“Vanilla is an aromatic stimulant, with a tendency towards the nervous system. It has also been regarded as an aphrodisiac. It has been employed as a remedy in hysteria, low fevers, impotency, etc. But its use as a medicine is obsolete in this country, although still sometimes employed on the Continent and elsewhere.”
Traditionally, Vanilla planifolia is used in many different cultures for culinary and medicinal ways. Originating in Central America, West Indies and South America, Vanilla is cultivated in many other places – including grade A cultivation in Tahiti and Madagascar. The beans that we use in Garden Apothecary’s Vanilla + Balsam body scrub are about 5-6″ long with a fresh, oily skin that releases scent long after it’s been introduced to the rest of the ingredients. I wanted my customer to be able to experience the actual plant – the vanilla orchid – not just a synthetic version of vanilla. You open the jar and can see, smell, touch the whole organic vanilla bean. Once the bean has been in the jar for about a week, the seeds start to slowly leach out and tend to stay in the middle or bottom of the jar. The oils from the bean are relief for dry skin and leave a hint of fragrance, even after rinsing.
Used as an aphrodisiac throughout Mesoamerica, the vanilla bean as been widely acknowledged to awaken the passion for men and women, simply by it’s enticing fragrance that hits the nervous system. The Aztec monarch, Itzcoatl, conquered the Totonacos in 1427 and quickly fell in love with vanilla. The Aztecs found the spice to be sacred and called it, “Black Flower”. They used it in their ceremonial and world famous chocolate drink, called “Cacahuatl”. A simply blend of cacao beans, ground corn, ground vanilla and honey was a delicious tribute to the Aztec king, Montezuma. I find that using a real vanilla bean does awaken the passion – whether baking a batch of home-made cookies, stirring in ice cream or using as a scrub in a hot shower or bath – vanilla has healing properties that we have been drawn to for centuries.
The website livestrong.com notes: “Vanilla contains high levels of antioxidants, according to a study led by B.N. Shyamala from the Spices and Flavour Technology Department of the Central Food Technological Research Institute in Mysore, India. Shyamala’s study was published in a September 2007 issue of the ‘Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.’ Antioxidants are valuable for reducing free-radicals in your body, which are the waste products from normal as well as harmful metabolic processes. Excess free radicals may cause diseases, including cancer.
“Vanilla’s anti-carcinogenic property primarily comes from the compound vanillin, a polyphenol known to be a powerful antioxidant. The essential oil of vanilla has been shown to reduce free radicals thought to promote the development of inflammation and certain cancers.”
All the images above were taken by Jennifer Lee Segale, throughout areas of the Belizean jungle and on farms. For more info, check out Jenn’s posts on Belize or her eBook – Botanically Belize.
Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)