There are some botanicals that hold their fragrance for years but was surprised to discover that properly stored vanilla pods can retain their flavour and fragrance for fifty years and like red wine, improve with age. Store in an airtight container away from heat and light in a cool place and you will always have pods on hand.
Or you can use them.
Tinctures are one way to capture active principles of plants and that's what we do when we make vanilla essence. The shaking replaces the usual sucussing of the tincture.
Here's two recipes - one with and one without alcohol.
Brandy, vodka or spirit of choice
Chop your pods into 1cm lengths and place in a screw top jar.
Cover with brandy or vodka.
Leave to steep at least a month, longer if you can wait that long, shaking daily.
The liquid should be dark brown and fragrant
Strain through a coffee filter if you wish a clear liquid or leave the seeds as they are.
Alcohol Free Vanilla Essence
Distilled water (optional)
The method is the same as above, simply cover the pods with glycerin or 50/50 blend of glycerin and water and use as you would any other vanilla essence. at suitable for vegetarians unless it is labelled as vegetable glycerin.
You can also split and scrape out the seeds either before or after infusing them and add to the essence.
Scraped pods can be added to sweet dishes or preserves and removed before serving, they also contain lots of flavour. Try adding to hot milk used for making chocolate for an Aztec experience!
Vanilla essence made with alcohol can be used in essential oils perfumes as it blends well with all woody, resinous and oriental scents.
It has no known pharmaceutical use apart from as a flavouring for medicines. A rumor started in the 17th century that it could cure impotence probably came about as it it known to be difficult to fertilise!