Easter 2016 - April 2016
It was an early one this year and we hope that those of you who are chocolate lovers /addicts will have had a chance to tuck into a chocolate egg or two? This is only giving us an excuse to make chocolate beans and vanilla the focus of this March newsletter.
BITTER BEANS TO CHOCOLATE
Drinks made from the beans of the famous Cacao Tree were enjoyed as far back as 1900BC. Originating from Mesoamerica, native peoples including Mayans and Aztecs are known to have used Cacao beans as religious offerings and currency. The Spanish first introduced the fabled beans to Europe, adding sugar and other ingredients over the years which gradually transformed the ancient bitter bean drink into the sweet chocolate treats we love today.
The Spanish Conquisodors also brought us vanilla, first known to have been used by Mexico’s Totonaco Indians. Eventually the Spanish (after conquering the Aztecs who’d themselves overthrown the Totonacos) shipped these aromatic beans to Europe in the 1500s, where royalty and nobility enjoyed this exotic new flavor. It was the French who introduced vanilla to their former colony of Madagascar, which today produces the best quality vanilla worldwide, as well as the greatest quantities.
A member of the Orchid family, Vanilla is a tropical vine producing beautiful yellow flowers, each of which develop a single, bean-shaped pod. The vanilla we know is extracted by solvents (originally goose fat, now hexane, alcohol or CO2) from the pods, so is not a true essential oil. The solvent is evaporated to leave a thick, sticky oleoresin. Vanillas produced by other processes are commonly available, including synthetic versions used in the food industry. Whilst delicious in baking these are not suitable for use in aromatherapy.
Vanilla has earned a place in modern day aromatherapy with its warm, sensual and sweet aroma – one slow inhale and it’s clear why this exotic scent is so popular in perfumery. Anyone who’s tried to work with Vanilla will be familiar with how thick it is. It loves being added to base oils such as jojoba where, if left for a week or so, the aroma will slowly infuse into the fixed oil which can then be used in massage or added to skin care preparations. Vanilla’s main compound vanillin (a phenolic aldehyde) is responsible for providing its distinctive scent. Traditionally vanilla is said to have been used as a carminative (so used for flatulence) and as an aphrodisiac – the Doctrine of Signatures teaches us that its long phallic-shaped pods are a clue to its possible uses here.
Vanilla has another traditional use in calming hysteria, echoed by its modern day indications for calming anxiety and dissipating grief. Studies into possible antimicrobial, antioxidant and anti-sickle cells actions have taken place, though clinical evidence is yet to confirm these.
BANK HOLIDAY RECIPES!
Chocolate and butter blend together beautifully together, as do vanilla and body butters! Why not cook up pots of body butter this Easter, to moisturize and nurture the skin? The kids may still want Easter eggs, but the adults in your family might enjoy an alternative Easter gift.
This recipe will give you just over 60ml, so allows for small spillages. Note that our Vanilla is liposoluble, so will bind with the vegetable oils.
60ml glass jar
15g shea butter
10g coconut oil
5ml avocado or walnut oil (or try Calendula herbal oil for chapped skin)
Essential oils (at a 2% dilution):-
3-5 drops Vanilla (Vanilla fragrans) – it’s strongly scented so a little goes a long way. The extract is very thick, so it is unlikely that you will be able to measure in drop sizes. the best is to take a tooth pick and having removed the dropper, take a dollop of vanilla out of the bottle.
10 drops Palmarosa (Cympopogon martinii)
9 drops Patchouli (Pogostemon cablin)
6 drops Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobile)
Melt the vegetable fats one at a time. First, pop the cocobutter in a bain marie (place it in a glass bowl over a pan of simmering water, making sure the water doesn’t touch the bottom of the bowl). Once melted add the shea butter, followed by the coconut oil.
When all 3 fats have melted remove the pan from the heat and add your chosen vegetable oil. Take care when removing the bowl – it will be hot and the water underneath will still be steaming.
Carefully pour the vegetable oil mix into your 60ml jar. Add your essential oils – stir quickly and thoroughly (the vanilla may sink to the bottom of the jar if you don’t work fast). To minimize any vanilla skink pop your jar into the fridge to speed up your butter’s setting time.
When set, use as a moisturizer or massage balm. For Easter gifts try pouring the liquid mix into ice cube trays to create individual bath melts. Then pretend the Easter Bunny left them!
Breezy Bank Holiday Blend
If hosting family over the bank holiday weekend becomes a little stressful try popping a drop or two of vanilla, combined with lemon and geranium essential oils, into your diffuser for a calming and focusing aroma. Our suggested combination is:-
1 drop Vanilla (Vanilla fragrans)
3 drops Geranium (Pelargonium asperum)
5 drops Lemon (Citrus limonum)
We wish you an aromatic and happy bank holiday weekend!
• Graves J (2012) The Language of Plants, Great Barrington MA; Lindisfarne Books
• Peace Rhind J (2012) Essential Oils (second edition), London & Philadelphia; Singing Dragon
• Worwood VA (1996) The Fragrant Mind, London; Bantam