vanilla as a flavoring in ice cream, cakes, or coffee, but it has also long been prized for medicinal purposes. Vanilla was used by the Aztecs for their royal drink xocolatl — a blend of cocoa beans, vanilla, and honey. The Aztecs also considered vanilla to be an aphrodisiac. This idea had spread to Europe by the 1800s where vanilla was also used to treat impotence, stomach ulcers, and fevers. While its healing properties have never been proven, many people respond positively to its scent and it is commonly used in aromatherapy.
Vanilla aromatherapy oil may be purchased as pure bottled oil or can be found mixed into various aromatherapy products including lotions, bath soaps, and room sprays. It is frequently used as a base note in perfumes. Vanilla may also be blended with other fragrance oils such as lavender.
As with other essential oils, a little goes a long way. A couple drops can be placed in bathwater or blended into massage oil. A person could add a few drops to a spray bottle of water to make a natural air freshener. Vanilla aromatherapy oil, like most essential oils, should not be applied to the skin without first being properly diluted.
Artificial vanilla extract, commonly found in the grocery store and used in vanilla-flavored foods, is a blend of vanillin and ethylvanillin. It generally has a pleasant scent and is an inexpensive option for baking. Vanilla extract, however, is not the same as vanilla aromatherapy oil.