It’s unfortunate that modern usage of the bean of the vanilla orchid (Vanilla planifolia) has become synonymous with “unflavored.” The rich flavor and marvelous scent of vanilla makes it worthy of much more. The plant comes from Central America, and the people of that region understand.
A legend says that Xanath, a beautiful goddess, fell in love with a mortal warrior when visiting Earth. She was forbidden to marry so far beneath her station and so transformed herself into a vine bearing beautiful flowers and a sweet-scented bean.
Native Mexicans add vanilla to chocolate drinks to increase its aphrodisiacal potency, a practice I heartily recommend. Montezuma found it a winning combination as well. The Spanish brought it back to Europe (along with many other aphrodisiacs such as chocolate and gold) and it became popular throughout the continent. Renaissance France and even England enjoyed its flavor, scent and effects from the time of Elizabeth I onward. Louis XV of France had a mistress, the Comtesse du Barry, who in turn had many lovers. She kept them primed for herself with vanilla beans.
A study conducted in Germany in 1762 by Bezaar Zimmermann reported a 100% success rate in curing its 342 test subjects of impotence.
Some have said that vanilla is an aphrodisiac due to its scent. Indeed, vanilla as a component of perfumes is regaining popularity even now, and medical studies show that it does in fact stir a sex organ’s blood flow. Others contend that the plant may cause urethral irritation that causes an urge for sex, making it a far safer and milder version of Spanish fly. This hypothesis is based on the fact that harvesters of vanilla pods are prone to skin irritations.
Scent, flavor, or medicine, it seems to have it all.
Lest you get carried away with vanilla possibilities, I should mention that an excess of vanilla can be toxic. More than 2 beans consumed at a given time is definitely dangerous. On the other hand, that’s a lot of vanilla.