Amla or Indian gooseberry derives its name from the Sanskrit word, ‘Amalaki’ which means the nectar of life. In Ayurveda, it also connotes to a whole lot of other meanings like a - mother, nurse, immortality and the taste of something sour. According to Ayurveda, the Amla fruit has qualities or gunas like light or ‘laghu’ and dry or ‘ruksha’ etc. The post-digestive effect is ‘vipaka’, and its energy or ‘virya’ has calming effects that are full of ‘shita.’
A fruit of a deciduous tree of the Phyllanthaceae family, the scientific name of Amla is Phyllanthus emblica.
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Amla is known by names like emblic, emblic myrobalan, myrobalan and Malacca tree. Other Indian names of Amla are -Dhatri, Amlaka, Adiphala (Sanskrit), Nelli (Malayalam), Amalakkamu, Usirikai (Telugu), Nelli, Malanelli (Tamil), Amla, Amlaki (Bengali), Amla, Amlika, Aonla (Hindi), Amalak, Bettadanelli (Kannada) and Amali or Ambala (Gujarathi).
Lucent green in appearance, the fruit is eight times richer in vitamin C than fruits like orange and is known to have unparalleled medicinal properties. The tree grows to a small or medium height of about 1–8 metres. It grows in branchlets which are not glabrous or finely pubescent and are about10–20 cm in length. They have simple, light green leaves, which are closely placed all along the branchlets. Flowers of Indian gooseberry are greenish-yellow in colour, and the fruit is almost round, very smooth and solid in appearance. It also has six vertical stripes.
Amla is rich in pectin and vitamin and boasts of tremendous antioxidant qualities which are twice the potential of acai berry and nearly 17 times that of pomegranate. This everyday fruit is, in essence, a super-food and is used in the treatment of a plethora of conditions like a common cold, cancer or infertility. It can be eaten raw or made into, churna, candy, pickles or supplements. According to Ayurvedic practitioners, Amla helps in stabilising the three doshas (Kapha, vata and pitta) and expunges the deep-rooted causes of several chronic diseases.
Amla is also an important element in Ayurveda as is rich in vitamin C, calcium, iron, phosphorous, carotene, vitamin B, protein and fibre. The berry has medicinal value like that of antiscorbutic, diuretic, laxative, antibiotic and anti-dysenteric properties. Ayurveda experts highly advocate taking one Amla every day for increasing immunity, stimulating metabolism and longevity. The five distinct tastes of Amla (sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent) have earned it the title - ‘divyaushadhi’ or a divine medicine which facilitates the functions of body and mind.
Amla grows all over India and each tree lives and bears fruits for nearly seventy years. The land under Amla cultivation in the country has grown exponentially and has gone up from 3,000 hectares in the 1980’s to more than one lakh hectares in 2005. The highest Amla producing state in India is Uttar Pradesh, followed by Gujarat. It is also cultivated in Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Outside India it is grown in the Middle East, and in some other countries like Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, South East Asia, China and Malaysia.
The berry is a critical ingredient of the household Indian herbal tonics like Chyawanprash, Triphala churna, Brahma Rasayana and the Madhumega churna. One Amla fruit has more vitamin C than 16 bananas or three oranges and is known for its valuable oil. This oil is extensively used in hair care and in curing scalp related issues.
The subtropical plant of Amla prefers a dry climate and being hardy, it can also grow on wasteland and in various other soil conditions. It also has tolerance for salinity and alkalinity. A fully grown Amla tree can tolerate freezing as well as a high temperature of about 46OC. Seedlings, grafts or buddings of the tree are planted during the months of July to August. Different varieties of Amla are available, which include - banarasi, NA-4 (Krishna), Chakaiya, Francis, NA-5 (Kanchan), NA-6, NA-7, NA-10, and BSR-1 (Bhavanisagar), bansi red, pink-tinged, desi, chakaiya, and hathi jhool.
Amla is a fruit of antiquity in India and traditional Indian medicine of Ayurveda has used dried and fresh fruits of the tree since a time unknown. Sushruta, the father of ancient Indian medicine, has written about the rejuvenating health benefits of Amla during his lifetime, circa 1500-3000 BC.
Every part of the Amla tree is considered of immense value in Ayurveda, the Indian indigenous system of medicine, which makes pills or herbal preparations from fruit, seeds, flowers, leaves, barks and roots.Traditionally Amla is known as a storehouse of antioxidants and numerous early medical practices recognise its preventive actions against a host of diseases.
Since ages the fruit has also found its place in Indian cooking and has been used by Ayurvedic experts as a cure against imbalanced Pitta. According to the available Sanskrit Buddhist traditional texts, the great Indian emperor Ashoka gave half an Amla to the Buddhist Sangha as his final gift. Verses from Ashokavadana describes this fact thus, “A great donor, the lord of men, the eminent Maurya Ashoka, has gone from being lord of Jambudvipa [the continent] to be lord of half a myrobalan.”
Theravada Buddhism says it was under an Amla tree that twenty first Buddha named Phussa Buddha, attained his enlightenment, or Bodhi. Additionally, this berry also holds immense religious importance in Hinduism, and is particularly needed in the rituals held in the month of Kartik, i.e. between October and November.
Some states of India, have a tradition of offering the fruit as a Naivedya (religious offering) to Lord Shiva and then consume it to stay safe from different respiratory infections, common colds, flu and other health issues caused by vata, kapha and pitta imbalance.The tree is highly venerated in many other Hindu religious contexts. One such example of it is its sacredness to the goddess Lakshimi. Hindus often offer the fruit to the goddess while worshipping her.
Also, according to Hindu mythology, Brahma was once deeply engrossed in invoking Lord Vishnu and tears rolled down his eyes. As the tears touched the ground, an Amla tree was born.
Another story of Amla’s origin is that once, after the ksheera sagar manthan, there ensued a terrible fight between the gods and demons. As a result, some drops of ksheera or Amrit got inadvertently spilled on earth. The drops are popularly believed to have created the fruit of Amla.
Apart from its religious significance in numerous Hindu rites and ceremonies, Amla has connections to World War II as well. During the war candies, powder, and tablets made of dried Amla were distributed among the Indian soldiers as vitamin C supplements.
Additionally, Ayurvedic texts, Indian myths and Sanskrit scriptures are replete with the reference of this fruit. The celebrated Tamil poet, Avvayar, maintains that a heavenly Amla was offered to Prince Adhiyaman for the advancement of his long life, so that the prince could continue with his good and kind deeds which greatly helped his subjects.
Composition of Amla varies according to the different varieties of the fruit and its geography. However, the average compositions of Amla fruits are Protein - 0.5 %, Ca - 0.05 %, K-0.02%, Fe - 1.2 mg/100g, Moisture - 81.2 %, Fat - 0.1%, Nicotinic acid - 0.2 mg/g, Carbohydrates - 14.1 %, Mineral matter - 0.7 % and Fibre - 3.4%.
Some other components are, phyllemblin, phyllemblin acid, putranjiva A, emblicol, quercetin, hydroxymethyl furfural, ellagic acid, gallic acid, pectin 10-11, hydrolysable tannins called emblicanin A and B, puni gluconate and pedunculagin.
Amla is known for its low calories and for being packed with numerous phenolic phytochemicals like flavonoids, anthocyanins and for being a powerful source of vitamin C and A. According to research, the vitamin C content in Amla is 430 grams. A distinct type of oil, some amount of essential oil and phosphatides are present in the seed of the Amla fruit. The seed oil is also packed with unsaturated fatty acids like linoleic acid and oleic acid. The leaves contain acids like gallic, ellagic, chebulic, chebulagic, chebulinic and malic acid, and also contain alkaloids, phyllatidine and phyllantine.
The bark of the Amla tree contains Leuco Delphinidin, tannin and proanthocyanidin. These compounds provide numerous healing benefits including the delaying of the aging process, fighting inflammation and boosting memory.
The nutrition value of per 100 grams of Amla (as per USDA) is Energy 44 Kcal, Carbohydrates 10.18 g, Protein 0.88 g, Total Fat 0.58 g, Dietary Fibre 4.3 g, Folates 6 mcg, Niacin 0.300 mg, Pantothenic acid 0.286 mg, Pyridoxine 0.080 mg, Riboflavin 0.030 mg, Thiamine 0.040 mg, Vitamin A 290 IU, Vitamin C 27.7 mg, Minerals, Potassium 198 mg,Calcium 25 mg, Copper 0.070 mg, Iron 0.31 mg, Magnesium 10 mg, Manganese 0.144 mg, Phosphorus 27 mg and Zinc 0.12 mg.
Amla is recommended by Ayurvedic doctors as a regular dietary supplement. Most people use Amla daily, for their health benefits. Amla products like dried, fresh, or frozen Amla, Amla powders and juices are available at health stores, natural pharmacies, grocery stores and also online.
However, making Amla supplements at home makes them more potent and effective while also making it possible to customise the product according to individual choices. Homemade edible Amla products include Amla chutney, murabba, candy, dried amla, pickle, juice or Amla added in dal (lentil soup). Besides, Amla oil can also be made at home by soaking dried amla fruits in coconut, or sesame oil for some days.
Just like an apple a day, one Amla a day is also highly effective in maintaining health. One Alma is equal to 10 to 20 ml of its juice or four grams of Amla powder. However, the safe dosage of Amla varies according to age. Adults consuming 10-15 ml of Amla juice anytime of the day is considered safe while for children in the age group of 2-10 years, 3-10 ml Amla juice is safe and can be consumed anytime of the day. For children below 2 years of age 1-3 ml is considered safe when consumed after meals.
Though Amla is apparently safe, it can cause side effects when taken in larger quantities. Besides, those having some kind of medical conditions must take advice from their doctors before taking Amla in any form. It is also advised to get the dosage prescribed by a doctor or an Ayurveda practitioner.
Amla juice, widely known as tridoshic for its ability to clear Vata, Pitta and Kapha doshas in the body, is used for detoxifying the body and works best when taken early in the morning, on an empty stomach. The juice instantly energises one’s body and can be stored safely in the fridge for a couple of days.
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Immunity: As a storehouse of vitamin C Amla acts as an amazing immune booster. The other components of Amla like vitamin A, polyphenols, alkaloids and flavonoids, quercetin and Kaempferol also help in building immunity. Besides, Amla also increases the quantity of white blood cells, which help the body to fight against diseases, allergies and infections helping the body to purge away toxins. Eating Amla everyday defends the body against harmful bacteria and swelling.
Diabetes: Amla is greatly beneficial for diabetics, as it prevents pancreatitis and also controls blood sugar. Vitamin C is a potential antioxidant and hence annuls the impacts of oxidative stress, which causes diabetes. Amla fruit, juice, candy or dried Amla powder mixed with water can reduce sugar levels.
Hypertension: Amla helps in reducing blood pressure and also in decreasing the harmful impacts of cardiovascular disorders. The high content of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals like potassium in Amla makes it a highly useful diet for patients with high blood pressure. Potassium helps dilate the blood vessels which lowers the blood pressure and addresses the signs of hypertension. Amla juice mixed with one tablespoon of honey can lower blood pressure naturally and can control systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
Sore throat and cold: Amla, a rich source of Vitamin C, helps in curing a sore throat and a common cold. A mixture of two teaspoons of Amla powder along with two teaspoons of honey is a great fix for both these conditions. The mixture has to be taken three to four times a day for the best results.
PCOS: As the fruit is capable of purging toxins, regulating the menstrual cycle and balancing hormones, it is believed to improve fertility in women. It can also manage the negative effects of PCOS like obesity and unwanted hair growth.
Liver function: Juice made from the fruit has great quantities of phytochemicals like quercetin, gallic acid, corilagin and ellagic acids. These constituents help the body in detoxification and also in fighting free radicals. It also enhances the liver function, improves vitality and supplies the body with energy.
Insulin: Amla is rich in Chromium, the mineral helps in moderating carbohydrate metabolism and beta cells for insulin production. Taking Amla every day repairs the pancreatic tissues while protecting the insulin-producing cells from damage. Raw Amla is also eaten in the morning on a daily basis, in order to make the body more receptive to insulin.
Gut Health: Being rich in fibre Amla helps in bowel movements and cures IBS and constipation, enhances digestive juice secretions and also helps in better assimilation of nutrients. It is often recommended to start the day’s meal with an Amla dish in order to detoxify and purge body wastes.
Weight Loss: By promoting metabolic activities, Amla can check fat formation in undesired parts of the body and also help in draining out toxins. Obesity is primarily caused by slow metabolism, fat accumulation and toxin build-up and Amla helps in controlling all these conditions.
Hair: Amla juice is highly useful in promoting hair growth. Taking the juice every day gives immunity, makes hair follicles strong and adds volume to hair. It also helps in getting rid of dandruff. Amla oil is indispensable in all herbal hair care products. Amla hair oil is immensely helpful in preventing hair fall because of the constituent carotene, iron and antioxidants. Amla oil penetrates the roots of hair easily and stimulates the follicles for hair growth. Ayurveda also says that untimely greying is a disorder caused by too much pitta and Amla being a natural cooling agent checks Pitta and in turn, the greying process. One can add Amla powder to henna and apply it as a hair pack or consume Amla juice, powder or candy to stop early greying.
Skin: As a natural blood purifier Amla as a fruit or juice can lead to a glowing skin. Those who have acne, blemishes, pimples or freckles can use Amla based face packs to get back good skin. The fruit is also capable of boosting collagen and in maintaining youthful skin.
Nutrition: Other than Vitamin C, the fruit is also rich in iron, calcium, phosphorus, therefore it can be used as a wholesome nutritional drink.
Blood cholesterol: Amla juice helps in lowering cholesterol levels and the amino acids and antioxidants promote overall functioning of the heart.
Asthma: Amla is also useful in controlling respiratory ailments like asthma.
Arthritis: Amla is an anti-inflammatory plant and plays a role in addressing arthritis-related pain. A dose of three times a day, consumed for 24 weeks is effective as the glucosamine sulphate helps in lowering pain in people with knee osteoarthritis.
Heartburn: Taking Amla fruit extracts for four weeks can lower heartburn frequencies as well as their severity.
Some other benefits of Amla include the controlling of bloody diarrhoea or dysentery, managing eye problems, checking the hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), alleviating swelling of the pancreas, treatment of mouth ulcers and the improvement of the eyesight and various other cognitive functions.
Some popular Amla formulations available are Triphala (a combination of fruits like amalaki, bibhitaki and haritaki), Chyawanprash (a blend of various ingredients including Amla, ghee, sesame oil and honey), Ashokarishta (a mixture of Amla, with dhataki, musta, haritaki, jeera, jaggery, mango seeds together with the decoction made from Ashoka tree) and Kanchanar Guggulu (a formulation made from amalaki with the bark of Kachnar tree, ginger, black pepper, long pepper, haritaki, bibhitaki, cardamom, cinnamon).
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As a food Amla is mostly safe. However, when taken in large quantities it can cause side effects. Some common threats associated with Amla are that Amla can increase risk of bleeding or bruising, hence those having bleeding disorders must use it with caution.
Safety of eating Amla by pregnant women and lactating mothers is still not very clear. It is better to stay away from the fruit during these periods.
Amla can reduce blood sugar levels; hence diabetes medications need to be tweaked by healthcare providers if the patient is known to consume an Amla supplement.
Amla, taken with ginger, Boswellia and Tinospora cordifolia, can damage liver function in people afflicted with liver diseases.
Amla can raise the possibilities of bleeding during and after surgery. It is better to stop taking the fruit at least two weeks before undergoing a surgical procedure.
If consumed in excess, Amla juice can increase liver enzymes called serum glutamic, pyruvic transaminase or SGPT. Once in excess, these enzymes can disrupt the digestive pattern of an individual. Excess intake of the juice can also cause hypoglycemia that is harmful for both normal people and diabetic patients. Being extremely rich in vitamin C, the excess of Amla might lead to digestive disorders and many believe that too much vitamin C can cause diarrhoea and queasiness.
Too much consumption of vitamin C through Amla can also cause acid reflux and other gastrointestinal issues, especially in those pre-afflicted with similar conditions.
Amla being a diuretic in nature, its juice, if taken in large quantities, can further lead to dehydration.
It is better not to take Amla juice along with alcohol, because of the fact that they are different kinds of drinks, they can lead to some uneasiness. However serious side effects are generally not a possibility.
Fibre which when taken in right amounts can actually cure constipation, when taken in excess might be the cause of constipation. Alma being highly rich in fibre might also lead to Constipation, if taken in excess amounts. Besides, too much fibre might create negative impacts on one’s colonic transit. Amla might get fermented very fast in the colon, resulting in a rush of microbial activity which in turn can cause abdominal cramps and bloating.
Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana says Amla which means, ‘nurse’ in Sanskrit is an ingredient or pathya that can be consumed every day. Amla is a regular dietary supplement according to today’s doctors as well, who advise the consumption of one Amla every day, for its numerous health benefits.
However, the time period taken for Amla in treating definite disorders can vary from one medical condition to another and also from one individual to another. The user’s body weight and type, food habits and lifestyle choices are also factors on which the impact of the drug will depend. Time taken by Amla along with its dosage will also vary according to age.
In general doctors and other healthcare experts recommend the intake of Amla for a period of three months at a stretch in order to get best results. In fact, to see the results of consuming or eating Amla for treating any kind of health condition, one has to consume Alma, or its products for at least a period of two to three months.
In case of haircare, applying Amla oil and shampoo along with fresh cut onions for about three to four months yields good results.
In case of dental problems, the roots of the plant are grinded and consumed twice a day for one just a day after meals, to cure a toothache.
Another option is, making a juice from the leaf extracts, and putting a few drops of it in the ear to find relief. One can also grind the node of the Amla tree, mix it with water and stir the mixture energetically. Once done, the solution is filtered through a cloth or is finely sieved and a few drops are put in the opposite ear. This therapy has to be continued for three days.