Vanilla, cocoa, coconut, orange peel, ginger & nutmeg…

One day, late last summer, the most wondrous and magical thing occurred here on the farm.  A bag full of the freshest, blackest, most aromatic, shiny, moist and pliable, certified organic vanilla beans I’d ever had the pleasure of sharing a space with arrived at my door.…I was in heaven!  A big burst of inspiration for working with vanilla beans ensued and I wound up using them in lots of creative ways and really loving the results.

Infused oil of vanilla is amazing! I love the warm, sensual fragrance and the silky, luxurious feel of the oil on my skin. Combined with roses, it moves into out of this world proportions! With a splash of essential oil of sandalwood, oh my.

When the Roses were in bloom, I combined a basket full of the fragrant blossoms with some of those luscious vanilla beans and made a rose & vanilla elixir with brandy and pure, unheated honey. This heady burst of rose and vanilla goodness has become one of my daily gut soothing, heart warming, soul nourishing daily staples.

One early fall, blue sky afternoon, while creating in the herb kitchen, I discovered to my great joy that vanilla, rose, Baltic amber and aloe vera emulsified into the most exquisite face cream ever!  Lush, re-hydrating  some might say restorative, and literally melts into the skin leaving behind nothing but a rosy glow.   The cream was so fabulous I thought I’d give a simple body butter a try.  Rose and vanilla infused oils and cocoa butter whipped together to perfection…I’m applying it to elbows and heels and anywhere else on my body that needs a bit of softening, moisturizing, emollient action.

Finally, as cool fall weather descended  I decided to create a delicious beverage that would be thick and substantial, warming and stimulating, the perfect cup of something to warm the body on a cold fall or winter day.  I added a hand full of slivered vanilla beans to some cocoa and coconut, blended in some orange peel and aromatic spices and created my new favorite late afternoon tea blend, Tropical Fiesta.   It tastes all warm and smooth – like there’s this laid back party in your mouth.  After a cup or two I feel all cozy, content and mildly affectionate   Tropical Fiesta is more than an unforgettable flavor and a love enhancing drink – it’s also nourishing in the best of ways!

I’ll share my recipe for Tropical Fiesta with you at the end of this post.  First I’d like to share a brief profile of vanilla and the other herbs in this warming and stimulating blend.  I think you’ll find, as I have, that these tropical, but commonly available, spices support our over all physical health, our sexuality, spirituality and vitality.

Vanilla, Vanilla planifolia, is a native American plant and was introduced to the rest of the world only after European contact with South America.  It was traditionally combined with cocoa and was highly valued as a spice and as an aphrodisiac throughout the ancient Americas.  Today vanilla is used homeopathically as an aphrodisiac and to treat impotence.  It lends an exceedingly pleasant, smooth, somewhat sweet and warm flavor to many foods and beverages.

In its early years, tlilxochitl, as vanilla beans were called by the Aztecs, were harvested, fermented, and then dried.  The dried beans were then crushed and combined with the powder of cocoa seeds, or chocolate.  This made the basis for a much loved drink made for only the most special occasions.

The Spaniards took vanilla and chocolate back to Spain where they spread throughout Europe and beyond.  Can you imagine experiencing chocolate and vanilla for the first time?  I’m envisioning lots of happy faces, broad smiles, big hugs and kisses!

Vanilla is actually a very sexy plant.  The word vanilla comes from the Spanish “vainilla” which is a diminutive of the Latin vagina, and refers to the shape and form of the seed-capsule.  Vanilla is a lush vine that can grow as long as 100 feet.  When fruiting, clusters of long vanilla beans that look just like green beans, hang from the plants.  Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, a highly complex group of plants with equally complicated, and highly specialized, sex lives.  The orchid family, Orchidaceae, is named for the Greek word orchus, for scrotum, which the orchid bulb resembles.  See what I mean?

The exquisite and singular aroma of vanilla comes from the seed pod and develops gradually as the pods dry, which is an elaborate process of fermentation and drying that takes several months.  As a fermented foodstuff, vanilla beans provide natural probiotics and an enhanced vitamin and mineral content, help balance gut flora and specifically nourish the heart and brain.

Vanilla is an aromatic spice that also offers benefits to the nervous system.  It has a history of use as a sedative, calming anxiety and relieving tension.  The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York reports that some claustrophobic patients’ symptoms are alleviated when they are exposed to the aroma of vanilla.

Its aromatic qualities benefit the digestive system as well.  Vanilla is warming and soothing to the digestive tract while having a mildly stimulating effect on the digestive process.  It has been used to heal ulcers.

Names for vanilla: Italian-vaniglia; French-vanilla; German-Vanille; Spanish-vainilla; Swedish-vanilj.

Cocoa tree, Theobroma cacao  Throughout the ancient Americas, chocolate was considered a food of the gods and was offered to them in ceremony.  As a sacred foodstuff, chocolate was also popularly used among ancient American peoples as an aphrodisiac, usually combined with honey and vanilla.  This custom of integrating the gift of chocolate into sacred ceremony is still very much alive today.

Cocoa beans contain phenylethylamine (PEA), thought to cause its aphrodisiac effects, and theobromine and caffeine, both of which stimulate the central nervous system.  PEA has been referred to as the “molecule of love” by sexual medicine specialist Theresa Crenshaw, M.D., who says that PEA is also a natural stimulant and antidepressant.  According to Dr. Crenshaw, both love and lust increase blood levels of PEA.  Heartbreak causes PEA levels to take a nose dive.

Cocoa butter contains compounds related to aminophylline, a substance known to treat erection impairment.  Aminophylline works to restore erections by opening the blood vessels in the penis to allow more blood flow.  In one study, 36 men with impotence applied a cocoa butter cream to the penis daily.  Almost two-thirds of the men reported complete restoration of erections and satisfactory intercourse after using the cream.  More blood flow means stronger orgasms for the female also, so massaging cocoa butter around the vagina and labia regularly will not only keep these tissues plump, moist, and flexible, but may also increase orgasmic potential.

And, it appears cocoa powder is a protective antioxidant food,  According to Professor Joseph Vinson, of the University of Scranton, his research showed that cocoa powder is loaded with polyphenols and concentrated procyanidins, potent antioxidants with a long history of clinical study.  Recent scientific studies have shown that cacao boosts blood flow to the heart, brain and other organs and has a wide array of protective effects against heart disease. Cocoa is bitter, so it naturally helps to stimulate digestive juices as well.

Coconut Cocos nucifera There’s no need to tell vanilla, but I’ve also been having a love affair with coconut this last year or so!  With its awesome juicy fat fullness, its fabulous coconut flavor and its even energy boost, what’s not to love?

Coconut is heart protective and regular consumption supports healthy heart function.   It improves digestion and eases inflammatory conditions of the digestive tract.  Coconut has the effect of supporting and enhancing the absorption of other nutrients including those all important vitamins and minerals.

Consuming coconut offers a good sustained energy boost to the body.  It is used to produce energy immediately, so supports improved endurance and enhances physical and athletic performance.  Another thing I appreciate about coconut is that regular use appears to promote healthy thyroid function.

Nutmeg Myristica fragrans   Since ancient times nutmeg has been well respected as a stimulating brain tonic and its ability to improve clarity, focus and concentration.  Additionally, nutmeg is an effective sedative and pain reliever as well as a reliable soother of digestive woes.  I remember my mother offering me a warm cup of milk with a bit of honey and some nutmeg sprinkled on top of it as a drink before going to sleep.  Evidently this is a traditional sleep procuring drink throughout many parts of the world.  Nutmeg is calming and relaxing to the entire nervous system and helps you fall soundly asleep if consumed before bed.

Ginger Zingiber officinale is a hot, some may say pungent, biting spice and possesses legendary medicinal and aphrodisiac properties.  It is antibacterial, antiviral, anti-inflammatory, antifungal, analgesic, antitussive, a circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, hypotensive, antiemetic, antispasmodic, carminative, antiarthritic, and an anti-clotting agent.  Whew!

Historically, ginger has been added to food and beverages because it possesses strong antibacterial activity against food-borne pathogens, especially Shigella dysenteriae, Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp.  It is also active against Malaria, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Candida albicans, Klebsiella pneumoniae and Streptococcus spp.

Ginger has a wide range of beneficial actions in the human body, and is especially warming, carminative and tonic to the entire digestive tract.  Antispasmodic ginger is an effective remedy against nausea, prevents morning sickness and relieves motion sickness.

Ginger is an excellent heart and circulatory system tonic, is energizing, and makes a very fine winter time remedy against colds, flu, and bronchial problems.  In fact, one survey revealed that ginger and honey are the most common and effective home remedies for cough relief.

Ayurvedic tradition teaches that ginger stimulates agni, the divine and creative energy of the body, strengthens the circulation and helps rid the intestinal tract of toxins.  Islamic people consider ginger to be among their most sacred herbs, and the Koran says that ginger will promote digestion and “strengthen sexual activity.”  Ginger’s warming and stimulating action extends to the reproductive organs and it is used as an aphrodisiac in almost every place it grows.  An old Italian rule for a happy life in our old age is: eat ginger, and you will love and be loved as in your youth!

Ginger also helps relieve pain. Researchers found that arthritis patients report pain relief after using ginger. A warm cup of ginger tea will bring on menstruation and ease cramps and uterine discomfort.  One interesting study I found regarding ginger reported that out of 113 women treated for breech position of pregnancy between the 28th and 38th week with topical application of ginger paste over the uterus, 77% were corrected, as opposed to 52% correction out of 238 untreated women.

Names for ginger: French-gingembre; German-Ingwer; Italian-zenzero; Spanish-jengibre; Swedish-ingefara.

Orange peelCitrus spp.  Vitamin and antioxidant rich, orange peel is an excellent tonic for digestion and well as for the respiratory system.

The pectin in orange peel acts as a prebiotic and encourages the growth of beneficial probiotic bacteria in the intestines.  A little citrus peel in one’s daily diet can go a long way toward grounding good digestive system health and easing digestive disorders. Orange peel has traditionally been used to ease stomach aches, bloating and the associated discomfort, intestinal spasms, indigestion, heartburn, constipation and diarrhea.   It also has a history of use as an anti-spasmodic and acts beneficially on the respiratory system as well.  .

Traditional Chinese herbal medicine uses several citrus peels for specific health support, including those of mandarin orange (Citrus reticulata ‘Blanco’) and bitter orange (C. aurantium).

Mature mandarin orange peel, known as chen pi or ju pi in Chinese medicine, is used to improve digestion, relieve intestinal gas and bloating, and resolve coughs with copious phlegm. This peel acts primarily on the digestive and respiratory systems. Immature mandarin orange peel, known as qing pi in Chinese medicine, acts primarily on the liver and stomach.  It promotes good digestion, relieves food retention and abdominal distension, and promotes good liver function.

Common sweet orange (C. sinensis) peel has many of the same constituents as the mandarin orange peel and can be used in all the same ways.

The medicinal action of orange peel is due in part to d-limonene which has antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also acts as a solvent for cholesterol, which has led some physicians to use it to dissolve cholesterol-containing gallstones. D-limonene neutralizes gastric acid and supports normal peristalsis, making it useful for relief of heartburn and to ease gastroesophageal reflux, providing a barrier to protect against acid erosion.

Here’s the recipe for Tropical Fiesta – get yourself some nice fresh aromatic vanilla beans and shred into tiny bits.  I used a vitamix and it worked great.  Combine the vanilla bits with cocoa powder and/or nibs.  Throw in some shredded coconut and some orange peel until it looks and smells fantastic. I sprinkle in a generous helping of some warming aromatics such as ginger and nutmeg and top it all off when it’s in the pot with one whole dry red pepper.  I add a bit of  honey to the cup and sometimes make it in half water/half milk.  It makes a phenomenally delicious, warming and relaxing beverage for cold weather!

If you don’t have the ingredients on hand or the time to mix it up yourself, you can get Tropical Fiesta from Blessed Maine Herb Farm already blended to perfection and packaged in a beautifully labeled cylindrical tin.


About gailfaithedwards

Gail Faith Edwards is an internationally recognized Community Herbalist with over thirty years experience. She is the author of a number of books about herbs and has taught in India, Italy, Poland and Russia, at the Yale School of Nursing, the University of Maine and the College of the Atlantic, among others. She is the founder of Blessed Maine Herb Farm and Director of the Blessed Maine Herb Farm School of Herbal Medicine. She is the mother of four grown children and the grandmother of four grandsons. Gail leads sacred journeys and ancestral pilgrimages to Southern Italia twice a year.
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4 Responses to Vanilla, cocoa, coconut, orange peel, ginger & nutmeg…

  1. Pat says:

    Thank you for sharing that tea recipe. I am going to make some soon. I sounds delicious!

  2. Diane K. says:

    Wow Gail Thank you for all that information! I have your tea – now I need the time to sit and simply savor it. But I am longing for that body cream you describe – do you have any?? I do so love my baltic amber necklace and braclet I picked out on that rainy day in Skowhegan. So blessed by your presence in the world but especially so near in Maine. Diane

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