Vanilla is a succulent-stemmed, perennial climbing plant, producing a stem that can be 5-15 metres or more long. The plant grows into trees, supporting itself by means of aerial roots that are produced from the stem nodes. It is often epiphytic, or becomes epiphytic as the lower portion of the stem withers and dies.
Vanilla is one of the world’s most important spices. It is widely cultivated throughout the tropics, mainly on the islands of Madagascar and now in the Philippines, for its edible seed pod, which is such used as a sweet, aromatic flavouring in ice cream and a wide range of sweet dishes.
Seedpod – cooked. Used as a flavouring in a wide range of foods such as ice creams, confectionery, baked goods, puddings etc. The seedpods contain about 3.5% vanillin. The pod can be placed in sugar and left for the flavour to diffuse into the sugar. This sugar is then used as a sweet flavouring in various dishes, especially cakes and desserts.
The fruit is a dark-brown, 3-angled capsule 15 – 28cm long containing many small seeds.
Traditionally, the seedpods are used as an aphrodisiac, carminative, emmenagogue and stimulant. They are said to reduce or cure fevers, spasms and caries.
Vanilla extracts (especially tinctures according to pharmacopoeias) are used in pharmaceutical preparations such as syrups, primarily as a flavouring agent.
The seedpod is used in perfumes and soaps