Introducing Amla: India’s Time-Tested Superfruit
While traveling in India a fews years ago, I was introduced to an intriguing new superfruit called amla, which I would frequently come across in small Ayurvedic shops and pharmacies throughout my visit. I soon discovered this fruit in a variety of healing concoctions for nearly every ailment: mixed into digestive aids, packaged as a juice, a powder, consumed in candied form. This versatile fruit is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine, I would later discover, known among Ayurvedic practitioners as the “caretaker of life” for its ability to increase vitality and strength.
Amla is also called amlaki or Indian gooseberry. It is perhaps most famous for its through-the-roof Vitamin C content: one fruit contains 100mg, about the same amount found in 20 oranges. The word amla itself translates to “sour”, which is one of the 6 Ayurvedic tastes (the 6 recognized Ayurvedic tastes are sweet, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent). Sebastian Pole notes in his book Ayurvedic Medicine: The Principles of Traditional Practice that amalaki can also be translated to “‘mother’ or ‘nurse,’ indicating that amalaki is the ultimate carer and healer.”
Given that the name of the fruit literally means sour, one can imagine it’s taste.This makes it both a balanced and balancing fruit. The combination of tastes gives the fruit cooling properties, which are effective for reducing heat in the body– the potentially pernicious undercurrent of inflammation (depending on your dosha, or constitution).
In Ayurveda, the body is governed by three elements: pitta (fire), kapha (water) and vata (air). Most people are genetically prone to a dominant element, which manifests in their dosha. Amla’s cooling properties make it particularly useful for balancing excess pitta (fire) and other ailments that are a result of excess heat in the body (think: stress and illness). Dr. Vasant Lad M.A.Sc., one of the foremost experts in Ayurveda, describes pitta in The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies as “the principle of fire, the energy of digestion and metabolism.” As the engine of heat in the body, when pitta is overcharged one becomes “prone to fevers, inflammatory diseases, acid indigestion, excessive hunger, jaundice, profuse perspiration, hives and rashes, burning sensation, ulceration, burning eyes, colitis, and sore throats.” The cooling properties of amla make it ideal for reducing these ailments– particularly inflammation, acidity, and skin irritation. The antioxidants found in amla are also believed to improve eye sight and heal acne or blemishes, which both stem from inflammation.
So how does one take advantage of amla’s potency while maintaining an otherwise balanced diet? Interested parties can soak the fruit in water and then use the infused water to rinse your eyes. The fruit’s extract can be applied directly to the face to treat blemishes, as well; to make a face mask, simply mix the powdered form of Alma with water and olive oil to create a thick paste and then leave it on for five minutes.
Internally, amla is consumed as the base of a traditional jam in India called Chawyanbrush, another Ayurvedic staple, which is sold in pharmacies throughout India. This spread is typically consumed in the morning, although you can take a spoonful at any time of day. It is suitable for any age and is considered a daily energy booster and immunity builder to prevent flu, influenza and other viral diseases. (One tablespoon contains a mixture of about 50 herbs within a paste made from the amla pulp. The taste isn’t exactly sweet, but is often sweetened with honey, which also serves to absorb the potency of the herbs and to preserve them, as honey is a natural anti-microbial.)
There are various forms and methods through which alma can be consumed– including powder form, paste, juice, and eating the fruit as is. The methods of its application are as plentiful as its healing properties. Amla is a highly adored and celebrated fruit in India, but given its emergent foothold in the West, it’s likely that we’ll eventually see it popping up at bodegas, farmers markets, and natural food stores nation-wide, coming soon to a juice bar near you.
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