Vanilla infographic

Vanilla Summary:

Vanilla is one of the most well known herbs on earth, and can be found in a wide variety of culinary products, and perfumes. It's sweet, balsamic flavour is unique only to vanilla, and is loved by all.

Vanilla is a type of orchid, which grows as a vine and can reach massive lengths (up to 25m) to climb up into the rainforest canopy. Its flower is beautiful, but short lived, only lasting a day or 2. After it flowers, it takes roughly 8 or 9 months for seed pod to ripen, where it is then harvested and cured to then be used as is  or extracted.

It originates from Mexico and South America, and has been used by the indigenous cultures in this region for a very long time. The vanilla pod, was often mixed with cacao, and sometimes other herbs to make a beverage referred to as chocolatyl, which was used in ceremonies, and daily activities to promote sexual vigor, and stamina, as well as to energize and sharpen the mind. A famous Aztec emperor Moctezuma was reported to consume as much as 50 cups of chocolatyl a day. He was known for his success with women, and is suggested that the immense amount of chcolatyl he consumed on a daily basis was at least partly responsible for this.

Vanilla is used today as a flavouring agent to reduce the amount of sugar needed, or for its own characteristic flavor. It is also used to treat low libido, increase sexual desire, fevers, and for digestive complaints such as bloating and intestinal gas.

Vanilla is a very expensive crop, due to the difficult growing requirements, and amount of time needed to produce it. Since it is so expensive, synthetic vanilla is also commonly used, but likely does not contain any of the medicinal actions associated with vanilla, and should be avoided at all costs. Vanilla may be expensive, but its flavour is so intense, that only a very small amount of it is needed to deliver the desired flavour or effects.

Botanical Name

Vanilla planifolium



Part Used

Seed pod and seed pod extracts

Herbal Actions:

  • Aphrodisiac
  • Flavouring agent
  • Carminative
  • Antipyretic
  • Perfume fragrance
  • Antimicrobial
vanilla planifloium.jpeg


Still compiling research. 


Still compiling research.


Common Names:


Vanilla orchid


Traditional Uses:

Vanilla has always been commonly consumed with cacao and sometimes other herbs such as allspice, chili, or honey to make the beverage known as “chocolatyl”. This rich and medicinal beverage was used as an aphrodisiac, provide energy and build stamina. The famous Aztec emperor Moctezuma supposedly consumed as much as 50 cups of chocolatyl a day. This was often considered the reason for his success with women. He was known for maintaining a large harem of women throughout his life.


Botanical Description:

Vanilla is an orchid, with thick, dark green leaves, green non lignified stem, and whitish-green lily-like flowers [5]. It grows as a vine, and can reach up to 25m in length (100ft).

The fruit (pods) are about 5 inches long, and ½ inches thick. Vines usually produce around 100 pods each year which take about 8-9 months each to mature.


Habitat Ecology, and Distribution:

Vanilla is native to Mexico, and South America. Cultivation however occurs throughout the world including Madagascar, Costa rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Tahiti, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Reunion island.


Harvesting Collection, and Preparation:

Vanilla is not an easy crop to grow, and requires very specific conditions to flower and thrive. Due to these difficult growing requirements, and long growth period (8-9 months after flowering), it is quite an expensive herb. It is fortunate however that the scent and flavor profile of this herb are quite intense, and not a lot is required to deliver its desired flavor and effects. This is why it is still a common and affordable addition to many culinary compositions such as ice cream and baked goods. Pure, CO2 extracted vanilla however is one of the most expensive products used in aromatherapy [5].

The fresh vanilla pods do not actually smell like vanilla, the chemicals must be allowed to partially ferment and allow the enzymes inside the pods to break apart the glucose and vanillin molecules where they then become volatile compounds which then evaporate into the air, resulting in a scent.

Extraction of this herb generally requires tincturing, and supercritical carbon dioxide extraction processes.



Vanillas scent however is made up from around 150 individual scents, and is therefore very complex and not determinant on just one chemical. There are some chemicals contained in much higher amounts however, such as vanillin, and vanillic acid, and there have been many studies on these individual chemicals to determine their effects. This helps to give an idea of the benefits of vanilla, but for the most accurate representation of vanillas health benefits, the whole plant extract should be studied further.

The main constituents includes Vanillin, vanillic acid, p-hydroxy-benzaldehyde [5].

Be warned about synthetic vanillin and other adulterants such as tonka bean.


Pharmacology and Medical Research:

Still compiling research. 



Still compiling research.  



Still compiling research. 



Traditional use of this herb suggests synergy with the botanical Theobroma cacao. The combined effects as an aphrodisiac have been well tried and tested throughout the years. Vanilla, exerts most of its aphrodisiac effects through the limbic system of the brain, while cacaos are more physical, exerting actions on the CNS, and through the inhibition of tryptophan breakdown.

Harmonic Arts Botanical Dispensary


Justin Cooke


Updated: July 2017

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  5. Frontier Coop. (2016). Vanilla CO2 Extract monograph. Retrieved from