The Vanilla Orchid

I was recently blessed with a gift of the Vanilla Orchid –Vanilla planifolia (syn. V. fragrans). I was excited – it is a beautiful, angular plant with strong broad green leaves. I knew nothing about it, yet have always loved vanilla – weather in cooking or in the blends that I have made. My mother would always make chocolate chip cookies – and they were delicious!! With the rich chocolate chips, butter and vanilla – I was in comfort heaven. I remember the last time she made them for me – it was a special effort on her part – for she wasn’t cooking anymore – but she so wanted me to have them – they were a gift from her heart. I then found this tidbit when I was researching the Vanilla Orchid: “Cortez discovered it in Mexico, where the Aztecs used it to flavor their chocolate drinks. In fact, the combination of chocolate and vanilla was deemed so emotionally powerful that Aztec women were forbidden the pleasure! However, the Spanish ladies of the New World were free to explore the delights of such heavenly nectar.”

It has such a rich, sweet balsamic, precious woody and soft odor, that has always felt very comforting and grounding. I often will put it in a blend for a person – who is needing that note of comfort, yet also grounding. It can be supported by frankincense – in the space of grief, and/or rose – to help heal and uplift from those wounds.

The research on Vanilla is quite interesting. It turns out that it is one of the few orchids which produces anything edible – out of 20,000 orchid varieties! The flower Is pure white, yet the seed pods – when they become quiet withered and dry are a dark brown and exhale one of the finest odors in the seed kingdom. It’s fragrance is familiar and consoling, offering safety from the harsh blows of life. It reminds us f home baked goods and gives us that sense of comfort and relief – a “security blanket” feeling, it is almost like being protected by the mother’s love. It also unleashes deeply felt emotions and hidden sensuality. Vanilla is known for its sensual aphrodisiac appeal and its comforting appeal has reached its popularity in today’s world through spas, candles, scrubs, tropical blends, incense creations, amber bases and oriental perfumes. Medicinally, it has been known to be used in a variety of ways from anxiety, nervousness, digestion, hunger cravings, flu like symptoms, fevers and chills, opening of the air passages, heal joint pain and headaches.

Outside of growing in Mexico (where the plant is harvest by a specific black fly), the flowers must be hand pollinated. The beans take 9 mos. before they are ready for harvest. At harvest, they are neither fragrant or flavorful – its distinctive properties are developed in the curing process. The culture and preparation of vanilla involves a kind of alchemy of sun an air. As the lower end of the pod begins to turn yellow, it releases a penetrating scent of bitter almonds. By degrees the color darkens, the flesh softens, and the true odor of vanilla begins to develop as the natural fermentation gradually progress up the pod ending in thick reddish drops – voila! The Vanilla oil!! Vanillin, the main aromatic components is easily synthesized but has no comparison or relation to the complexity of a true co2 extract. The molecular composition and structure is similar to the human pheromone and can mingle easily with it.

In this research I was struck by the analogy of life and of spirit. From the pure white bloom of this delicate flower (always reminds me of Spirit)– which only lasts a day, if that. It has to be hand pollinated outside of its’ original growing area where the natural insect resides (thus handled with intention and care- like us). The pod develops over 9 months (like humans do). At time of harvest, it has no flavor or fragrance (like a newborn – who has yet to develop its individualized expression). It then has to “cure” – (isn’t that what we – humans – do? – over time). I was particularly struck here as “curing” relates to healing, relates to personal growth and development, relates to developing our own distinctive properties – the alchemy of life itself. That early stage of curing of the bean, producing the scent of bitter almonds (haven’t most of us experienced those “bitter” moments of life). Then by degrees the color darkens, and the flesh softens (yes, that tight, firm skin of youth, softens as the fragrance of life itself exudes from our being – and our true odor emerges!). I became present to the unfolding of consciousness as it expresses it’s individualization through each of us – that final expression of the purity of the flower, born into this world – now expressed as a the most beautiful, rich fragrance.