Updated: Sep 2, 2019
Authored by: Hannes Yahya Korbel (Austria) - Ibn Sina GIHM Student
Botanical names and classification:
Binominal name: Emblica officinalis GAERTN.
Syn: Phyllanthus emblica (L.)
Family: Phyllanthaceae / Euphorbiaceae
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
Persian: Amala, Amuleh
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.
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.
Mainly used are the ripe fruits, fresh or dried. Other used parts are the seeds, bark, bark of the roots and flowers.
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:
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
Musaffie akhlat blood purifier
Dafe balgham anti phlegmatic
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.
Jawarish e Amla
Murabba e Amla
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
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
digestive stimulant, rejuvenating, antioxidant, aphrodisiac, laxative, stomachic, hemostatic
Main Organs: small intestine, heart, colon
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:
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:
Healing dermal wounds
If seen from a pharmacological perspective the list of scientifically proven pharmacological effects looks like this:
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
Sastry, J.L.N. Dravyaguna Vijnana, 2nd edition. Varanasi: Chaukhamba Orientalia, 2005, Vol. II, p. 262.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Ibid. p. 1563
Ibid. p. 1563
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qM_WC-Mp4 from min 43:45 onward
Zaki, M., et al. Op. cit., p. 1564
Said, M. Hamdard Pharmacopoeia of Eastern Medicine, reprinted 2nd edition. Delhi: Sri Satguru Publications, 1997, pp. 65 - 72
Smith, A., A Textbook on Dravyaguna for Westerners, 3rd edition. Dietikon, Switzerland: EIVS GmbH Editions Turiya, 2015, p. 203
Ibid. p. 203
Ibid. p. 203
Ibid. p. 203
Khan, K.H., Roles of Emblica officinalis in Medicine - A Review. Botany Research International, 2009, 2 (4), p.221
Ibid. p. 223