Vanilla essential oil is extracted from the vanilla plant, which is native to Central America and Mexico but also is found in other tropical regions. Essential oils are so named because they come from the essence of the plant. Specifically, vanilla oil comes from the plant's green fruit. The oil commonly is used in scented candles, body oil and other holistic health or beauty treatments.
The lengthy process for making vanilla essential oil makes it one of the more expensive oils to buy. It is versatile, however, and it blends well with other oils. Its scent is sweet yet neutral, which makes it good for pairing with sandalwood, lavender, orange or lemon oil, to name a few.
The process for making this oil starts with picking and then drying the plant's fruit until it becomes a fragrant bean. The scent from the beans is then extracted with a process that uses odorless fats. These fats are used to absorb the scent.
The scent is absorbed by placing the beans on grates over the fat or by mixing the beans into the fat. The fat is then placed into an alcohol substance that draws the fragrance into it. After the alcohol is distilled, only the essential oil remains, and the oil is now ready to be bottled and shipped for sale. Vanilla essential oil should be stored in dark bottles to protect it. The oil will dissolve if placed in an aluminum bottle.
In holistic health practices, vanilla essential oil is touted as an aphrodisiac, a sedative, a fever reducer and an anti-depressant. Its sweet scent often has a calming effect that reduces anxiety. Some of these attributes are not scientifically proven but are based only on anecdotal experiences. Some people speculate that the calming properties of vanilla also are associated with comfort foods such as ice cream or sugar cookies.
The essential oil from vanilla is found in products such as candles, room freshening sprays, perfumes, body lotion and bath salts, to name a few. Some of these products contain essential oil, and others simply contain vanilla fragrance. This also can take the form of vanillin, an artificial and less expensive version of vanilla.
Caution should be used not to confuse vanilla essential oil used for aromatherapy purposes with vanilla extract that is used in cooking. It generally is not recommended for consumption. Depending on what the vanilla essential oil is combined with, it might even be harmful if swallowed. Labels always should be checked to verify an oil’s intended purpose.