If you are a frequent user of vanilla oil (as in the absolute or CO2 extract), you will no doubt be aware of the current shortage of this valued aromatic, which is either making it hard to source quality vanilla oil, or making it even more expensive to purchase it than it has been in the past.
In this first article of a new trilogy on vanilla, I will be suggesting some alternatives to vanilla itself, purely from an aromatic perspective (although, in fact, true vanilla does not posess any real therapeutic benefits with regard to aromatherapy practice). I will follow up this article with oils that blend well with vanilla, and suggest a few vanilla blends for the upcoming Holiday period.
The Aroma Of Vanilla
Vanilla typically has a sweet, rich, balsamic aroma. The chemical component responsible for the aroma in vanilla is vanillin. Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a tropical plant which is today mainly cultivated in Madagascar. However it is the vanilla bean itself which is extracted to produce either an absolute or CO2 extract. Vanilla absolute is produced with the aid of a solvent; it is not possible to distill the bean to produce an essential oil. Vanilla oleoresin may also be produced.
The vanillin content of the final extraction may vary; the higher the vanillin content, the more intense the vanilla aroma.
I have been asked to create a vanilla note in several custom blends but the price of vanilla itself (when available) often makes a blend not viable or cost-effective. Trying to reproduce that elusive vanilla-like aroma using natural ingredients can sometimes prove a challenge! However, it is possible to infuse vanilla beans themselves, or the oleoresin, in another oil such as jojoba (Simmondsia chinensis) for oil-based blends – or add an alternative essential oil or absolute.
Balsam of Peru Essential Oil
Balsam of Peru (Myroxylyon balsam var. pereirae) is a tropical tree of the Fabiceae plant family which produces a distilled essential oil from the resin of the tree. The essential oil has a surprisingly rich, sweet vanilla-like aroma, although its chemical conponents principally consist of benzyl benzoate, benzyl cinnamate, and cinnamic acid.1
It is a viscous oil and it will give your aromatic blend a distinct vanilla-like aroma – at a fraction of the price of vanilla itself. Additional therapeutic benefits include uses for stress, respiratory conditions, and skin issues.2
Benzoin (Styrax benzoin) is, not surprisingly, another tropical tree but this time of the Styracaceae plant family. Again, the resin is collected from the tree and prepared into an absolute using solvents. Benzoin absolute produces a rich, warm, sweet, balsamic aroma with a hint of vanilla and, some would say, chocolate. The principal chemical components of benzoin include benzoic acid and benzyl benzoate.3 According to Lawless, benzoin does contain vanillin.2
Benzoin absolute is another thick, sticky, but vicous liquid which fixes a blend with the sought-after vanilla note, as long as it is used in moderation. Additional therapeutic benefits of benzoin include uses for stress, respiratory conditions, joint pain, and skin care.
The Study of Essential Oils in Aromatherapy
To learn more about how essential oils are used in aromatic blends, consider the Sedona Aromatherapie Linguistics of AromaticsTM program!
Eden Botanicals, Balsam of Peru COA, accessed from: https://www.edenbotanicals.com/product_documents/COA/80_Balsam_of_peru_Oil_COA_14.pdf
Lawless, Julia, 1995, The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Essential Oils, UK: Thorson
Eden Botanicals, Benzoin COA, accessed from: https://www.edenbotanicals.com/product_documents/COA/117_Benzoin_COA_1.pdf
The author of this article has a 20 year history in the health care and aromatherapy industry. She is UK-certified aromatherapist and a NAHA Certified Professional Aromatherapist (R). She is both a published author and editor in aromatherapy, a consultant, custom blend formulator and herbal studies student. She is the author of Authentic Aromatherapy and the current chief editor of the NAHA Aromatherapy Journal. She has taken the online Master Gardener short course series with the University of Oregon. Sharon works from her garden studio in Sedona, Arizona, where she is in the process of creating her own aromatic stillroom and school room for on-site workshops on her one acre homestead and aromatic gardens.