Vanilla as a form of aromatherapy? Sound too good to be true? This scent actually has a wide range of applications in aromatherapy, and this beautiful scent and cooking additive can help with a wide array of medical and psychological conditions.
Vanilla has been used in medicine for millennia. Long before we had surgical rooms and prescription medicines and a vast assortment of allopathic medical treatments, healers used herbs, plants, roots, and other forms of plant-based medicine to heal. The bean was used by various ethnic groups as a healing plant. For instance, in part of Latin America, many ethnic groups used the bean as a necklace or a headdress, to ward off illness. Like a protective necklace of other herbs used around the world, the idea was that vanilla would help to prevent illness for the wearer of the plant.
Some of the benefits believed to be true by native healers included improved circulation, increased alertness, improved respiration, and weight loss. In addition, it was believed to help reduce fevers and chills, and to open airways, so that someone experiencing a flu-like condition could use vanilla, for instance, as a medicinal plant to reduce or eliminated his or her illness.
In the 1800s Europeans used the bean as a stimulant, but also believed it helped to heal joint pain. Some doctors chose to give patients vanilla to manage female “hysteria,” while others added it to foods, teas, and coffees to aid with digestion. This treatment was extremely expensive at that time, however, and was a luxury that only the well-off could afford to use as a medicinal treatment.
This treatment soon gained in popularity, and was added to foul-tasting medicines as a way to help patients to take the medicine. In Tahiti and other islands in the south Pacific, women sometimes use vanilla to help with morning sickness and pregnancy nausea.
In 1991 the Sloan-Kettering Cancer institute initiated an experiment concerning the effect of scent on patients and anxiety. Of all the scents used in the experiment, researchers found that vanilla reduced patient anxiety and nervousness to the greatest extent. Many scent and extract manufacturers and natural healers who use the bean found that what they had been saying for years was finally validated by the medical establishment: this plant has medicinal properties, and should be used in a wider variety of ways to improve patient outcomes in medical and psychological ways.
In addition, this treatment may help with weight loss as well. The aromatherapy component is crucial in this instance: patients in a London hospital who wore skin patches of the scent lost weight and had lower appetites compared to other patients in the same experiment who did not wear the vanilla-scented patches. It’s possible that the sweet smell of vanilla helped to curb cravings, or perhaps, researchers speculate, there is something even more complex involved in the scent than medical science understands at this point.
In the end, this bean is a safe, non-toxic plant that has a long history of benefit to people who use it. Whether you use it for anxiety, digestion, or weight loss, know that vanilla’s benefit to mankind is age-old and long-lasting.