I am a shameless, shameless fan of Phyllis Curott’s memoirs. Reading the stories of her early days just out of law school and beginning to learn about Wicca and about love is invaluable to me at this point in my life. Our beginning stories have enough similarities that I draw a great deal of comfort and acceptance with my own life as I read about hers. It doesn’t hurt either that her ‘Nonna’ character is pretty much my ideal image of a Craft elder–always on hand to analyze bits of wisdom and to offer her own in the way of potions, lotions, advice, and friendship.
A few of Nonna’s potions–particularly those involving love–are mentioned as using vanilla oil, which sounds just oh-so-appealing. Vanilla is a deep, rich, and complicated scent that just speaks of comfort and sex to me: perfect for love work. The problem is that a good vanilla essential oil isn’t something that’s readily found. Almost every “vanilla” oil out on the market is a synthetic fragrance oil, and most natural ones are actually a heavy-fold extract infused into something like fractionated coconut oil. I’ve only found one vanilla oil that looks promising (and has good reviews). It’s the Vanilla 5th Dark Essential Oil from Texas Natural Supply, and it is surprisingly cost effective at about $12 an ounce. Unfortunately, that price gives me pause. Enfleurage is the method used to extract the essential oil from vanilla beans, which means fats are used to capture the scent essences, then fats are soaked in ethyl alcohol. The scent is drawn into the alcohol, which is then distilled: the left over matter is the vanilla essential oil. It’s an involved process, and doesn’t have a high yield, so true vanilla essential oil should be quite expensive. It bothers me, then, that the Texas Natural Supply vanilla is so cheap. Is it really essential oil?
Luckily for me, I had a brainstorm today while making up some homemade vanilla extract in an attempt to use up some older vanilla beans. If I can infuse vanilla beans in vodka and get an excellent extract, why can’t I do the same with an oil? The compounds are apparently fat soluble, after all. It won’t be essential oil, but it will be natural and I’ll be the one making it, so I could add magical punches if I wanted to.
So I took four vanilla beans, cut through one layer of the bean, scraped out the seeds, chopped up the beans, and then put the seeds and beans in an 8 oz mason jar. I filled the jar up with the last of my sweet almond oil (though I would probably recommend jojoba in the future as it is a longer-lasting oil), gave it a shake…and that’s that. Now I just have to forget about the jar for a few months–maybe remembering just enough to give it a shake every once in awhile. Two months should probably get some decent scent going. I’m going to try for 6, though as that’s the time I give to vanilla extract. Straining this through a paper coffee filter when finished would probably remove all the fragments from the oil, if I desired that. Using jojoba oil would probably give this a shelf life of 2 years. For the sweet almond, I’m guessing 6 months to a year.
Now, good vanilla beans are not cheap: Fifteen Madagascar beans will set you back $28 at Penzeys Spices and a quantity of 3 will cost $7.25. Good deals can often be found around Christmas time, though. I got a package of 20 beans for $5 through Aunt Patty’s here in Eugene two years ago, and they last forever if kept in the fridge wrapped in plastic and in a plastic bag. At any rate, the four beans I used is probably overkill. When I consulted the Internet, most recommendations I found were to use less. One even suggested 2 beans for a whole pint. At any rate, the cost of this isn’t prohibitive, and the finished oil will probably be strong enough to be cut with unscented oil later on, which will further extend its usefulness. I can’t wait to see what this will smell like!