Amla (Indian Gooseberry) according to various Herbal Sciences.

Updated: Sep 2, 2019

Authored by: Hannes Yahya Korbel (Austria) - Ibn Sina GIHM Student

Amla (Indian Gooseberry)

Botanical names and classification:

Binominal name: Emblica officinalis GAERTN.

Syn: Phyllanthus emblica (L.)

Order: Malphigales

Family: Phyllanthaceae / Euphorbiaceae

Genus: Phyllanthus

Species: Phyllanthus emblica

According to earlier classification the Phyllanthaceae familiy had the status of a subfamily Phyllanthoideae, within the family of Euphorbiaceae.


Common, vernacular names:

English: Indian gooseberry; Emblic Myrobalan

Sanskrit: Amla; Amalaki; Dhatri-phala

Hindi: Amla

Urdu: Amla

Arabic: Amlaj

Persian: Amala, Amuleh

Chinese: Yu-gan-zi


Most of the names in non european languages are derived from the sanskrit term for sour taste - amla, which describes one of the main features of this fruit.





Botanical description and natural habitat:


Natural habitat is the Indian subcontinent, also reaching from Uzbekistan, central asia, china and south east asia till malaysia, indonesia and the philippines.


Amla is a medium deciduous tree with greenish grey or red bark peeling off in scales. The leaves are pinnate, distichously close-set, linear oblong, obtuse. Flowers densely fascicled along the branchlets, yellowish; males on slender pedicles, females sub-sessile. The fruit is a berry, depressed globose, succulent, yellowish, green or pink when ripe, obscurely six-lobed, the seeds are six lobed as well.



Amla seeds - Image by Rajesh Balouria from Pixabay

Cultivation:


The frutis, or other parts can be collected from wild trees but today they are also cultivated on a large scale throughout the indian subcontinent to meet the high demand because of its widespread use in medicine, cosmetics and food productions as well.


Used parts:


Mainly used are the ripe fruits, fresh or dried. Other used parts are the seeds, bark, bark of the roots and flowers.


Active constituents:


The fruits were said to contain high amounts of ascorbic acid responsible for their high antioxidative acitivity. An examination in 1996 relativated this assumption by postulating that some of the ellagitannin cosntituents are solely responsible for the antioxidative properties.


More recent research reaffirmed the presence of ascorbic acid again. An explanation for different results could be different varieties of the tree and habitats. However the highly antioxidative potential is confirmed by research and responsible for many of its numerous pharmacological properties.


The polyphenolic character of the tannins, ellagitannins (emblicanin A and B) ascorbic acid, ellagic acid and some flavonoids are crucial for these pharmacological effects.


The analysed fresh fruit pulp compared to an ordinary apple showed also a rich content of minerals and trace elements like phoshorus, potassium, calcium, selenium, copper and others.


Traditional Characterizations of Amla:


However, from a traditional point of view, chemical constituents are not the explanation for all the known and used properties of a plant or anything else. The living aspect and the "idea" of a thing, meaning its inherent qualities intended with the Creator´s self disclosure , can be sufficiently recognised by its natural place or habitat, its form, texture, colours, taste, smell, in brief, by what we can perceive with our five senses and recognising the inscriptions of the predominant planetary qualities, the proportional presence of elements (for or five according to different approaches) and / or three philosophical principles (sulfur, sal and mercure), important in western spagyric traditions.


This doctrine of signatures is essential to get an integral understanding of a creature. Paracelsus used to say, that if this art of reading the signatures of a created thing is missing, everything you do has a hole....

So let us turn to the traditional characterizations of this drug, as they have come to us from our foremothers and forefathers in folk medicine and scholarly medicine systems.


The abundance of fruits and their sour, astringent taste (both cooling) is a mark of jupiter and aether element signation, the form of the leaves indicate the strong implemented air element - the bark as well.

The use of Amla in many of the eastern medicine systems is known for quite a long time. Especially in Ayurveda, Amla is one of the main drugs and most often mentioned in the classic texts. In the Caraka Samhita, till today one of the most authoritative texts inside Ayurveda, Caraka starts in his Cikitsa Sthana the chapter on Rasayana therapies (rejuvenation therapies) with references to and recipes with Amla and it is one of the most mentioned herbs throughout the whole Caraka Samhita.


The graeco islamic medicine probably got introduced to Amla when it came to the subcontinent with the moghul invasions and during the following moghul empires. Soon then started an exchange between the local medicine systems like Ayurveda, Siddha and the newly arrived Unani Tibb. The muslim doctors brought new plants and minerals and vice versa they adopted the existing local materia medica. Mostly there are common indicated uses for the same plant, but sometimes the different medicine systems use different properties of the same plant.


Amla in Unani (Greek) Tibb (Medicine)


Like in Ayurveda, because of its many therapeutic actions, Amla is one of the mainly used drugs in Unani Tibb in the whole subcontinent.


Mizaaj: Cold 2nd ° and Dry 2nd or 3rd °

Tastes: sour, astringent, bitter, sweet, pungent

Muzirat: (side effects): only in huge overdoses constipation and colic

or worsening of manifest diarrhea. In normal dosages no side effects expected.

Muslehat: (corrective): honey and almond oil

Miqdare khuraq: frresh fruit: 10 - 20 g / pulp juice: 5 - 10 ml

Badal: Halelah Kabuli (Terminalia chebula)


Therapeutic Actions - ´Afaal:


Habisuddam haemostyptic

Qabiz astringent

Mane ishaal anti diarrhoeal

Dafe qai anti emetic

Muqawwie azae rayeesa vital organs tonic

Mufarreh wa muqawwie qalb cardiac stimulant and tonic

Muqawwie bah aphrodisiac

Muqawwie chasm eye tonic

Muqawwie wa musawwid sha´ar hair tonic

Musakkin atsh analgesic

Hazim digestive

Mushtahi appetizer

Mulayyan laxative

Musaffie akhlat blood purifier

Dafe balgham anti phlegmatic

Mubarrid refrigerant

Mudire baul diuretic


Uses mentioned in Unani classical literature:


Digestive disorders: Dyspepsia, gastritis, hyperacidity, constipation, colitis, diarrhea, dysentery, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting

Bleeding disorders: bleeding hemorrhoids, gums, menorrhagia, haemorrhage

Metabolic disorders: Anaemia, gout

Cardiac and respiratory disorders: Palpitation, cough, asthma

Aging disorders: Hairfall, premature greying of hair, opacity of cornea, weakness of vision, joint weakness

Neurasthenia: Fatigue, vertigo, paralysis

Urogenital disorders: Leucorrhoea, vaginitis, gonorrhoea, inferility

Skin disorders: Pruritus, boils

Liver disorders: Jaundice, weakness of liver

Mental disorders: Insanity, epilepsy, melancholia, loss of memory


Amla in Ibn Nafis Al-Mujaz fi -l-Tibb:


Ibn Nafis puts its Mizaaj of both Cold and Dry in the 1st °

Regarding therapeutic actions and indicated uses he is in accordance with what is known and practiced in Unani Tibb and Ayurveda today. A distinct feature he mentions is that it strenghtens the muscles of the anus.


Effects on the Akhlaat:


Main effect is reducing heat and drying up superfluid phlegma, making it perfect to treat damawy disorders and if corrected also for choleric disorders as well.


Compound Formulations:

Jawarish e Amla

Murabba e Amla

Anushdaru

Safoofe hazim

Itrifalaat

Dawaul misk mutadil sada


Jawarish e Amla is a simpler version of the ayurvedic Chyavanprash - see section on ayurvedic Amla formulas.


The Itrifalaat are a group of quite differing formulas which share the following composition as a main part of each recipe.


Amla - Emblica officinalis

Halelah Kabuli - Terminalia chebula

Bahera - Terminalia belerica


For Itrifalaat formulas examples see in Hamdard Pharmacopoeia of Eastern Medicine.


Amla in Ayurveda Medicine


Description of qualities, therapuetic actions and indicated uses are more or less the same like in Unani Tibb. The science in Ayurveda compared to Ilmu l-advia is called Dravyaguna.


According to Dravyaguna Amla can be described like this:


Rasa: sour, astringent, bitter, sweet, pungent

Virya: cooling

Vipaka: sweet, dry

Gunas: light and dry

Prabhava: Rasayana, aphrodisiac, nourishes all tissues, increases formation of Ojas, the essence of the most subtle reproduction tissue, which nourishes all other tissues

Doshas: balances all Doshas, Pitta because of sweet taste and cooling Virya, Vata because of sour taste (see explanation of sour (amla) in Ayurveda in the glossary at the end); Kapha is reduced due to its dry and light qualities

Dosage: 3 - 6 g powdered fruits / day as a medium dose

Substitute: Haritaki (Terminalia chebula)

Precautions: highly phlegmatic conditions, acute diarrhea, dysentery


Therapeutic actions:

digestive stimulant, rejuvenating, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, laxative, stomachic, hemostatic


Main Organs: small intestine, heart, colon


Indicated Uses:


Bleeding disorders, anaemia (good effect in combination with calcined iron), hemorrhoids, diabetes, constipation, osteoporosis, general debility, convalescence, HIV, AIDS, cancer, poisoning, palpitations, hair loss (amla oil), low Ojas.


Effect of Amla fruit explained in ayurvedic terms:


Amla has five of six possible tastes. The sweet taste becomes obvious when chewing and swalloing a piece of fresh amla and having a sip of water following.


Only the salty taste is missing - salty taste is rather uncommon in the herbal kingdom. The more tastes and distinctive different qualities a herbal drug has, the wider the range of possible indications and pharmacological effects, although some effects will always dominate over others.


Amla is tridoshara, meaning it balances all three Doshas (humours) but the excessive hot humour (Pitta) is primarily reduced because of its sweet and bitter taste and the cooling Virya, Vata due to the sour taste (see explanation in appendix - glossary), Kapha through its astringent, bitter and pungent taste and the light and dry quality.


The nourishing effect of all the tissues and the increase of Ojas is the distinctive feature of this fruit.

Because of its quite similar therapeutic actions and indicated uses Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) is also in Ayurveda the possible substitute. The main difference is that Haritaki has a warming Virya, which makes it more suitable to balance Vata (sawdaa) first (in its main location colon) and Kapha second line. But because Amla and Haritaki are quite well balanced drugs they hardly disturb the other Doshas/Akhlaat in normal doses, even though they mainly target at a specific one.


Famous ayurvedic formulas with Amla:


Chyavanprash

Triphala


The most famous is for sure Chyavanprash. Prash is the ayurvedic term for pasty preparations based on a herbal decoction, jaggery, ghee and honey. Chyavana was a vedic sage who got married to a king´s beautiful daughter. So far so good, but the sage was already very old and physically not anymore crispy. To not disappoint and embarass the young maiden he thought of a way out. He withdraw himself into the jungle and with the help of the gods he got to know how to prepare this Chyavanprash and restored his youth by the power of it. It is similar to Jawarish e Amla sad but more complex. There are many local different recipes, but besides fresh Amla paste as main ingredient it contains up to 40 different roots, barks, woods, herbs and spices.


Triphala - meaning three fruits - is another very common preparation in Ayurveda and Unani Tibb (Itrifalas) as well and is a composition of the following three:


Drug: Main humour targeted at:


Amlaki Emblica officinalis Pitta / safra-dam

Haritaki Terminalia chebula Vata / sauwdaa

Bibitaki Terminalia bellerica Kapha / balgham


In most cases they are mixed in equal parts. These three fruits, each of them multi gifted with many pharmacological effects but with one humour mainly targeting at, complement each other and form an almost unbeatable trio "comme les trois musquetaires" - one for all and all for one.


Triphala is used as a simple remedy balancing all three (or four) humours (Doshas / Akhlaat) with its main effect on digestive system including the liver, or as additive in almost all ayurvedic formulas. It enhances the absorption and the effectivity of the other ingredients. Further it is also a corrective and often used to correct other herbs, minerals and metals.


Triphala is also a famous remedy for the eyes, like in eye washs and drops, but also internally. A subtle way to restore good eye sight is to soak a tea spoon powdered Triphala in water overnight and to drink only the supranatant water in the morning. Has to be done for minimum a year.


Dosage: 3 - 6 g dried powdered fruit - medium dose per day


Amla in other Medicine Systems:


Because the tree grows from central asia till south east asia its use is common in the many folk medicines and medicine systems home to those areas. For example it is quite common in TCM, used to clear heat, cooling blood and to promote digestion, for relieving cough.

In Tibetan Medicine it is quite common too.


Modern research on Amla:


Many of the traditional known effects are confirmed through modern science. Singled out constituents and integral extracts of Amla have been tested in vivo with rat models. Clinical research has been conducted less so far, but a couple of hundreds or thousands years have proofen their clinical effectivity.


Nevertheless modern research can shed some light on some interesting details. Studies have been done to the following list of dieseases, reviewed in an article:

  1. Cancer

  2. Diabetis

  3. Heart diseses

  4. Liver treatment

  5. Ulcer

  6. Anemia

  7. Hypercholesterolemia

  8. Hyperthermia

  9. Ophthalmic disorder

  10. Dyspepsia

  11. Lung mtastasis

  12. Healing dermal wounds

  13. Dyslipidaemia

  14. Pancreatitis

  15. Atherosclerosis

  16. Alzheimer’s disease

  17. Fever

  18. Bronchitis

  19. Diarrhoea

  20. Jaundice


If seen from a pharmacological perspective the list of scientifically proven pharmacological effects looks like this:


  1. Antioxidant activity

  2. Immunomodulatory activity

  3. Antipyretic activity

  4. Analgesic activity

  5. Hepatoprotective activity

  6. Cytoprotective activity

  7. Antitussive activity

  8. Gastoprotective activity

  9. Ophthalmic disorder

  10. Antimicrobial activity

  11. Anti-inflammatory activity

  12. Radioprotective activity

  13. Chemopreventive activity

  14. Antiatherogenic activity

  15. Antitumor activity

  16. Apoptotic activity

  17. Antiulcer activity

  18. Hypolipidemic activity

  19. Adaptogenic property

  20. Antimutagenic activity

  21. Hypocholesterolemic activity

When it comes to modern uses then there is a tendency to fraction the extracts and finding very specific effects for single substances. There might be further new uses in medicine, food industries and cosmetics, but if the plant is splitted apart there is also the danger to fall into a very limited understanding of an integral whole.



__________________________________________________________________________________________________




Appendix A - Glossary of Ayurvedic terms


Amla means literally sour taste; in Ayurveda the sour taste is primarily seen as a heating quality in contrast to GIHM. The truth is that both can be rigtht. The key to explain both scenarios both cooling and warming is the fifth element, the aether.


Anupana an adjuvant for taking medicines like honey, water, brown sugar, milk, ghee, aloe, etc. - it can act as corrigens, enhancer, as a "medicine horse" to transport the medicine to a specific organ, tissue etc.


Dosha can be compared to the humours (akhlaat); but there are similarities and differences; they can be seen as intelligent forces managing the maintenance of our bodies. in number they are three; see Vata, Pitta, Kapha


Dravyaguna science of knowing the properties / qualities of substances and how to make them available as medicine


Gunas literally means "thread", referring to the fabric of nature, all the qualities occuring in the universe; in ayurveda 10 pairs of oppositonal attributes are used; like hot-cold, light-heavy, gross-subtle, dull-sharp, etc.


Kapha the phlegmatic Dosha which is responsible for stabilty an cohesion; somatic, veneric; it manages the water and earth elements; its qualities are: wet, cold, heavy, slow, smooth, slimy and static


Ojas the essence of the metabolic processing of food, drinks, air, medicine in ayurveda there are seven consecutive tissues to be nourished; each produces an essence to nourish the following; the most subtle is the reproduction tissue (hormonal network) - its essence and aim is to produce this Ojas - which again nourishes all the tissues


Pitta the hot humour; martial, all transformations; this force deals with the elements fire and little water; typical expression is yellow bile in gall bladder; its qualities are: little oily, penetrating, hot, light, bad smell, flowing/liquid


Prabhava special effect of a substance / plant which cannot be explained by its taste or the other obvious attributes; it is rather rare in plants


Rasa this word has a lot of meanings; the mercurial spirit/ruah in nature, mercury, juice of plant.... and taste

there are six tastes: sweet, salty, sour, pungent, bitter and astringent


Rasayana rejuvenating single or compound herbs, minerals, metals or herbomineral compositions - comparable to Muqawwiaat


Tridoshara meaning to balance, pacify all three Doshas


Vata this force is the chief of the Doshas; it controlls Pitta and Kapha, manages the elements aether and wind; it is the only mobile humour; it seems to be rather the subtile force behind the expressions of the khilt sawdaa; its qualities are: dry, light, cold, rough, subtle, mobile its effects if in excess are exactly the melancholic symptoms - it just leaves behind a cold dry peace of earth


Vipaka a term for a post digestive taste - digestion stage two, after the conversion in the liver; unique feature in ayurveda; original taste can change; important to consider when planning long term medications


Virya the effect caused by the tastes after digestion stage one, either warming or cooling


Appendix B - Endnote References


  1. Sastry, J.L.N. Dravyaguna Vijnana, 2nd edition. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Orientalia, 2005, Vol. II, p. 262.

  2. Ghosal S, Triethi VK, and Chauhan S, Active xconstituents of Emblica officinalis: Part 1.-The chemistry and antioxidative effects of two new hydrolysable tannins, Emblicanin A and B. Indian Journal of Chemistry 1996; 35B: 941-948.

  3. Scartezzini, P., et al. "Vitamin C content and antioxidant activity of the fruit and of the Ayurvedic preparation of Emblica officinalis Gaertn." Journal of ethnopharmacology 104.1-2 (2006): 113-118.

  4. Barthakur, N.N. and Arnold N.P., Chemical analysis of the emblic (Phyllanthus emblica L.) and its potential as a food source. Scientia Hortic, 1991, 47: 99-105

  5. Sharma, R.K. and Dash B., Caraka Samhita (Text with English Translation & Critical Exposition based on Cakrapani Datta´s Ayurveda Dipika), reprint. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, 2007, Vol. III. pp. 26-32

  6. Zaki, M., et al. Amla (Emblica officinalis Gaertn.) the wonderful Unani drug: A Review. World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, 2014, 3 (9), p.1562 -1563

  7. Ibid. p. 1563

  8. Ibid. p. 1563

  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qM_WC-Mp4 from min 43:45 onward

  10. Zaki, M., et al. Op. cit., p. 1564

  11. Said, M. Hamdard Pharmacopoeia of Eastern Medicine, reprinted 2nd edition. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1997, pp. 65 - 72

  12. Smith, A., A Textbook on Dravyaguna for Westerners, 3rd edition. Dietikon, Switzerland: EIVS GmbH Editions Turiya, 2015, p. 203

  13. Ibid. p. 203

  14. Ibid. p. 203

  15. Ibid. p. 203

  16. https://tcmwiki.com/wiki/yu-gan-zi

  17. Khan, K.H., Roles of Emblica officinalis in Medicine - A Review. Botany Research International, 2009, 2 (4), p.221

  18. Ibid. p. 223

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