Phyllanthus emblica, also known as emblic, emblic myrobalan, myrobalan,Indian gooseberry, Malacca tree, or amla from Sanskrit amalika, is a deciduous tree of the family Phyllanthaceae. It is known for its edible fruit of the same name.
Plant morphology and harvesting
The tree is small to medium in size, reaching 8 to 18 m in height, with a crooked trunk and spreading branches. The branchlets are glabrous or finely pubescent, 10–20 cm long, usually deciduous; the leaves are simple, subsessile and closely set along branchlets, light green, resembling pinnate leaves. The flowers are greenish-yellow. The fruit is nearly spherical, light greenish yellow, quite smooth and hard on appearance, with six vertical stripes or furrows.
Ripening in autumn, the berries are harvested by hand after climbing to upper branches bearing the fruits. The taste of Indian gooseberry is sour, bitter and astringent, and it is quite fibrous. In India, it is common to eat gooseberries steeped in salt water and turmeric to make the sour fruits palatable.
Indian gooseberry has undergone preliminary research, demonstrating in vitro antiviral and antimicrobial properties. There is preliminary evidence in vitro that its extracts induce apoptosis and modify gene expression in osteoclasts involved in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. It may prove to have potential activity against some cancers. One recent animal study found treatment with E. ofﬁcinalis reduced severity of acute pancreatitis (induced by L-arginine in rats). It also promoted the spontaneous repair and regeneration process of the pancreas occurring after an acute attack.
Experimental preparations of leaves, bark or fruit have shown potential efficacy against laboratory models of disease, such as for inflammation, cancer, age-related renal disease, and diabetes.
A human pilot study demonstrated a reduction of blood cholesterol levels in both normal and hypercholesterolemic men with treatment. Another recent study with alloxan-induced diabetic rats given an aqueous amla fruit extract has shown significant decrease of the blood glucose, as well as triglyceridemic levels and an improvement of the liver function caused by a normalization of the liver-specific enzyme alanine transaminase activity.
Although these fruits are reputed to contain high amounts of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), 445 mg/100g, the specific contents are disputed, and the overall antioxidant strength of amla may derive instead from its high density of ellagitannins such as emblicanin A (37%), emblicanin B (33%), punigluconin (12%) and pedunculagin (14%). It also contains punicafolin and phyllanemblinin A, phyllanemblin other polyphenols: flavonoids, kaempferol, ellagic acid and gallic acid.
Cultural and religious significance
The tree is considered sacred by Hindus as the Vishnu is believed to dwell here. The tree is worshipped on Amalaka Ekadashi.
In other Hindu myths, Amla is said to have originated from the drops of Amrit which spilled on earth accidentally, due to the fight of Gods and Demons after ksheera sagar manthan. And hence also this religious belief makes claims that it almost cures every disease and is also good in extending the longevity of life.
In the Sanskrit Buddhist tradition half an amalaka fruit was the final gift to the Buddhist sangha by the great Indian emperor Ashoka. This is illustrated in the Ashokavadana in the following verses:
“A great donor, the lord of men, the eminent Maurya Ashoka, has gone from being lord of Jambudvipa [India] to being lord of half a myrobalan.” (Strong, 1983, p. 99) This deed became so famous that a stupa was created to mark the place of the event in modern day Patna and was known as the Amalaka stupa.
According to Hindu tradition, Adi Shankara of Kerala composed and recited the Kanakadhara stotram in praise of Mahalakshmi to make a poor Brahmin lady get wealth, in return for a single amla presented to her as bhiksha on an auspicious dwadashi day. Contemporary poet/philosopher Ravi Teja Yelamanchili wrote a book titled Amalaki. The book is based on Advaita Vedanta of Sri Adi Shankaracharya.
According to a Tamil legend, Avvaiyar, a female poet, ethicist and political activist of the Sangam period was gifted with one amla by King Athiyaman to give her long life.
In Theravada Buddhism, this plant is said to have used as the tree for achieved enlightenment, or Bodhi by twenty first Lord Buddha called “Pussa “.
Traditional uses of amlaki
In traditional Indian medicine, dried and fresh fruits of the plant are used. All parts of the plant are used in various Ayurvedic/Unani medicine (Jawarish amla) herbal preparations, including the fruit, seed, leaves, root, bark and flowers. According to Ayurveda, amla fruit is sour (amla) and astringent (kashaya) in taste (rasa), with sweet (madhura), bitter (tikta) and pungent (katu) secondary tastes (anurasas). Its qualities (gunas) are light (laghu) and dry (ruksha), the postdigestive effect (vipaka) is sweet (madhura) and its energy (virya) is cooling (shita).
According to Ayurveda, amla balances all three doshas. While amla is unusual in that it contains five out of the six tastes recognized by Ayurveda, it is most important to recognize the effects of the “virya”, or potency, and “vipaka”, or post-digestive effect. Considered in this light, amla is particularly helpful in reducing pitta due to its cooling energy. It also balances both Pitta and vata by virtue of its sweet taste. The kapha is balanced primarily due to its drying action. It may be used as a rasayana (rejuvenative) to promote longevity, and traditionally to enhance digestion (dipanapachana), treat constipation (anuloma), reduce fever (jvaraghna), purify the blood (raktaprasadana), reduce cough (kasahara), alleviate asthma (svasahara), strengthen the heart (hrdaya), benefit the eyes (chakshushya), stimulate hair growth (romasanjana), enliven the body (jivaniya), and enhance intellect (medhya).
In Ayurvedic polyherbal formulations, Indian gooseberry is a common constituent, and most notably is the primary ingredient in an ancient herbal rasayana called Chyawanprash. This formula, which contains 43 herbal ingredients as well as clarified butter, sesame oil, sugar cane juice, and honey, was first mentioned in the Charaka Samhita as a premier rejuvenative compound.
In Chinese traditional therapy, this fruit is called yuganzi , which is used to treat throat inflammation.
Emblica officinalis tea may ameliorate diabetic neuropathy due to aldose reductase inhibition. In rats it significantly reduced blood glucose, food intake, water intake and urine output in diabetic rats compared with the non‐ diabetic control group.
The Maharashtra state is one of the largest producers and suppliers of Indian Gooseberries. In this region the fruit is commonly pickled with salt, oil, and spices. The amla fruit is eaten raw or cooked into various dishes. In Andhra Pradesh, tender varieties are used to prepare dal (a lentil preparation), and amle ka murabbah, a sweet dish indigenous to the northern part of India made by soaking the berries in sugar syrup until they are candied. It is traditionally consumed after meals.
Popularly used in inks, shampoos and hair oils, the high tannin content of Indian gooseberry fruit serves as a mordant for fixing dyes in fabrics. Amla shampoos and hair oil are traditionally believed to nourish the hair and scalp and prevent premature grey hair.