Desi superfoods: the amazing amla

The Indian gooseberry, or amla, is a storehouse of Vitamin C and a host of other essential nutrients

December 19, 2014 06:37 pm | Updated December 20, 2014 11:10 am IST

The Indian gooseberry or 'Amla.' Photo: special arrangement

The Indian gooseberry or 'Amla.' Photo: special arrangement

Several stories surround the amla or nellika , known as the Indian gooseberry, a name that heralds its origin. These stories, emanating mostly from our sacred lore, attest to the sterling qualities of this phenomenal tree and its fruits. For millennia, Ayurveda has been prescribing amla for various ailments. This fruit, in fact, harbours five out of the six tastes: sour, sweet, pungent, bitter and astringent. All parts of the tree have medicinal properties, with the fruit being the most potent. It probably contains the highest level of vitamin C in plant life at 720 mg per 100 g.

Vitamin C prevents scurvy and bleeding gums. Using fresh amla fruits is the best way to ingest its goodness, but dried or powdered amla are also good substitutes. During the summer months, when the body needs a coolant, we can have amla in some form or the other since it is cooling. The famous chyavanprash , of which 80 per cent is composed of amla , is often recommended for the winter months as it helps the respiratory system.

Amla also protects the liver, increases fertility and improves eyesightincombinationwith honey; it can also combat ulcers given its ability to inhibit the production of gastric acids while promoting the secretion of protective mucus.

Composed of proteins, carbohydrates, fibre, minerals, vitamins, tannins and flavonoids, the Indian gooseberry indeed has many therapeutic uses. It has anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-cancer properties. Science has shown that it stimulates immunity by triggering the activity of natural killer cells. The Indian gooseberry is very effective in reducing stress and tones up the nervous system; its anti-aging function is particularly beneficial in preventing kidney malfunctions.

As a cardiovascular tonic, it reduces cholesterol by inhibiting its production and stimulating its decomposition. It also reduces arterial plaque. Traditional medicines advise taking powdered dried amla mixed with sugar to manage cholesterol.

Therapeutic uses apart, amla has some cosmetic value too. There are many traditional recipes using amla to control premature greying of the hair. Drinking amla juice twice a day is said to even skin tone while strengthening hair. A paste of the fruit can be made in winter and stored in the freezer for the rest of the year.

Devoting a festival to a plant is actually a sure shot way of ensuring its protection and so it is not a surprise that the amla has a festival dedicated to it: the Amalaki Ekadashi. On this occasion, prayers are offered to the Amalaki Tree in which Lord Vishnu resides and, since Holi falls four days later, people start playing with colours from that day.

Let us now explore the culinary side of this awesome fruit. Given its complex taste, one could think that amla is not a very versatile ingredient; however, its numerous benefits have ensured that there exist many ways of consuming it. In North India, pickles, chutneys, murrabas and dried candy are made out of the fruit. In South India, it is included in pacchaddis, sadam, rasams, thokkus and much more. You can find your own recipes for including this healthy ingredient in your daily diet.

As the year ends, let us commit to preserving our biodiversity by consuming the diverse gifts of Mother Earth; in so doing, we will in fact be nurturing our own bodies. And in this season of gifts exchange, consider giving your dear ones a bottle of homemade amla pickle or chutney, avoiding the carbon-heavy lure of the market, thus reducing your carbon footprint and strengthening the political will of Lima negotiators to reduce greenhouse emissions.

May the New Year bring all of you ecological prosperity, emanating from heightened ecological awareness and responsibility.

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