Vanilla Essential Oil
One of the most popular scents worldwide, how the vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) plant grows is anything but ordinary. As a part of the orchid family, vanilla was first used by Aztecs in ancient Mexico. In nature, only one bee can pollenate the vanilla flower, which only blossoms for one day a year. The pollenated flowers then produce the fruit, frequently called the vanilla bean. It’s the bean (when cured) that holds the flavor and scent we know as vanilla.1
Today, the commercial production of vanilla requires pollination by human hands.1 Because of this labor-intensive process and the flower’s limited bloom time, vanilla is the second-most expensive spice in the world after saffron.2
It is important to note that vanilla essential oil is not a natural by-product. That is, distilling or cold-pressing the flower or any part of the plant (the methods used to yield other essential oils) doesn’t work on vanilla because of its delicate structure.
Instead, vanilla essential oil is produced through carbon dioxide injection (which isolates the oil), or extracted with alcohol. These two methods are known as vanilla carbon dioxide or vanilla absolute.2
Vanilla Essential Oil Uses
Vanilla essential oil is known around the world for its sweet, flowery and welcoming aroma. The golden-brown oil has a wide range of uses and is often sought after for its soothing properties. Some of the most popular uses of vanilla essential oil are described below.
Vanilla is a popular essential oil for aromatherapy, and has been reported to help users de-stress. Add 4-5 drops of vanilla essential oil to a diffuser to create a relaxing aroma throughout your home.
Natural Sleep Aid
Add 4-6 drops of vanilla essential oil to a diffuser for 20-30 minutes before sleep. This has been reported to help reduce the time it takes to fall asleep and improve overall quality of sleep.
For a natural face cleanser with a calming touch, put 2–3 drops of vanilla essential oil on a warm, damp cloth and gently wipe the skin. Vanilla essential oil can also be added to glycerine and castile soap at a ratio of 4 drops per 5-ounce bar.
Improve the relaxing effects of a warm bath by adding 5-6 drops of vanilla essential oil as the water fills the tub. To boost the relief of muscle tension, mix 1 cup of Epsom salt and 2 tbsp. of baking soda in a sealed glass jar before adding 6 drops of vanilla essential oil. Gently shake the jar for 30 seconds then add the contents to warm bath water.
To relax tense muscles and calm the mind, add 5-6 drops of vanilla essential oil to 1 Tbsp. of carrier oil such as almond, hemp seed or jojoba oil. Spread the combined oil on to the soles of feet, neck, or back. Gently massage and let the oil soak in for 10-15 minutes. Wipe skin with a clean, damp cloth before covering with clothing.
For warm, welcoming scent, add 5-8 drops of vanilla essential oil to 1 cup of cool water in a spray bottle. Spritz into the air as close to the ceiling as possible for the best effect. The solution can also be sprayed 2 feet from upholstered furniture. Do not spray directly on people or pets.
For a classic and simple homemade perfume, put ½ cup of water in a spray bottle. Add 10-12 drops of vanilla essential oil and 10-12 drops of almond carrier oil. Shake well then let stand for 15 minutes before spraying on skin or linens.
For an oil-based perfume, add 4 drops of vanilla essential oil to 1 Tbsp. of carrier oil. Apply the mixture on the inside of wrists or at the base of the neck.
Vanilla essential oil can help keep hair silky and fresh. Using a spray bottle, add 15 drops of vanilla essential oil and 10 drops of almond carrier oil to 1 cup of distilled water. Shake well before lightly spraying on and combing through hair. Don’t make hair damp. Do not spray into eyes, nose, or mouth.
Benefits of Vanilla Essential Oil
People have enjoyed the benefits of vanilla essential oil since the days of Aztecs. The primary benefits that have been scientifically researched are below.
Research shows that vanilla essential oil can inhibit “quorum sensing” in C. violaceum bacteria (that can cause skin lesions and sepsis) by approximately 87-98%.3 In the experiment, vanilla essential oil blocked the bacteria’s ability to form large colonies and possibly combine with other bacteria 87-98% of the time. Quorum sensing (the signal to expand and possibly join forces) is known to be a factor in antibacterial resistance.4
A study of the effect of vanillin (a significant compound in the vanilla plant) on mice demonstrated that a dose of 100mg per kg of body weight had a similar anti-depressant effect as fluoxetine (commonly known as Prozac).5
While more research is needed to determine how vanilla essential oil can be safely used to treat depression, the study supports the use of vanilla essential oil (which contains large amounts of vanillin) in aromatherapy, massage and as a bath additive to help relieve stress and improve mood.
Preliminary research is beginning to understand the anti-oxidant benefits of vanilla essential oil. In one study, vanilla essential oil (extracted via the absolute method) had 26-43% antioxidant activity as a food preservative. In comparison, BHA (a common food preservative) had approximately 92% activity.6
This shows that vanilla essential oil has some antioxidant benefit and potential as a natural food preservative instead of more synthetic products. Research into whether the antioxidant benefits in vanilla essential oil can also combat free-radicals in our bodies remains to be done.
Vanilla Essential Oil Side Effects
Vanilla essential oil is considered safe for inhalation and diluted, topical use. Do not put vanilla essential oil directly on skin unless diluted in a carrier oil.
Vanilla essential oil is highly concentrated, and has not been deemed safe to ingest. Always read and follow the instructions found on the product’s label.
Before using vanilla essential oil on children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, consult with a health care professional.
Where to Buy Vanilla Essential Oil
Vanilla extract, made by culled vanillin (the key compound that gives vanilla its flavor and aroma) is sometimes used in low-grade vanilla essential oil. For this reason, users should always read the label carefully to ensure they are purchasing a pure essential oil.
For those wondering where to purchase vanilla essential oil, Walmart, Kmart or Fred Meyer will likely all carry a range of brands and pre-formulated blends. If you are looking for pure essential oil, extremely high grade products can easily be purchased over the internet at very reasonable prices.
Scientific Research Referenced in this Article
- Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. (2015, February 23). Vanilla. Retrieved March 3, 2017 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/vanilla – View reference.
- Sharp, M.D., Kocaoglu-Vurma, N.A., Langford, V., Rodriguez-Saona, L.E., & Harper, W.J. (2012) Rapid Discrimination and Characterization of Vanilla Bean Extracts by Attenuated Total Reflection Infrared Spectroscopy and Selected Ion Flow Tube Mass Spectrometry. Journal of Food Science. 77(3). C284-C292. DOI 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2011.02544.x.
- Choo, J.H., Rukayadi, Y., Hwang, J.K. (2006) Inhibition of bacterial quorum sensing by vanilla extract. Letters in Applied Microbiology. 42(6). 637-641. DOI 10.1111/j.1472-765X.2006.01928.x.
- Vipin, C.K. (2013). Quorum sensing inhibitors: An overview. Biotechnology Advances. 31(2). 224–245. DOI 10.1016/j.biotechadv.2012.10.004.
- Shoeb, A., Chowta, M., Pallempati, G., Rai, A., Singh, A. (2013) Evaluation of antidepressant activity of vanillin in mice. Indian Journal of Pharmacology. 45(2):141-144. DOI 10.4103/0253-7613.108292.
- Shyamala, B.N., Naidu, M.M., Sulochanamma, G., Srinivas, P. (2007) Studies on the antioxidant activities of natural vanilla extract and its constituent compounds through in vitro models. (Abstract). Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. 55(19):7738-43. DOI 10.1021/jf071349