Vanilla essential oil does not exist. However, vanilla for use in aromatherapy is available as an oleoresin, absolute, or CO2 extract. To confuse matters, some companies use the words "vanilla essential oil." Be wary when shopping and know what you're buying.
This article will help you understand the differences between the three types of vanilla and how you can use them in aromatherapy.
Plant family: Orchidaceae. Vanilla planifolia is an orchid with edible fruit — pods also called vanilla beans.
Production: The three types of vanilla go through different production processes. See the next section for details.
Aroma: Sweet, rich, warm.
Perfume/Aromatic note: Base
Is vanilla safe to use during pregnancy? Likely safe in small amounts, but consult a professional.
Is vanilla oil safe for children? Generally considered safe.
Cautions: None known.
Main components depend on how the vanilla is made. However, vanillin tops the list. Source: Essential Oil Safety, 2nd Edition
Note: Exact production processes can vary. This section gives you a general overview of how vanilla is made. I suggest only buying from retailers who explain the production process for the vanilla oil they sell.
Making the vanilla extract used in baking involves soaking the chopped vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol (a solvent) and water in large steel containers.
Removing the solvent from the extract creates vanilla oleoresin, a viscous, sometimes semi-solid substance. Oleoresin dissolves best in water- and alcohol-based solutions. Unlike essential oils, oleoresin does not properly dissolve in carrier oils.
To produce vanilla absolute, vanilla pods are cured (dried and fermented) for up to six months. Then a solvent is used with the pods to produce a resinoid. Extraction of the resinoid produces vanilla absolute. The process is complex and labor intensive, which means the cost of the absolute is high. The absolute is a dark brown viscous product and has the strongest scent of the three vanillas. Absolute dissolves better in carrier oil than oleoresin but still does not dissolve completely — different products may dissolve less or more.
If you want a product that dissolves well in carrier oil, choose a CO2 extract, which is closer to an essential oil than the other types of vanilla. The vanilla pods are put inside a stainless steel chamber that's injected with carbon dioxide (CO2) gas. The CO2 works as a solvent. The air inside the chamber is pressurized until the CO2 becomes liquid. This supercritical fluid pulls oil from the pods. Then, the liquid turns back into gas and does not leave behind any solvent residue in the vanilla oil. The CO2 extract is a creamy pale yellow to tan color.
Aromatherapy: A Complete Guide to the Healing Art: The scent of vanilla is consoling and soothing. It improves your confidence and helps get rid of pent-up anger and frustration. The oil is also an aphrodisiac. It stimulates the brain and may keep some people awake.
The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Use vanilla to relieve stress-induced conditions, nervous anxiety, nervousness, insomnia and restlessness, nervous stomach, nausea, and inability to relax.
375 Essential Oils and Hydrosols: Vanilla has powerful uses as an aphrodisiac, in perfume blends, and to flavor and fragrance anything.
The Aromatherapy Encyclopedia: Vanilla is calming, reduces stress, promotes restful sleep, encourages dreaming, uplifts mood, and works as an aphrodisiac. The oil is also a fixative often used in perfumes and other fragrances.
Elizabeth Van Buren: Vanilla opens the throat (fifth) chakra and also increases spiritual and physical energy, intuition, vitality, and love.
Because oleoresin does not dissolve in in carrier oils, you might want to make vanilla-infused jojoba oil to use in your aromatherapy blends. Here's how:
Use the vanilla-infused oil as a carrier oil in aromatherapy recipes.
You can use any type of vanilla oil for the following essential oil blends with vanilla. However, for diffusing, avoid the thicker oils (such as a semi-solid oleoresin) that might clog a diffuser.
Meditation Diffuser Blend
Source: Eden's Garden
Relaxing Diffuser Blend
Use this blend in a diffuser or personal aromatherapy inhaler.
Source: Plant Therapy
ingredients and stir well. Use a circular motion to apply some of the
scrub to your skin. Wash off with warm water. Store remaining scrub in
an airtight container for up to six months.
Source: 150 Ways to Use Essential Oils from Eden's Garden
Rub gently with this invigorating scrub. Do not use on your face.
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon into jar. Makes 2 cups. The oil rises to the top. Stir the scrub before using.
Source: Jeanne Rose. She believes the CO2 is preferred for skin care.
Vanilla is expensive — if a product is inexpensive, it's either diluted or fake. Also, be wary if a company calls a product "vanilla essential oil." Be really cautious if you shop for vanilla on Amazon.
Sources to buy vanilla oleoresin (probably the least expensive):
Sources to buy vanilla absolute:
Sources to buy the CO2 extract:
Photo Credit: 123rf.com