Amalaki, also called amla or Indian gooseberry, is a tree native to India that is now widely cultivated throughout India's warmer, arid regions. The fruit is a rich source of vitamin C, and is often used in nutritional supplements. In India, the berry is also used as a nutritional food additive. Juice from amalaki fruit can also be added to hair oil.
The amalaki tree is in the euphorbiaceae family of plants. It is deciduous, with greenish gray bark that peels off in sheets. The fruits are small and green, about one inch (2.5 cm) in diameter and containing two seeds. It grows well in poor soils and can withstand temperatures up to 115 Fahrenheit (46 Celsius) down to freezing. The tree's commercial value has increased its cultivation in India, particularly because it can survive in soil that has been damaged by salt.
All parts of the amalaki tree have been used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries. It is used to reduce fevers, as a heart tonic to improve heart health, and as an aphrodisiac. In traditional medicine, the fruits are believed to cure digestive and bronchial afflictions as well as skin diseases. The leaves are used to treat diarrhea and conjunctivitis, and the roots can be used for digestive ailments and jaundice.
Other uses of the amalaki tree include tanning hides, due to its high tannic acid content, and it is still used by tanners in Indian villages. The acidic juice from the fruit makes it a useful preservative for fruits and vegetables, and it is a common ingredient in Indian cosmetic products. Amalaki hair oil is widely used in India to protect hair and keep it shiny and healthy. Other personal care products also may contain extracts of the berry, including shampoo, conditioner, and skin creams.
The health benefits of amalaki have not been widely tested by Western scientists, although early studies on rats suggest that the fruit might be helpful in lowering cholesterol and controlling blood sugar. The fruits are rich in tannins and anti-oxidants as well as vitamin C. Tannins are associated with lowered cholesterol and decreased heart disease, while anti-oxidants appear to have anti-aging and immunity-boosting qualities.
Despite its nutritional benefits, amalaki is not generally used on its own as a food source because of its extremely bitter taste. In the US, amalaki dietary supplements are available, usually with the powdered fruit sold in capsules. Amalaki is also mixed in natural supplements containing other ingredients to boost immunity and reduce the effects of aging.