Vanilla is derived from orchids in the genus Vanilla. Traditionally, vanilla has been used as a food flavoring as well as for scent. Vanilla planifolia, native to Mexico, is the predominant species throughout the world. Vanilla supply is threatened, and many vanilla-flavored products are not made with natural vanilla.
Vanilla has few reported medicinal uses. There is limited evidence that vanilla has antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer, antioxidant, insect repellant, food preservative, and radioprotective properties. It may be useful in treating sickle cell anemia. The scent of vanilla has been shown to have calming effects on newborns.
Some vanilla products have been contaminated with bacteria, as well as coumarin, a compound in plants that prevents blood clotting. Allergic reactions have been reported. Vanilla may also affect the taste of breast milk, which may influence food preference in breastfed adults.
Acetic acid, aldehyde, americanin A, beta-D-glucosidase, beta-glucosidase, cellulose, cinnamaldehyde, cinnamic acid, coumaric acid, diphenolase, ethyl vanillin, ferulic acid, glucose, glucoside A, glucoside B, glucovanillin, homocitric acid, malic acid, methyltransferases (OMT-2 and Van OMT-3), natural vanilla, Orchidaceae (family), p-coumaric acid, peroxidase, phenols, phosphoenolpyruvate carboxylase isoforms, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde glucoside, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, piperonal, sucrose, Vanilla barbellata, vanilla bean, Vanilla claviculata, Vanilla dilloniana, vanilla extract, Vanilla fragrans, vanilla ice cream, Vanilla madagascariensis, Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla pompon, Vanilla tahitensis, vanillic acid, vanillin, vanillyl alcohol, vanilmandelic acid.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
In human study, the odor of vanilla was effective in significantly reducing crying and grimacing during a heel stick in full-term newborns that had been familiarized with the scent, and distress after the procedure was reduced. Additional study is needed in this area.
Sickle cell anemia
In laboratory study, a compound in vanilla reduced sickling of blood cells. In human study, the compound decreased the percentage of sickled red blood cells in patients with sickle cell anemia. Additional study is needed in this area.