Vanilla is by far one of the most well known herbs on earth. This Mexican native was used extensively by both the Mayans, and the Aztecs and since this time, word of this magical pod has spread far and wide. Vanilla is now used in an incredible amount of products like perfumes, medicines and food flavourings.
What is vanilla?
Vanilla is actually the seed pod of an orchid called Vanilla planifolia. This orchid requires hot, and humid climates, and is found mostly in southern Mexico and Central America. The vanilla orchid flowers rarely, and when it does it lasts little over a day. In this short amount of time, if pollinated it begins to develop a pod containing thousands of tiny seeds contained within a long pod shaped similar to a green bean. In this pod, there is an extremely complex chemical reaction that takes place which results in the characteristic aroma of this plant.
What is it about this herb that is so enticing to us as humans?
Vanilla acts on the limbic system in our brains. This system is associated with memories, and emotions, and is intricately connected to the olfactory (smell) receptors in our noses.
Vanillas main use is a flavoring agent in foods due to its sweet and powerful scent. Vanilla extract can be bought at almost any food store, and does well in desert foods, beverages, and baking. What many do not know about vanilla, however, is that it has been used as an aphrodisiac for a very long time. The bean was usually mixed with cacao, and used by both the rich and the poor. The famous Inca emperor Moctezuma supposedly consumed as much as 50 cups of chocolatyl a day. Chocolatyl, was an ancient mesoamerican chocolate beverage, containing vanilla, and sometimes other spices such as allspice. This was often considered the reason for his success with women, as he was known for maintaining a large harem.
Vanillas Partner, Chocolate
Chocolate and vanilla have since had quite a history together as a romantic duo. Chocolate (cacao), contains alkaloids similar to coffee, that increase stamina, energy, and sexual performance. Cacao works on the body on a physical level, improving stamina, supporting brain neurotransmitters, and providing energy through the actions of a chemical closely related to caffeine. Vanilla, on the other hand, relies on its scent to provide its effects. It acts through the limbic system which connects our sense of smell with our most basic and primal instincts including hunger, emotion, and sexuality. Vanillas scent, is made up of a highly complex composition of volatile oils, resins, and sugars. Vanilla is said to consist of over 150 individual smells.
What else is vanilla good for?
Other attributes from vanilla include anti-cancer, mood enhancing, erectile, and hormonal support, and has been used for erectile dysfunction, sexual frigidity, and loss of libido.
This truly is a magical herb. Every year, more studies on vanilla are released, as we strive to understand how it works fully.
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-The Sunlight Experiment