The tree is small to medium in size, reaching 8 to 18 m in height, with a crooked trunk and spreading branches. The branchlets are glabrous or finely pubescent, 10–20 cm long, usually deciduous; the leaves are simple, subsessile and closely set along branchlets, light green, resembling pinnate leaves. The flowers are greenish-yellow. The fruit are nearly spherical, light greenish yellow, quite smooth and hard on appearance, with six vertical stripes or furrows.
Ripening in autumn, the berries are harvested by hand after climbing to upper branches bearing the fruits. The taste of Indian gooseberry is sour, bitter and astringent, and it is quite fibrous. In India, it is common to eat gooseberries steeped in salt water and turmeric to make the sour fruits palatable. It is also used to straighten hair.
Indian gooseberry has undergone preliminary research, demonstrating in vitro antiviral and antimicrobial properties. There is preliminary evidence in vitro that its extracts induce apoptosis and modify gene expression in osteoclasts involved in rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. It may prove to have potential activity against some cancers. One recent animal study found treatment with E. ofﬁcinalis reduced severity of acute pancreatitis (induced by L-arginine in rats). It also promoted the spontaneous repair and regeneration process of the pancreas occurring after an acute attack.
Experimental preparations of leaves, bark or fruit have shown potential efficacy against laboratory models of disease, such as for inflammation, cancer, age-related renal disease, and diabetes.
A human pilot study demonstrated a reduction of blood cholesterol levels in both normal and hypercholesterolemic men with treatment. Another recent study with alloxan-induced diabetic rats given an aqueous amla fruit extract has shown significant decrease of the blood glucose, as well as triglyceridemic levels and an improvement of the liver function caused by a normalization of the liver-specific enzyme alanine transaminase activity.
Although these fruits are reputed to contain high amounts of ascorbic acid (vitamin C), 445 mg/100g, the specific contents are disputed, and the overall antioxidant strength of amla may derive instead from its high density of tannins. The fruit also contains other polyphenols: flavonoids, kaempferol, ellagic acid and gallic acid.
In traditional Indian medicine, dried and fresh fruits of the plant are used. All parts of the plant are used in various Ayurvedic/Unani medicine (Jawarish amla) herbal preparations, including the fruit, seed, leaves, root, bark and flowers. According to Ayurveda, aamla fruit is sour (amla) and astringent (kashaya) in taste (rasa), with sweet (madhura), bitter (tikta) and pungent (katu) secondary tastes (anurasas). Its qualities (gunas) are light (laghu) and dry (ruksha), the postdigestive effect (vipaka) is sweet (madhura), and its energy (virya) is cooling (shita).
According to Ayurveda, aamla balances all three doshas. While aamla is unusual in that it contains five out of the six tastes recognized by Ayurved, it is most important to recognize the effects of the “virya”, or potency, and “vipaka”, or post-digestive effect. Considered in this light, aamla is particularly helpful in reducing pitta due to its cooling energy and balances both Pitta and vata by virtue of its sweet taste. The kapha is balanced primarily due to its drying action. It may be used as a rasayana (rejuvenative) to promote longevity, and traditionally to enhance digestion (dipanapachana), treat constipation (anuloma), reduce fever (jvaraghna), purify the blood (raktaprasadana), reduce cough (kasahara), alleviate asthma (svasahara), strengthen the heart (hrdaya), benefit the eyes (chakshushya), stimulate hair growth (romasanjana), enliven the body (jivaniya), and enhance intellect (medhya).
In Ayurvedic polyherbal formulations, Indian gooseberry is a common constituent, and most notably is the primary ingredient in an ancient herbal rasayana called Chyawanprash. This formula, which contains 43 herbal ingredients as well as clarified butter, sesame oil, sugar cane juice, and honey, was first mentioned in the Charaka Samhita as a premier rejuvenative compound.
A jar of South Indian Andhra amla pickleIn Chinese traditional therapy, this fruit is called yuganzi (余甘子), which is used to cure throat inflammation.
Emblica officinalis tea may ameliorate diabetic neuropathy. In rats it significantly reduced blood glucose, food intake, water intake and urine output in diabetic rats compared with the non‐ diabetic control group.
Particularly in South India, the fruit is pickled with salt, oil, and spices. Aamla is eaten raw or cooked into various dishes. In Andhra Pradesh, tender varieties are used to prepare dal (a lentil preparation), and amle ka murabbah, a sweet dish indigenous to the northern part of India (wherein the berries are soaked in sugar syrup for a long time till they are imparted the sweet flavor); it is traditionally consumed after meals.
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