Emblic or emblic myrobalan, myrobalan, Indian gooseberry, Malacca tree, amla (Phyllanthus emblica L.) is an arboreal species belonging to the Euphorbiaceae family.
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
P. emblica species.
The terms are synonymous:
– Cicca emblica (L.) Kurz;
– Diasperus emblica (L.) Kuntze;
– Dichelactina nodicaulis Hance;
– Emblica arborea Raf .;
– Emblica officinalis Gaertn .;
– Phyllanthus glomeratus Roxb. ex Benth .;
– Phyllanthus mairei H.Lév .;
– Phyllanthus mimosifolius Salisb .;
– Phyllanthus taxifolius D. Don.
The term Phyllanthus comes from the Greek φύλλον phýllon leaf and from ἄνϑοϛ ánthos fiore: for the flowers that appear at the base of the leaves.
The specific emblica epithet derives from amblaki, the vernacular name of this shrub in the Moluccas; the name is roughly the same in Arabic (êmlidj) and Sanskrit (amalaki).
Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Phyllanthus emblica is a plant native to an area that includes East Asia, China, the Indian subcontinent, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia.
Its natural habitat is that of mixed forests, drier in areas with sparse woods or shrubs, thickets at altitudes between 200 and 2,300 meters in southern China.
Phyllanthus emblica is a small to medium sized tree, which can reach about 1-8 m in height and which is partially deciduous.
The twigs are not hairless or finely pubescent, 10-20 cm long, generally deciduous.
The leaves are simple, subsessile and densely arranged along twigs, light green in color, similar to pinnate leaves.
The flowers are greenish-yellow.
The fruit is almost spherical, of a light greenish yellow color, quite smooth and hard, with six vertical streaks or furrows, which ripens in autumn; it has a yellow color and a diameter of up to 25 mm. The fruits of wild plants weigh about 5.5 g, the fruits grown on average 28 – 50.
Phyllanthus emblica General information
It is a plant commonly grown in home gardens, especially in India, for its edible fruit and as a medicinal plant and its fruits are often found in local markets.
The plant is also grown as an ornamental species and is planted as a pioneer species in reforestation projects in Thailand.
It is a plant to be cultivated, in the areas of origin, mainly in the warm and tropical plains, succeeding in both humid and semi-arid areas.
It can also be found at altitudes of up to 2,300 meters in southern China. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are between 20 and 29 ° C, but can tolerate 14 – 35 ° C.
It prefers an average annual rainfall in the range of 1,500 – 2,500 mm, but tolerates 700 – 4,200 mm.
In general it is a very easy plant to grow, which is said to thrive in regions that are too dry and on soils that are too poor for most other fruit crops.
It requires a location in full sun or partial shade, but is not demanding regarding soil requirements as long as it is well drained.
It also grows well on alkaline soils, although nutritional deficiencies occur in a highly alkaline soil (pH 8.0).
For optimal productivity, the tree requires deep soil that ranges from sandy to loamy, light to heavy, and slightly acidic to slightly alkaline, with a pH in the range of 6 – 8, tolerating 5 – 8.
Plants appear to grow equally well in both arid and humid conditions.
The tree has a rather slow growth and usually only bears fruit between the ages of 6 and 8.
The plant produces flowers for between 12 and 13.5 hours.
Annual fruit yields can be around 15 – 25 pounds per tree. The fruits ripen in autumn and the berries are picked by hand after having climbed the upper branches that bear the fruit; they have a sour, bitter and astringent taste, and are quite fibrous.
Fully mature plants can produce 200 kilos of fruit per year.
The tree can be governed by coppice and coppice shoots grow particularly vigorous and coppice is considered the most suitable system for the production and harvesting of fruit on a commercial scale.
Plantations usually need a lot of weeding because the thin foliage does not form a closed canopy.
A special feature of this plant is that it is resistant to fire and is one of the first trees to recover after a fire.
Plants are generally monoecious, but occasional dioecious forms are found.
Propagation occurs by seed that does not keep well and therefore it is better to sow as soon as it is ripe.
The seed is taken from overripe fruits, which are dried in the sun to facilitate the removal of the pit, or are cut in half right through the pit. The extracted seeds are subjected to the buoyancy test and 100% of those that sink will germinate. In 4 months, the seedlings will have a stem diameter of 8 mm and can be planted or grafted with some cultivars present, if necessary.
Propagation can take place by semi-woody cuttings, collected from the intermediate portions of vigorous young tree shoots and planted in flower beds at a temperature of about 33 ° C; these have a high rooting percentage, up to 84%.
Green wood cuttings can be prepared.
Customs and Traditions –
Phyllanthus emblica is a plant known by various names, including emblic, emblic myrobalan, myrobalan, Indian gooseberry, Malacca tree, amla (from Sanskrit amalaki).
In the Buddhist tradition, half an amalaki fruit was the last gift to the Buddhist sangha from the great Indian emperor Ashoka. This is illustrated in the Asokavadana in the following verses: “A great giver, the lord of men, the eminent Maurya Ashoka, has gone from being the lord of Jambudvipa (the continent) to being the middle lord of myrobalan.”
In Theravada Buddhism, this plant is said to have been used as a tree to attain enlightenment, or Bodhi, by the twenty-first Buddha, called Phussa Buddha.
For this reason many Hindus consider this plant sacred and the Hindu religion prescribes that the ripe fruit be eaten for 40 days after a fast to restore health and vitality. It is common practice for Indian housewives to cook fruit with sugar and saffron and give one or two to a child every morning.
This plant is used both for food and medicine.
The fruits are eaten both raw and cooked. They have an acidic, rather astringent taste, they are not often eaten raw unless accompanied by sugar, salt or chilli to moderate them.
The astringent flavor can be removed by leaving the fruit in brine for a few days.
The fruits are most commonly used for making jams, jellies, pies, chutneys, etc.
The fruit is often used as a roadside snack to quench your thirst.
It is rich in pectin, the fruit is said to be one of the richest natural sources of vitamin C, and is also a good source of carbohydrates and minerals. Ripe fruit contains 1 to 1.8% vitamin C.
The leaves can also be consumed and have a bitter taste.
The seeds produce about 16% of a brownish yellow oil with linoleic acid (44%), oleic acid (28.4%), linolenic acid (8.8%), stearic acid (2.2%), palmitic acid ( 3.0%) and myristic acid (1.0%) and is used in the production of black salt.
With regard to medicinal use, this plant is of great importance in traditional Asian medicine, not only as an antiscorbutic, but also in the treatment of various ailments, especially those associated with the digestive organs. In Thailand, young fruits are traditionally used as an expectorant, antipyretic, diuretic, antidiarrheal and antiscorbutic.
Many of these traditional uses have been confirmed by research on active ingredients in plants and their properties.
The fruits, bark and leaves are rich in tannin.
The dried pulp of unripe fruits contains 18 – 35% tannin; the content in ripe fruit is much lower. The dry bark of the stem contains 8 to 20% tannin. The bark of the twigs is usually richer, containing 12 – 24% dry tannin. The leaves can produce 22 to 28% tannin.
The tannins of the fruit belong to the group of gallotannins and ellagitannins, which give by hydrolysis large quantities of gallic acid, small quantities of ellagic acid and glucose.
The tannin of the cortex belongs to the group of proanthocyanidins, which give (+) leucodelphinidin by hydrolysis.
The fruit is an extremely rich source of ascorbic acid; 100 g of juice contains 600 – 1,300 mg and sometimes even more.
The tannin of the fruit prevents or delays the oxidation of the vitamin, so that the fruits can be preserved in saline solution or as a dry powder while maintaining their antiscorbutic value.
Tannoids are potent aldose reductase inhibitors and may be effective in the management of diabetic complications, including cataracts.
Fruits are a rich source of pectin.
Many of the medicinal applications of fruits can be attributed to the presence of ascorbic acid and the astringent action of tannins, but the fruits also contain other active compounds. Fruit extracts showed antioxidant and anticancer activities in in vitro and animal tests. They also showed cholesterol-lowering, antitussive, anti-ulcerative and hepatoprotective properties and showed potent inhibitory activity on HIV reverse transcriptase; for this latter activity, putranjivain A was the most active isolated compound.
Fillemblina has been isolated from the fruits, which enhances the action of adrenaline, has a mild depressive action on the central nervous system and has spasmolytic properties.
The leaf extracts showed inhibitory activity on human leukocytes and platelets, which at least partially confirms their anti-inflammatory and antipyretic properties.
The fruits have diuretic, laxative and purgative activities and also show molluscicidal and antimicrobial properties. They are a main ingredient of various Ayurvedic tonic formulas; the fruit is given to appease the effects of aging and to heal the organs.
Sour fruits are one of the ingredients of ‘triphala’, a rejuvenating and laxative Ayurvedic tonic based on this species with the addition of the fruits of Terminalia bellirica and Terminalia chebula.
The juice of the fruit is also given to strengthen the pancreas of diabetics, as well as in the treatment of eye problems, joint pain, diarrhea and dysentery.
Among others the following are mentioned.
The branches are pruned and used for green manure; they are said to correct overly alkaline soils.
The tree is planted as a pioneer species in northern Thailand in reforestation projects to restore native woodlands – it is planted in degraded woodlands and open areas in a mix with various other species all of which have the ability to grow rapidly; produces dense, weed-suppressing crowns, attracting seed-dispersing wildlife, especially birds and bats.
The bark, as well as the roots, leaves and immature fruits, are highly valued as a source of tannins.
The bark of the shoots with a diameter of less than 5 cm is used to obtain a good tannin. Quickly dried bark contains much more tannin than slow dried bark. Therefore it was advised to quickly dry the bark in the sun.
The leaves are used to dye mats, bamboo wicker, silk and wool in brown colors. Gray and black colors are obtained when iron salts are used as mordants.
The mats can be dyed in dark colors with a decoction of bark.
The fruits are used to make black ink and hair dye.
Branches and wood chips are thrown into muddy streams to clean the water and impart a pleasant flavor.
The dried leaves are sometimes used as a filling in pillows.
Dried fruits are said to have cleansing properties and are used to wash the head in parts of Nepal.
A fixed oil derived from fruit acts effectively as a hair restorer and is used in shampoos in India.
A very curious custom is the manufacture of simulated ceramic pots from a boiled fruit paste, which have the surface decorated with colored and imprinted seeds.
The wood of Phyllanthus emblica is red in color and with a dense grain, quite heavy, hard but flexible, although very subject to deformation and splitting. It is used for minor constructions, furniture, tools, weapon butts, hookahs and ordinary pipes. It is very resistant when submerged and considered useful for clarifying water; it is used to create raw aqueducts and internal bracing for wells.
Wood is used as fuel and as a source of coal by the villagers; produces good quality coal.
Preparation Method –
Ripe fruits of Phyllanthus emblica can be stored for several months on the tree without significant loss of quality. For this reason, a long period is available for harvesting the fruit for consumption.
The fruits are eaten raw or cooked in various dishes, such as amle ka murabbah, a sweet dish made by dipping the berries in sugar syrup until candied.
Fruits are often preserved by splitting, removing the stone, putting the cloves in a solution of 42% glycerol, 42% sucrose, water and preservatives, then heating at 90 ° C for 3 minutes. The fruits are left to equilibrate in the solution for two days at 2 ° C, then drained and packaged in containers. Fruits preserved in this way remain acceptable for about 2 months at room temperature, and much longer if cooled, but the ascorbic acid content slowly decreases.
They can also be preserved in vinegar.
In the Batak area of Sumatra, Indonesia, the inner bark is used to impart an astringent and bitter flavor to the broth of a traditional fish soup known as holat.
In traditional Indian medicine, dried and fresh fruits of the plant are used. All parts of the plant are used in various herbal preparations of Ayurvedic medicine, including the fruit, seed, leaves, root, bark and flowers.
According to Ayurveda, the fruit of is sour (amla) and astringent (kashaya) in taste (rasa), with secondary tastes sweet (madhura), bitter (tikta) and spicy (katu) (anurasas). Its qualities (guna) are light (laghu) and dry (ruksha), the post-digestive effect (vipaka) is sweet (madhura) and its energy (virya) is refreshing (shita).
In Ayurvedic polyherbal formulations, the fruit is a common constituent and, in particular, is the main ingredient in an ancient herbal rasayana called Chyawanprash.
Among other uses, as mentioned, it is commonly used in inks, shampoos and hair oils, the high tannin content of the fruit acts as a mordant to fix the dyes in the fabrics.
– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.