Vanilla Bean Orchid

Updated: Nov 22

Vanilla or Vanilla Bean Orchid, is a fleshy perennial vine in the family Orchidaceae grown for its pods and seeds which are used as a flavoring. The botanical name of vanilla is Vanilla planifolia. The plant is native to Mexico that now also grows in other subtropical regions, including Madagascar, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Indonesia, Réunion Island, Tahiti, and regions in Central America. Vanilla planifolia, otherwise known as flat-leaved vanilla orchid or Bourbon type vanilla, is the most popular and widely used vanilla species because of its extracts.



The vanilla plant has a long succulent stem and grows by wrapping around trees. The vine has alternate, fleshy oblong or lanceolate leaves which are rounded at the base. The plant produces flowers on short racemes, each possessing 6–15 flowers, and fruits which take the form of narrow, cylindrical pods (or beans), each possessing many small black seeds. The vanilla plant has an economic lifespan of approximately 10 years. Like many other types of orchids, vanilla bean orchid is a tropical species that requires high temperatures and humidity to thrive.


Table of Contents


Height(Avg)

50 - 100 feet long (outdoors)

8 - 10 feet long (indoors)


Approximate pH

6.6 - 7.5


Vanilla Varieties


There are 150 varieties of vanilla orchid, but only two of them, Bourbon and Tahitian, ore used commercially.


Bourbon is the original vanilla that the Spanish found in Mexico, and most of it is grown in Madagascar and Reunion (which supply three-quarters of the world’s high-quality beans), with smaller contributions from India, Indonesia and China. Mexico is now a minor producer.


Tahitian vanilla is a variety of Bourbon vanilla that has mutated into a separate species. It has a markedly floral fragrance and its flavor carries licorice, prune and dried cherry notes.


1. Bourbon/Madagascar Vanilla


The generic term for V.planifolia that’s grown in Indian Ocean islands, “Bourbon,” comes from Ile de Bourbon, (Reunion’s former name) and not from a type of whiskey. 75% of the world’s Bourbon/Madagascar vanilla supply comes from Madagascar and Reunion. Its flavors are rich and balanced and it has a robust aroma. It can be used in both cold and cooked preparations.


2. Indonesian Vanilla

Because some farmers harvest pods before their phenolic flavor profile has developed, vanilla from this area differs in quality: it can range from deep and full-bodied to light and woody. Some Indonesian farmers also use a short-term curing process that imparts a harsh, smoky flavor. Indonesian vanilla is often combined with synthetic or Bourbon vanilla. It is best used in cooked preparations.


3. Mexican Vanilla


Its flavor is smooth, creamy and spicy with delicate top notes and its aroma is unique, fruity and winy aromas. It can be used in hot dishes, but it is really good in cold preparations or those that need a short cooking time.

4. Tahitian Vanilla


Tahitian vanilla is the product of V. planifolia stock that was crossbred with V. pompona (a variety that is normally used in the perfume industry) during the early 1880s. It doesn’t have as much natural vanillin as Bourbon, but flavor comes from heliotropin (anis aldehyde), giving it a sweeter and fruitier taste, reminiscent of cherries or raisins. It has a lovely, sweet floral scent. Even though its pod is fatter than Bourbon vanilla’s, it doesn’t hold as many seeds. It is best used in cooked foods such as sauces, compotes and desserts; it also works well with meats.


5. West Indian Vanilla


West Indian vanilla is actually a lower grade than the Bourbon/Madagascar or Mexican beans and has naturally low vanillin content. Since its taste is too poor for culinary uses, it is mostly used to make perfumes. Some extracts using West Indian or Mexican vanilla also use coumarin (derived from the tonka tree, both Canadian and US officials classify it as a toxic substance).


Planting Vanilla Bean Orchid


When growing the vanilla bean plant outdoors, locate an area that receives partial or full shade as the plant normally grows in tropical conditions underneath shady canopies. The plant has a vining habit and can be grown indoors in containers. Use organic potting soil and plant in a pot at least 12 inches in diameter. Be sure to provide adequate drainage for the vanilla bean to prevent root rot and support healthy growth. Place your potted plant near a window that receives indirect sunlight.


How to Get Vanilla Bean Orchid to Bloom


Vanilla bean orchids flower before developing the seed pods that are used for vanilla flavoring. Your orchid should bloom in the spring for about three months, typically beginning in March and blooming through late May. Don't be concerned if your young plant is not flowering yet; this species finally blooms when it reaches about three years of age. However, if a mature vanilla bean orchid fails to develop flowers, this is usually due to improper growing conditions.


Like other orchids, your vanilla bean orchid needs a very specific environment to thrive. Bright, dappled sunlight is required along with consistent waterings of both the roots and growing medium. Maintain high humidity in your orchid's environment, but avoid overwatering (which can lead to root rot). Your orchid may not bloom this season if its ideal growing conditions are not met, but by tending to the plant carefully, it can flower the following spring.

Once your plant is blooming, each flower will open for one day. Prune flowers after they close—also known as deadheading—to stimulate new growth. Your orchid will continue to bloom seasonally, and seed pods can be harvested within about nine months after flowering.


Vanilla Bean Orchid Care


Like most orchids, the vanilla orchid grows best in bright, filtered shade and high humidity. It's best to recreate its native jungle habitat using a combination of temperature controls, pampering mists, and irrigation.


In its native region, a mature vanilla orchid vine can grow between 75 and 100 feet in length. However, you can keep your vine to a manageable 8 to 10 feet long in greenhouse conditions. Training the vine laterally instead of vertically allows you to grow more vine in a smaller space. A simple lumber structure is stronger than lattice (keep in mind that either structure will be obscured by the vine as it matures).


Light


Vanilla bean orchid grows best in shade, but these plants will tolerate short periods of morning sun with indirect light. Avoid south- and west-facing windows, as the direct afternoon sun in these locations is too harsh for this species.


Soil


Start your vanilla orchid in a mixture of equal parts orchid bark and potting mix. This is slightly more dense and heavy than most orchid growing media. Your cutting or small starter plant will need this combination of excellent drainage and nutrients to nourish the plant while the vine develops. After the vine grows its epiphytic roots, it will no longer depend on the roots in the potting mix.


Water


Watering a vanilla bean orchid means keeping both the growing medium and the wooden trellis structure damp, because the plant is developing "air roots" that draw moisture from the air. Allow the potting mix to dry out slightly between waterings to prevent root diseases, but maintain high humidity in the environment.


Temperature and Humidity


Ideal temperatures for vanilla orchids are between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 80 to 95 degrees during the day. These plants are not frost-tolerant, which means those who don't live in a tropical climate must grow them in a greenhouse to achieve desirable results.


Mist your plant regularly and make every effort to keep the humidity level at 80 percent. At the same time, good air circulation is required to prevent fungal rot.


Fertilizer


Fertilize your vanilla orchid every two weeks during the spring and summer with orchid fertilizer. For the amount to use, follow the product label instructions. Light, but consistent fertilization is recommended.


Pruning and Propagating Vanilla Bean Orchid


Pruning


Your vanilla bean orchid plant can reach about 10 feet long when grown in ideal conditions inside a greenhouse. Pollination is an important part of harvesting vanilla, but this species does not need to be pruned in order to produce these healthy pods. However, it's easy to trim these plants to any length that suits the needs of your space if they become too long. Select a section of the vine below a growth node, then use a clean, sharp pair of gardening shears or pruners to snip the vine to your preferred length. Some cuttings can later be propagated to grow new plants if desired.

Propagating Vanilla Bean Orchid


While it is possible to grow vanilla bean orchid from seed, the process is very complicated and unreliable. Consequently, this plant is normally propagated via stem cuttings:

  1. Snip a segment of vine that has at least six growth nodes on it. Remove the two lowest leaves on the cutting.

  2. Fill a small flower pot with either moist sphagnum moss or a mixture of equal parts orchid bark, peat moss, and perlite.

  3. Bury the plant cutting into the growing medium (covering the lower nodes), then press the medium tightly around the base of the cutting.

  4. Insert a plant stake into the pot and secure the cutting to it with ties.

  5. Keep the growing medium consistently damp for four to six weeks until new growth appears. Once the cutting begins to vine, you can train the plant to grow on a larger trellis.


Harvesting



Patience is a requirement for those who wish to harvest vanilla from orchids, as the plants take anywhere from three to five years to mature from cuttings to flower production. Once the vine is established and flowering, hand-pollinate the flowers within 12 hours of blooming by using a chopstick. Remove pollen from the stamen of one flower and place it on the stigma of another flower. Within a day, flowers that have pollinated will wither on the vine rather than fall off. Small green pods will form within a week, eventually elongating into pods that will be ready to harvest in nine to 10 months.


If pollination is successful, your three-year-old vanilla orchid will produce green bean-like pods from October through March. Good quality pods should be at least 6 inches long. The curing process is labor-intensive and involves sweating and drying, which contributes to the premium price of vanilla beans sold in markets. Every day for six weeks, you must wrap the beans in a blanket at night to facilitate moisture condensation on the pods. During the day, place the beans on trays in the sun or under a heat lamp indoors. Following this sweating process, you should dry the now-brown and shriveled pods in a dark, dry place for an additional three months. You can store the cured beans in an airtight container indefinitely.

Potting and Repotting Vanilla Bean Orchid


Your vanilla bean orchid will not need to be repotted once its epiphytic roots grow securely on the medium of your choice (usually lattice or a structure made from wood). However, propagated orchid stems can be potted in a mixture of equal parts orchid bark and potting mix. Choose a pot that allows for drainage and airflow to the roots like one made from terracotta.

Pests and Plant Diseases


Vanilla bean orchids can be susceptible to root rot in the high-humidity environment they require. Rot can be prevented by balancing high humidity with constant air circulation, which is the reason that greenhouses mimicking tropical environments are recommended for this species.


These plants can also be susceptible to spider mites and mealybugs.3 Horticultural oil sprays are the best way to deal with these pests. Mealybugs can also be killed by dabbing them with a cotton swab soaked in rubbing alcohol.


Common Problems With Vanilla Bean Orchid


Vanilla bean orchids are notoriously difficult to care for, so it's not uncommon for growers to run into problems with this species. You may experience the following:


Leaves Turning Yellow


Yellowed leaves is a common problem for vanilla bean orchids that are overwatered. This may also be seen with signs like dropping flowers, a wilted stem, or rotten roots. Air circulation and proper drainage are key to prevent root rot from overtaking healthy plants.


Brown or Crispy Roots


If your vanilla bean orchid is underwatered, you may notice similar signs to overwatering but with a different appearance of the plant's roots. Crispy, dry roots that begin to turn brown are an indicator that your plant is drying out. Thoroughly water the plant and increase humidity levels, especially focusing on its roots (keep humidity as close to 80 percent as possible).


Scorched Leaves


Vanilla bean orchids are very sensitive to sunlight, and it's easy for this species to become sunburnt when exposed to direct light. If your plant's leaves become scorched or crispy, it's likely receiving too much light. Move your orchid to a place with dappled shade.


Benefits of Vanilla


Vanilla, apart from being a flavoring agent is also a therapeutic herb. Vanilla essential oil is used as a medicinal product to cure many diseases and vanilla beans, powdered or extract, also used in treatment of many medical conditions. Vanilla acts as an antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, antidepressant and aphrodisiac providing numerous health benefits. Major health benefits of vanilla are:


1. Antibacterial


Researchers evaluated the effectiveness of vanilla oil for preventing certain bacteria. The testing also evaluated ylang ylang and patchouli oils. For the bacteria in question – a strain of Staph. – Vanilla was able to prevent its development.


Essential oils with antibacterial benefits are extremely useful. In today’s age of chemical synthetics and overuse, we find ourselves with more harm than benefit when using commercial antibacterial products. To stop the spread of dangerous bacteria without risking our health is invaluable!


2. Anti-ageing Benefits


Vanilla is wonderful source of antioxidants which prevent and reverse skin damage caused by free radicals. It helps to slow down signs of ageing like fine lines, wrinkles and age spots. It is extensively used in the cosmetic industry for its fragrance and anti-ageing benefits. Applying raw vanilla beans infused with organic oil imparts a great chocolaty fragrance besides making your skin smooth and soft.


3. Anti-depressant


As we all know that essential oils are often used for their uplifting, antidepressant abilities thanks to their simple applications and quick results. Simply smelling a fragrance can so quickly and effectively reach and affect the brain!


Vanilla has been studied for its in vitro ability to relieve depression. Tracking markers of depression in mice, researchers were able to determine antidepressant activity with the vanillin compound.


4. Relieve Pain


Vanillin is a compound of magical properties. It acts as a pain reliever as well as has anesthetic properties. These properties make it appropriate for naturally relieving pain. It helps soothe toothache, pain due to inflammation etc.


5. Lowers Blood Pressure


Vanilla oil’s sedative effects on the body allow it to naturally lower blood pressure by relaxing the body and mind. High blood pressure is the state when the pressure on the arteries and blood vessels becomes too high and the arterial wall becomes distorted, causing extra stress on the heart. High blood pressure levels can put you at risk for having a stroke, heart attack and diabetes.


Main cause of high blood pressure is stress; by relaxing the muscles and mind, vanilla oil is able to lower blood pressure levels. Vanilla oil helps you to get more sleep, which is another easy way to lower blood pressure levels. Vanilla oil serves as a natural remedy for high blood pressure because it also acts as an antioxidant, so it reduces oxidative stress and dilates the arteries.


6. Soothes Burns


Vanilla has been used as a traditional remedy to heal burns, wounds and cuts. Concentrated vanilla extracts or essential oil should not be used directly on recent burns. Topical treatments containing vanilla extracts might be helpful. It is recommended to consult your doctor before using any such home remedies for burns.


7. Anti-cancer


As usual with cancer and essential oils, the preface for this discussion is that more research must be executed. Thanks in no small part to its antioxidant ability, though, vanillin and substances that contain it (like vanilla!) are among the oils and compounds considered for anticancer ability.


Until we know more specifically how these actions work in the body and the best ways to incorporate them for direct effectiveness, we can enjoy using a substance that cancer doesn’t like!


8. Promotes Healthy Skin


Vanilla is a good source of B-vitamins like niacin, thiamin, Vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid which play an important role in the maintenance of healthy skin. The antioxidant properties of vanilla help to protect your skin from damage caused by environmental pollutants and toxins. You can prepare a scrub to revive your skin from within. All you need to do is slice open 5 vanilla beans to scrape out its seeds. Add these seeds along with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 drops vanilla essential oil to freshly squeezed lemon juice. Mix the ingredients and apply it on your face. Massage for a few minutes and then rinse off with warm water. Then, splash some cold water on your face.


9. Beneficial for Children


Vanilla extract added to a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar can help to reduce fever and fight infections in children. In addition, the taste may also appeal to children.


10. Good for digestion


Vanilla is a natural substance that is good for digestion. There are many ways done by vanilla in enhance digestive health. The distinctive aroma of vanilla is useful to prevent nausea. Another way in preventing gastrointestinal problems with vanilla is vanilla tea. Vanilla tea also prevent vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain and prevent abdominal cramps.


11. Boost Cognitive Actions and Mental Health


Vanilla helps to improve mental health and boost cognitive functions. Its antioxidant property and free radical removing activity boost neural functions, decrease risk of nervous breakdown, prevent nervous damage and improve memory. Frequent consumption of vanilla may actually improve cognitive abilities and mental health.


12. Treatment of Anxiety


Certain neurological research have proved that vanilla extract have a positive effect on those suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. Vanilla scent is specifically helpful for this purpose. Drinking water or milk that contains vanilla extract helps reduce anxiety in some people.


This aromatic spice is helpful for your nervous system. Research conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York indicated that exposure to vanilla aromatherapy has proven to be effective in relieving the symptoms of claustrophobia.


13. Increased libido


Since prehistoric times, vanilla has been regarded an aphrodisiac. However, ongoing aromatherapy researches recommend that vanilla help to increase sexual desire by increasing testosterone levels in men. A 1970s research also claimed that majority of its participants believed that vanilla had cured their impotency. While there is no concrete proof to prove this, experts believe that the aroma of vanilla does induce feelings of pleasure and satiation.


14. Treatment of Cough


Cough syrups normally use vanilla extract as a flavoring to mask their bitter taste. Though additional research is necessary in this regard, the mild anaesthetic properties of vanilla extract can relieve symptoms such as pain from a sore throat or headache.


15. Anti-inflammatory


Also in line with the effects of antioxidants, vanillin is likely to be anti-inflammatory. This effect tends to happen with antioxidant substances thanks to that cellular level repair that takes place.


As non-traditional oil, topical applications are outstanding for performing this effect, massaging it deep into the muscles and joints that are inflamed or applying it to skin that is plagued with inflammation.


16. Dental Health


Vanillin contained in vanilla is similar to capsaicin in chili peppers and euganols in spices such as cinnamon. This compound has a positive effect on the central nervous system. Capsaicin is an effective pain reliever while euganols act as topical anaesthetics. Vanilla possesses both these properties which help fight toothache and infection.


17. Treatment of Acne


The antibacterial properties of vanilla make it beneficial for the treatment of acne. Vanillin, through its antibacterial effects, helps cleanse your skin, decreasing the occurrence of pimples and acne.


18. Aids Weight Loss


Researches have shown that vanilla extract help people lose weight. Though exercise and diet play a main role in weight loss, these efforts can be supplemented with the intake of vanilla extract for greater benefits. Additional research is required to validate this claim.


19. Relieves Nausea


Vanilla extracts help calm the stomach in case of a feeling of nausea. Just add a few drops of vanilla extract to a glass of water and sip it gradually. The amazing vanilla scent helps to relieve the feeling of nausea. In fact, it is as good as nausea medicine and can effectively substitute it.


20. Treatment of Menstrual Problems


Irregular menstrual cycle, pain, premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and other menstrual problems can be cured by including vanilla in regular diet. Vanilla is high in magnesium content that controls the production of hormones that boost functioning of neurotransmitters and so reduce PMS related issues of mood changes and depression. Vanilla’s calcium content reduces pain and irregularities in menstrual periods. Drink vanilla extract in water or as a tea to comfort you from menstrual problems.


21. Aids Wound Healing


Since ancient times vanilla extract is used for healing wounds. Its anti-inflammatory properties can calm inflamed areas on the skin. It is considered a great home remedy for wound healing. Note that the direct use of vanilla extract on open wounds and burns should be avoided.


22. Repels Mosquitoes and Bugs


For a natural pest-deterrent, just mix a tablespoon of vanilla extract with a cup of water and pour into a spray bottle. Spritz it on exposed skin to ward of those irritating mosquitoes, flies and even ticks.


Uses

  • Vanilla bean extract is used a flavoring in confectionery and baking. Essential oils extracted from the plant are also used in the perfume industry.

  • Vanilla extract, which is obtained from the plant’s seed pods, is a valuable flavoring. It is commonly used in baked goods, desserts, beverages, chocolates, dishes, and more.

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