Vanilla: botanical image of the vanilla plant


Vanilla planifolia

Family: Orchidaceae

Description: Vanilla grows as a thick, tropical, evergreen vine with fleshy leaves 10-15cm in diameter. Having ariel rootlets with sarcous stems, it climbs trees. Flowers are trumpet shaped, varying in colour from cream to pale green or yellow. The fruit capsule matures to 20cm (8in) over nine months. The fresh vanilla fruits are often called beans and have no aroma.

Habit and cultivation: Native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America, it is the second most expensive spice after saffron. Grows in the warm, wet tropical low lands and forests. Can survive in nutritionally poor soil and can grow in total shade or semi-shade but is intolerant to wind. The flowers are pollinated by specific species of moth or by hand.

Actions (known for): Anti-microbial, anti-oxidant and anti-cancer.

History: Vanilla is derived from Spanish ‘vainilla’ or ‘little pod’. It is a member of the orchid family and is among one of the most used and most enticing flavours in the world. Traditionally, the seed pods have been used as an aphrodisiac, carminative and stimulant; they are proported to reduce fevers and spasms.

Parts used: Black seeds inside the beans.

Constituents (bio available chemicals): Vanillin 85% of the bean. Vanillic acid, 4-Hydroxibenzaldehide, 4- Hydroxibenzoic acid, sugars, lipids, minerals and water.

Nutritional constituents: Vitamins: B3. Minerals: calcium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc and copper.

Indications: Cancer and sickle cell anemia.

Dosage: Varied.

Cautions for therapeutic doses: Adulteration and substitution issues due to the cost of pure vanilla.

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