Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil benefits and uses

Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla essential oil is extracted from fermented pods of the vanilla orchid vine

There are three types of vanilla essential oil*, which are:

  • extracted from Vanilla planifolia, sometimes labelled Bourbon vanilla,
  • extracted from V. pompona, sometimes labelled West Indies vanilla, and
  • extracted from V. tahitensis (which is not often used, due to the low vanillin content), sometimes called Tahitian vanilla.

You may also come across an oil called Mexican vanilla, which is also extracted from V. planifolia like Bourbon vanilla, but unfortunately is often adulterated with oil from the tonka bean (which contains coumarin, a dangerous substance which can cause damage to the liver amongst other things), so anything with the label Mexican vanilla is best avoided.

Vanilla is a vine in the Orchid family. All three types of vanilla plant are closely related, and production of the vanilla pods from which the oil is derived requires careful attention, involving fermentation for 6 months in order to develop the actual vanilla flavour/fragrance.

How vanilla essential oil is produced

Though you may see pages which purport to tell you how to make your own vanilla essential oil, what you actually get by following the instructions is not essential oil but more like some of the cheap (fake) vanilla essential oils on the market. Technically it is an infusion or maceration, not an essential oil.

*In fact, although there is a vanilla resinoid (produced by solvent extraction from cured vanilla beans), what is sold by reputable aromatherapy suppliers as “essential oil” is either the absolute (which requires further extraction from the resinoid) or a diluted absolute. Given that vanilla itself is the second most expensive spice (after saffron), the absolute is far too expensive for most of us to consider, which is why it’s normally sold diluted. However, although not technically an essential oil, that’s what most people call it so from here on that is how I will be referring to it in this post.

Due to its high price and the length and complexity of its production, vanilla essential oil is one of those oils that are often counterfeit. This sham vanilla oil might be an oil infusion, or some vanilla extract diluted in a carrier oil, or even a completely synthetic oil – which may smell ok, but will not have any of the healing properties of the genuine article and might be actively dangerous. So if you see vanilla oil that seems inexpensive – or you find it on the shelves of a pound shop or grocery store, you can pretty much assume that it’s fake.

Properties of Vanilla Essential Oil

Vanilla oil is antibiotic, anticarcinogenic (particularly for prostate and colon cancers), antidepressant, antifungal (active against Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans), anti-nausea, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, aphrodisiac, balsamic, emmenagogue, febrifuge, mood enhancing, mosquito repellent, relaxant, a sedative and tranquiliser.

Uses of Vanilla Essential Oil

Because of its property as an emmenagogue, vanilla oil is not suitable for use during pregnancy in the first trimester, and therefore cannot be used for morning sickness.

If using the absolute for massage etc., dilute in a suitable carrier oil at a rate of 5 drops to each 10ml of carrier. You may prefer to use this dilution for oil burners as well.

For use in the bath, mix 3-4 drops of the oil with a little milk to form an emulsion and stir in to the water once the bath is ready. Please be careful when using essential oils in the bath, and bear in mind when getting in and out that it will make the area more slippery than usual.

Vanilla can be used for massage to fight depression, ease stress, calm the mind and increase libido. It’s also helpful for relieving muscle and joint pain, cramped muscles or cramps associated with menstruation, to reduce inflammation and strengthen the immune system. It can be used direct on acne, eczema, itching, burns, cuts and inflamed skin to soothe, promote healthy skin, to reduce cellulite and also on the scalp to encourage hair growth. It’s also beneficial for regulating menstruation.

It can be used in a burner, electric diffuser or in the bath for stress, nervous tension, insomnia, coughs and other respiratory problems. It is said to encourage sweet dreams if used in the bedroom, as well as having a reputation as an aphrodisiac. Diffused vanilla oil is a mosquito repellent, which makes it very helpful in bedrooms in countries where mosquitoes are a problem. To avoid the danger of fire while you sleep, you could use an electric diffuser or put the oils onto a cloth which is laid over a radiator instead of using a candle-based oil burner.

I offer Vanilla Essential Oil in my online shop.

Brazilian Mint health benefits: not just a herbal aspirin

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Brazilian mint is rarely available at a reasonable price

Brazilian mint is rarely available at a reasonable price

Brazilian mint, Hyptis crenata, is also known as chazinho de hortelã (chazinho mint) and salva-de-marajó (life of marajo). It is a well known shrub in Brazil, used in traditional medicine. Information on the plant is sparse, but it is apparently a shrubby perennial which grows wild in many parts of Brazil. It is in the same family as many other plants called “mint” but is not closely related.

Gather and dry the leaves for later use. In Brazil, several different methods of preparation are used, including decoction, infusion, cold extraction and tinctures. The reported research was the effect of decocted Brazilian mint as an analgesic.

To make a decoction add 30g (1 ounce) of dried leaves or 3 handfuls of fresh to 500ml (2 US cups, 8 fl oz) of cold water, bring to a boil and boil for 30 minutes. Strain before use.

To make a standard infusion use the same quantity of herbs, pour boiling water over and allow to stand for 3-4 hours, then strain.

Take one third of a cup of either preparation up to 3 times a day. Don’t be surprised that it tastes more like sage than mint, as this is normal. Sweeten it with honey if you prefer.

Brazilian mint is used to treat stomach aches, sinusitis, flu, intestinal parasites, lung disorders and as an antibiotic. Research shows that it also works as a painkiller. If you live in Brazil, no doubt you knew this already, and if you don’t, as it will be difficult to obtain supplies, it’s not necessarily of any value to you. But I’m into this stuff, and the news story piqued my interest. “Art for art’s sake” or something like that…

If you live in the area where it grows, you will probably find it very easy to grow Brazilian mint – or you could just go and find a few plants and gather leaves for drying. At present, it appears unlikely that you will be able to grow it elsewhere, if only because seeds are not available. However, if you do decide to grow it, give it conditions similar to those found in its native Brazil, and grow it organically to avoid corrupting its effective ingredients. To find out more about growing organic herbs visit the Gardenzone.

Nasturtium health benefits: for coughs, colds, flu and hair loss

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

Nasturtiums are a familiar sight

Nasturtiums are a familiar sight

The nasturtium, Tropaeolum majus, occasionally called Indian cress, is a very popular and cottagey plant, found in many gardens – but not generally thought of as a herb. It’s a half-hardy perennial climber or trailer, a native of South America.

Nasturtium is the name most people know this plant by, and this is a little confusing, because the plant which bears the latin name Nasturtium is watercress. The two are not related at all. Although it is sometimes called Indian cress, as already mentioned, it is not related to any of the other cresses, which are mostly Brassicas (members of the plant family Cruciferaeaka Brassicaceae to which cabbages also belong).

Nasturtium’s more or less trumpet-shaped flowers in shades from red to yellow and all combinations and shades in between, as well as the large almost coin-shaped leaves can be added to the salad bowl for a spicy surprise. The large seeds can also be eaten, although they are very hot, so much so that some people dry them and grind them to use as a substitute for pepper. Others pickle unripe seeds as a hotter substitute for capers.

Medicinally, nasturtium is surprisingly useful but it is not suitable for use during pregnancy or by those trying for a baby, as it is used to promote menstruation, and can induce abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.

Nasturtium’s main uses are as a treatment for respiratory infections, including coughs, colds and flu. It is an expectorant as well as an antibiotic, antiseptic and antifungal. Make a standard infusion using 1-2 teaspoonfuls of fresh leaves to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) boiling water. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes, then strain before use. Take 75ml (1/3 US cup, 3 fl oz) up to 3 times a day for the purposes listed, and to treat scurvy and disorders of the genito-urinary system. It can also be used externally to treat baldness and other hair conditions, rashes, skin conditions, cuts and grazes.

As with all herbs grown for use medicinally, nasturtiums must be grown organically to ensure the purity of the active constituents. To find out more about growing organic nasturtiums visit the Gardenzone.

Sage health benefits: versatile multi-purpose herb

Sage is helpful for the menopause

Sage is helpful for the menopause

Originally published on Herbal Medicine from Your Garden

(A video covering the main points in this post can be found at Sage Health Benefits)

Sage (Garden or Kitchen Sage), Salvia officinalis, is the last member of the big four immortalized by Simon and Garfunkel (based on a folk song of unknown age). Leaf colors vary from green to greenish gray, which are most likely to be seen, and purplish-red (var. purpurascens). The red variety is traditionally preferred for use in herbal medicine, but you can use green sage if that is all you have. It is closely related to clary sage, Chinese red sage (Salvia miltiorrhiza) , the sacred white sage (Salvia apiana) and Spanish sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia), as well as various ornamental sages grown in the flower garden. These are not covered here, as they do not necessarily share the same properties.

Sage is often used in cooking, so you may well have some in the kitchen cupboard, which you can use if you don’t have any in the garden, but it’s very easy to grow from seed, and well worth the effort – or just buy in a plant or two from your local nursery, if you don’t want dozens of sage plants to give away. You can pick leaves any time of year in most parts, even if you have to brush off the snow first. The main thing to watch out for when planting is to put it in a sunny position, and to make sure it has good drainage, as it won’t stand waterlogging.

If you wish to grow it from seed, soak the seed for an hour or so in warm water before sowing direct in Spring. Thin gradually to 45cm (18″) apart. Thinnings can be transplanted or used in the kitchen. Harvest leaves June and August for drying. Prune out straggly growth and trim to a neat shape in October or November. Can also be propagated by cuttings in Spring and Summer. Pick leaves as required for immediate use and the main crop of leaves just before flowering for drying or distillation of oil.

Left to its own devices, Sage is a straggly bush, but gardeners usually trim it back to a pleasing shape in mid-Autumn. The trimmings are ideal for drying for the kitchen, where it is a popular ingredient in stuffing, particularly suitable for fatty meats like pork, though there are many other uses. The easiest way to dry the leaves is to hang them up in bunches somewhere nice and airy (not too humid, or they will go moldy and be useless for anything), and then strip the leaves off once they have dried.

Remember that, if you want to use sage medicinally, it’s important that it is grown organically so that its properties are not masked and you don’t end up ingesting toxic ingredients (such as pesticides), by accident.

At this point, I need to warn you that sage is toxic in large amounts, and that it is not suitable for use as a herbal medicine by anyone who is pregnant or suffering from epilepsy.

Make a standard infusion with 3-4 teaspoons of fresh or 1-2 teaspoons dried herb to 250ml (1 US cup, 8 fl oz) of boiling water in a pot, leave to stand for 10 minutes and strain into a cup, adding some lemon and/or honey if you wish. You can drink this hot or cold, but for relieving sweating or hot flushing, it is better drunk cold. Limit intake to one cup a day.

Sage is antibiotic, anti-fungal, astringent, anti-spasmodic and a good nerve tonic. Sage is also well known for its estrogenic properties, which makes it useful for regulating periods, reducing milk production, and as a treatment for menopausal symptoms such as hot flushes. Recent research indicates that patients suffering from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease who drink a cup of sage tea a day may experience improved brain function. Alzheimer’s is such a debilitating disease that this is well worth trying, on the principle of “it can’t hurt”.

The same infusion is good for colds, anxiety/depression, flatulence (“wind” or “gas”) and indigestion. Used at half strength it is good as a gargle for sore throat, as a mouthwash to treat ulcers and sore gums, and as a douche to treat vaginal discharges. It’s also useful as a wash for bites and stings (remove the sting first if necessary), and for skin infections.

Visit the gardenzone for more information about growing organic sage.

I offer various sae products in my online shop.


Sage essential oil is toxic. Do not use under any circumstances.

As with all essential oils, sage essential oil should never be taken internally, even though you may see this recommended elsewhere. Essential oils are highly concentrated and can cause permanent damage if used in this way, even if you think you have diluted them. Be safe and use them as intended, in massage blends and diffusers, and keep them out of the reach of children at all times.