Amla plant known as the Indian gooseberry is one of the sacred plants worshipped in India. The Sanskrit names for the Indian gooseberry are: Amlaki, Amla, Amlak, Dhatri, Dhatrik and Anavala. In Latin, it is known as Emblica Officinalis Gaertn, Phyllanthus Emblica or Terminalia Emblica. Alma plant belongs to the Phyllanthaceae family.
Description of the plant
Amla is a deciduous tree which grows to a medium size of 8 to 18 meters. Its branchlets (a stem that grows from the main trunk or the stem) are smooth and it grows around 10-20 cm long. Its leaves grow closely to the branchlets. The flowers are greenish yellow in colour.
Amla fruit is light greenish yellow in colour and is spherical in shape. It has a smooth external appearance with six vertical stripes and a seed inside. The fruit is green in colour when unripe, but gradually turns pale greenish yellow as the fruit ripens.
Amla plant is grown in plains and sub mountain regions in India. Light and heavy soil is most conducive for its cultivation. The plant starts bearing fruits in seven years. The flowering season is from February to May and the fruit bearing season is from October to April. Maharashtra is the largest producer of amla in India.
Varieties of Amla: There are three varieties of Amla viz., Banarasi, Chakaiya and Francis Amla:
- Banarasi Amla bears flowers and ripens early compared to other varieties. The shelf life of this variety is short, thus has limited culinary or commercial use.
- Chakaiya Amla fruit is rich in fibre and yields a heavy crop every alternate year. The fruit is small in size compared to other varieties.
- Francis Amla: This type of amla suffers from fruit necrosis. (Unprogrammed death of cells and living tissues).
For commercial purposes, following other varieties is grown;
Kanchan or (NA 4), NA 6, NA 7, Ananda 1, Ananda 2, Ananda 3 and Krishna
Wild Himalayan amla: Another variety that is predominantly grown in the hilly region of Western Himalayas is the wild Himalayan amla. This plant bears small fruit and yields heavy crop.
Amla or Dhatri or Dhatrika means a nourishing mother. The tree is highly revered as it is associated with both Lord Vishnu and Siva.
Brihaddharma Purana mentions the sacredness of Amla. Goddess Parvati and goddess Lakshmi wanted to worship Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu in a new form. When both the goddesses cried, their tears fell on earth and thus the Amalaki plant germinated on the earth. Since then the leaves of the tree are considered sacred and are used in the worship of Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu.
On the day of Sivaratri, special pujas are offered to the tree. Women bind the tree with red and yellow threads, and pray by offering flowers and fruits. During Karthika Masa,(October- November) Akshaya Navami is celebrated when women offer prayers to the tree. A prayer offered to Amla tree on Akshaya Navami begets a male progeny.
Another reference is that of a poor Brahmin lady who offered an amla fruit as bhiksha on Dwadashi day to Sri Adi Shankaracharya. Sri Adi Shankaracharya who was a young boy of five was moved by the plight of the woman. He composed Kanakadara Stotram (Kanaka in Sanskrit means gold) in praise of goddess Mahalakshmi to alleviate the suffering of the lady. Goddess Mahalakshmi, pleased with the devotion of Sri Shankaracharya blessed the lady by showering gold coins.
According to Padma Purana, Lord Vishnu/ Lord Krishna is said to reside in Amla plant. Worship of Tulasi plant during Karthika Masa (October- November) is said to absolve one’s sins and attain Vishnuloka. The marriage of the divine Tulasi plant (considered as an incarnation of goddess Mahalakshmi) is observed on the Karthika Shukla Paksha Dwadashi (twelfth day of the waxing moon in the month of October November). During the marriage, a stem of amla is placed next to Tulasi plant and is worshipped.
In Vishnu Purana, Amla is referred to as the divine plant.
In Brahmanda Purana, it is mentioned that whoever observes the Amla Ekadashi Vratha, reaps its benefits (blessings of the Lord) not only in the present birth but also in the next birth.
According to Skanda Purana, once when Lord Brahma was meditating, the earth got submerged in water. The Lord was moved to see the earth getting submerged, shed tears which fell on earth. The first drops of His tears germinated into Amla plant. Since amla was the first plant to germinate on earth, it is known as Adiroha (pre- eminent tree).
In Padma Purana, the following story is mentioned which glorifies the divinity of the amla fruit.
There was once a chandala who went to the forest for hunting. After having hunted a good number of animals, he began to feel hungry. He climbed the amla tree which was nearby and ate a handful of amla fruits. Unfortunately, while descending from the tree, he fell down and died. When the attendants of Yamaraja came to take his soul away, they failed in spite of several attempts. They then approached sages seeking clarification about the hunter. Sages told him that they could not take away the soul, as he had eaten amla fruits just before his death. Such is the divinity of the amla fruit.
Prayers are offered to the plant on Amla Ekadashi observed in Phalguna Masa (11th day of the waxing moon in February- March). The day also marks the beginning of the celebrations for the colourful festival- Holi.
According to Brahmanda Purana, there once lived a King by name Chaitraratha in the kingdom of Vaidisa. The King was an ardent devotee of Lord Vishnu and all his subjects led a peaceful and prosperous life during his rule. Once, on the occasion of Amla Ekadashi, all his subjects including the King worshipped the Amla tree located on a river bank all through the night. They prayed to Parushurama too, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, singing His bhajans. During the prayer through the night, a hungry hunter joined the group in worshipping Lord Vishnu. As the hunter also observed the Ekadashi Vrata, he was born as King Vasurath in his next life.
According to Skanda Purana, remembering the tree brings twice as much virtues equivalent to donating a cow. (gow dhana). Eating the fruit bestows merits three times more than doing a gow- dhana.
Washing hair using Amla juice mixed with water will absolve one of all sins and attain Vishnuloka.
There is an Amlakai tree in Uttar Pradesh where one branch of the tree yields sweet amla fruits and the other branches yield bitter- sour fruits. Sikhs believe that one of their Gurus’ rested under the tree and since then the branch under which the Guru rested is yielding sweet fruits.
According to Charaka Samhita, “while collecting the amla fruit by the light of a full moon, if one were to recite “Om”, then one will live in enjoyment of youth, for as many thousands of years as the number one eats.”
Eating food under the amla tree in the month of Karthika absolves one from the Anna doshas for a year.
Benefits of Amla
Amla is referred to as divyaushadhi, meaning a divine medicine. This is the only fruit which has all the five tastes viz., sweet, sour, bitter, astringent and pungent (except salty) which makes the plant divine. It is a panacea for treating ailments related to all the three doshas, Vatha, Pitta and Kapha (Tridoshika). Consumption of amla is good in all seasons and for all types of body constitution.
Amla is a rich power house of properties such as anti-fungal, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-mutagenic, anti-hyperhidrosis, anti-inflammatory, anti-histaminic, and hypotensive relieving properties. The tree as a whole, its bark, leaves, branches and seeds, all have immense medicinal properties which are used extensively in several Ayurvedic preparations. It is the main ingredient in Triphala one of the main rasayanas in Ayurveda. For all ayurvedic preparations, fully ripe fruit is only used.
Amla is used as a Rasayana in Ayurveda. According to Charaka Samhita, Rasayana is defined as “that which promotes strength and immunity against diseases. Rasayana is of two types: Rasayanas which are used in preventive healthcare, promote longevity, memory and intelligence and rasayanas used in actually treating ailments and curative. Amla is used in preventive healthcare and curative.
The Charaka Samhita says, “Amalaki is the best among rejuvenative herbs.”
Ayurveda classifies the fruit as having these four properties:
Rasa (Taste): The fruit tastes sour, sweet, bitter and pungent.
Veerya (Nature): Amla has a cooling effect on the body.
Vipaka: (Taste developed through digestion): Sweet. Vipaka is the after taste. Amla when eaten first tastes sour, but when the fruit mixes with saliva or after sipping some water, tastes sweet, which is known as Vipaka.
Guna (Qualities) Dry and light
- Rich source of Vitamin C: Amla fruit is a rich source of Vitamin C. One amla fruit has 700- 921 gms of Vitamin C. Vitamin C in the most concentrated form is found only in Amla. A medium sized amla fruit contains 8.7 mg of Vitamin C equivalent to 100 mg of synthetically produced Vitamin C.
- Improves food absorption: One of the properties of Vitamin C is that it enhances the food absorption, digestion and assimilation in the body. Regular consumption of Amla helps in absorption of iron in the food. Amla improves the thirteen digestive fires in the body. Thus regular consumption of amla makes a person enjoy the taste of food better. It is very useful for people having pitta body constitution.
- Helps in reducing acidity: Amla with its cooling property is used in treating mild to moderate hyper acidic reactions in the body.
- Improves liver functioning: Amla is very effective in removing the toxins from the body. It stimulates the liver and purifies the digestive juice (Bile) produced by the liver. It also purifies the blood.
- Enhances the brain function: Amla is effective in enhancing the brain functions such as attention, registration, retention and recall. It is used in improving the nervous system. Amla fruit strengthens the senses.
- Enhances heart functioning: Regular consumption of amla, nurtures the heart, improves blood circulation and aids in the overall cardiovascular system.
- Strengthening lungs: Amla is used in treating phlegm. It is very effective in strengthening the lungs and clearing the respiratory tract of phlegm.
- Eases constipation: Regular consumption of amla eases constipation.
- Improves fertility: Amla has a property known as garbasthapana, which nurtures the sperm and ovaries. Regular consumption of amla enhances fertility in both men and women.
- Effective in treating urinary tract infections: Amla enhances the digestive system in the body, it is also used in treating urinary tract infections like mild burning while urinating. It is a natural diuretic which removes waste water from the body.
- Improves the skin complexion: As amla removes the toxins from the body, and is a rich source of Vitamin C, it enhances the skin complexion. It helps the skin to fight against bacterial infection. It improves the glow and luster of the skin.
- Good Hair care: Regular consumption of amla delays premature greying and improves hair growth.
- Calcium absorption: Amla aids in calcium absorption in the body, thus aiding in the creation of strong bones, teeth and nails.
- As a coolant: Amla with its cooling property is very effective during summer season. It is especially useful for people with Pitta and Vatha constitution.
- Strengthens the eyes: Amla is also known as chakshushya, which means “strengthening the eyes”-(Chakshu means “eye” and ayushya means “Rasayana” so it is literally a “Rasayana for the eyes”). It aids in improving the vision.
- Improves muscle tone: Amla improves the protein synthesis in the body, thereby strengthening the muscles.
- Antioxidant property: With the anti oxidant property, amla is very effective in strengthening the overall immunity system and delay the aging process.
- Energy booster: As amla aids in better absorption of food, purifies the blood, removes toxins from the body, it removes fatigue from the body. It aids in cell regeneration process, wherein the old cells are replaced by the healthy new cells, thus making the body more energetic.
- Treating Hypoglycaemia: Amla is very effective in treating hypoglycaemia, (a condition when the blood sugar levels fall suddenly)
- Inflammation and fever: As amla has a cooling nature, it is used in the treatment of inflammation or burning sensation in any part of the body. It is also used in the treatment of fever.
Amla is used in several culinary preparations. Chutneys, pickles and a sweet known as Amle ka Murabbha is also prepared.
Amla is used in the preparation of shampoos, hair oil, mordant (substance used to set dyes on fabrics) for fixing dyes in fabrics. It has high tannin (water soluble polyphenols that binds to and precipitates proteins and other organic compounds including amino acids and alkaloids) content which makes it useful in the fabric industry.