Indian Gooseberry’ or Amla/Aonla
A Powerful Superfood with endless benefits…
Gooseberry is known in various names like Dhatri, Amlaki, Adiphala in Sanskrit, Amla, Amlika, Aonla in Hindi, Nelli, Malanelli in Tamil, Amalakkamu, Usirikai in Telegu, Amalak, Bettadanelli in Kannada, Amlaki in Bengali precisely. In English it’s called Indian gooseberry, Embelic
Amla is one of the most celebrated herbs in the Indian traditional medicine system indigenous to tropical Southeast Asia, particularly central and southern India. Amla is becoming increasingly well known for its unusually high levels of Vitamin C, which is resistant to storage and heat damage when used in cooking. It is used as an Anti-scorbutic (related to Scurvy and Vitamin-C Deficient diseases), diuretic, laxative, antibiotic and anti-dysenteric to treat diverse ailments. Phyllemblin, is an active ingredient obtained from the fresh fruit pulp has many fold effects including adrenaline secretion and human nervous system.
Amla is native to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and some part of Malaysia. In India, Amla was mostly found in Uttar Pradesh (UP). Pratapgarh town in UP is known as the, ’Amla City’ of India for its vast production. Gooseberries are edible fruits of the gooseberry bush that are grown in many parts of the world with Indonesia being the world's top gooseberry producing country and India being third.
Botanical name: Emblica officinalis Gaertn.
Family: Phyllanthus emblica
Variety and Genuses
Amla or Indian Gooseberry makes an attractive landscape tree, when it bears its small, pale, green fruits. A native of India,its couple of varieties are:
There are three primary varieties or sub-species of the Indian amla, each of which has its advantages and disadvantages. These sub-species are the Banarasi amla, the Chakaiya amla and the Francis amla. The Banarasi amla matures earlier than other varieties.The Banarasi Amla is prone to dropping fruits and the shelf-life of the fruits are short, making the fruits a poor choice for culinary applications.
The Chakaiya variety of results from a good amount of cropping done in alternate years. The fruits of the tree are typically fibrous and smaller in size than the fruits of other Amla varieties. Certain Chakaiya selections, however, take on varying characteristics. Kanchan(another variety) has larger fruits than standard Chakaiya amla. The NA4 fruits also are more fibrous, however, which makes them popular for use in manufacturing but not for culinary applications. In contrast, the NA6 selection of Chakaiya amla is a heavy-bearing tree that produces low-fiber fruits. These less fibrous fruits are ideal for making amla candies and preserves.
Francis also known as Hathijhool is one such variety of amla which is not ideal for landscape growing as it often suffers from fruit necrosis. One of its selections, NA7, however, has more resilient properties. The NA7 Francis amla tree is a frequent and prolific fruit-bearer, the fruits of which are used in manufacturing.
- Wild Himalayan Amla
A fourth variety of amla also exists but is a distinct type of tree from the more closely related Banarasi, Chakaiya and Francis amla varieties. The Wild Himalayan alma is a tree that grows in the Western Himalayas. Its fruits are smaller than the fruits of the above-mentioned commercial amla varieties. Due to the severe climate of its native habitat, wild Himalayan amla has adapted to a more hardy characteristic than other amla trees and is better suited for planting in the northern U.S.
Amla is small or middle-sized deciduous tree reaching 8 to 18 m in height with a crooked trunk and branches which are wide-spread. The bark is greenish-grey in color, smooth,10-20 cm in length. The fruit are nearly spherical, light greenish yellow, quite smooth and hard on appearance. Various parts of the plant are used to treat a range of diseases, but the most important part is the, fruit.
The leaves are light green, narrowly linear and obtuse when young.
Similarly, the flowers too are greenish-yellow appearing in axillary fascicles on the leaf-bearing branchlets. The flowers are of two types: Male and Female. Male flowers are numerous with 6 sepals. Female flowers are few, but sepals are as in male.
The fruit is pal yellow, 1.3 – 1.6 cm in diameter, fleshy, globose, with 6 obscure vertical furrows.
- Height at Maturity
The herb grows to 20-30 feet of height cultivated in open fields.
Amla is a deciduous tree of small to medium size up to 5.5 meters grown in India. Wild strain of Amla grows in the forests of the Western Himalayas up to an altitude of 5000 ft even at places experiences mild snowfall during winter months. Hence it is cold resistant. The fruits of wild amla are relatively smaller. In Himachal Pradesh, the amla seedlings grow wild in the forests up to elevations of 1,450 metres.The major difference between these wild trees and the large-fruited types cultivated in the plains is of winter-hardiness. Whereas the improved types are highly susceptible to frost injury, the trees of wild amla are not damaged at all.
It is a tropical plant. The annual rainfall of 630-800 m is ideal for the growth of this plant. Up to the age of 3 years the plant should be protected from hot wind specially during the May-June and from frost during winter months. The mature plants can tolerate freezing temperature as well as a high temperature up to 46°C.
Amla grows well in Light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. It can also grow in well-drained soil and nutritionally poor soil. Studies have noted that it can grow from a slightly acidic to a slightly soil as well. It prefers dry or moist soil and is tolerant to drought and forest fire. It is not resistant to maritime exposures.
Amla is an important crop in Ayurveda. The fruits have the richest source of vitamin-C (700 mg per 100 g of fruits) Amla is used in making nutritious food like Chawanprash, Triphala Churna(mixture of Amla, Terminalla Chebula and T.Bellerica), Brahna Rasayana and Madumegha Churna.Actually, the use of Amla is numerous.
The medicinal properties as mentioned in the beginning are anti-scorbutic, diuretic, laxative, antibiotic and anti-dysenteric. To dig deeper into the Ayurvedic usage;
- The seed is used in asthma, bronchitis and biliousness. The leaves are useful in treating conjunctivitis, inflammation, dyspepsia and dysentery
- The bark is useful in cases of jaundice and diarrhea. The green fruits are used for making pickles. Amla is also known to treat hair damage, premature greying and hair fall primarily. It’s used in making hair oil, dyes, shampoo, face creams and tooth powder
- The wood is used for making agricultural implements, poles, and inferior quality furniture
- The fruits, bark and leaves are rich in tannin
- Amla reduces the risk of heart disease by regulating the build-up of bad cholesterol
- Amla powder has a high fiber content which works wonderfully for the digestive system. It's an effective cure for constipation
- Amla is rich in antioxidants that help in fighting free radicals in the body. This reduces cell damage and also the risk of cancer and inflammation
- The fruit is a rich source of Vitamin C
Chemicals isolated from the plant
The fruits are richest source of vitamin C (700 mg per 100 g of fruits). It also contains cytokinin.The plants contain tannins like glucogallin, corilagin, chebulargic acid and 3, 6-digalloyl glucose.
Amla is a sub-tropical plant.It is sensitive to prolong freezing temperatures and grows best when it is not exposed to frost. The tree is tough and resistant to exploits of climate.
The cuttings that are planted in the autumn season soon develop roots and within a few years, begins to bear fruits. The bushes should be regularly pruned to allow sunlight to reach the interiors for a healthy growth. Heavy use of nitrogen manure is discouraged as increased growth will ultimately weaken the plant and reduce its lifespan. The mature plants can yield up to 200 kilos of fruit per year.
- Sowing Season
It is sown in October to January
- Land Preparation
The land should be well ploughed before planting. A 2.5 cm deep and 15X15 cm beds are prepared in the field. The manure should be mixed with the soil at the time of planting. is generally propagated through seeds.
It’s best to sow the seeds once its ripe. The seeds are dried and cut in half right through the stone. After going a float test, the extracted seeds(taken from fully ripe fruits) those which sink, germinates. In a period of 4 months, the seedlings can be budded or grafted, if required.
The young plant should be well treated with FYM(Farm Yard manure consisting of cow dung, cow urine, waste straw and other dry wastes).FYM is very rich in nutrients. Every mature tree should be treated with a fertilizer. This is usually done in the months of September and October.
An annual rainfall of 630-800 mm is ideal for its growth. Amla is a drought resistant sub-tropical plant but it doesn’t mean that it can go without water altogether. The young plants should be watered at 15 days interval during the summer months till they are fully established. Once the tree is mature it doesn’t require frequent watering. In the month of October-December, right after the monsoon rains,25-30 litres of water per day,per tree,should be provided through drip irrigation. Drip irrigation is best suited for amla plants.(Drip irrigation is delivered to plant roots through a series of pipes, tubes, and valves. These parts, controlled by emitters and pumps, allow water to be focused in a particular area.)However, water stagnation must be avoided.
- Weed Control Management
The plant can be protected from weed by building a strong framework by planting 4-5 well shaped branches with wide angles at about 0.75 m height from the ground level. The dead, diseased and weak branches from the root should be pruned off by end of December.
- Harvesting Methods
Amla seedling starts bearing 7-8 years after planting, while the budded clones start bearing from the 5th year onwards. The fruits are light green at first but they adopt a greenish-yellow colour post maturing. The best time for harvesting Amla is February when the fruits have maximum ascorbic acid content. The mature fruits are quite hard and needs vigorous shaking. The fruits can also be harvested using long bamboo poles attached with hooks.
- Grading & Packaging
It is a perishable fruit and therefore it is necessary to extend its shelf life by adopting good post-harvest management practices. The harvested fruits are sorted into different grades depending on their size. This happens after the fruit gets matured. Appropriate storage and processing methods can extend the shelf life of fruit for a longer period. proper packaging is inadequate in case of Aonla. Aonla fruits can be packed in gunny bags of 50-100 kg capacity but corrugated fibre boxes are preferred as these provide appropriate ventilation inside the box and save them from spoilage.
After several trials its proved that a wooden crate with a polythene liner is most suitable for packaging and long-distance transportation of the fruits while keeping it dry and moisture free. Amla is strained and separated, to make it clean and dirt free while maintaining high levels of hygiene. This extracts the inner juicy pulp from the fruit by crushing it and straining out the most needed part. Jams, juices, chutneys, syrup sauces and jellies require pulping. The syrup is packed in plastic bottles using sealing machines. The Aonla or Amla preserve is one of the specialties of the Indian fruit-preservation industry.
Today, the demand for amla in the field of medicine and beauty aid has increased. Amla is commercially cultivated in northern states like Utter Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. The gooseberry bush is cultivated in many parts of the world. Indonesia was the top producer of gooseberries in 2013 with a production of 18,300,000 tons. India is the world’s third largest gooseberry producer with a production of 11,930,000 tons. One of the products derived from Amla is a very popular health food called Chyawanprash has anti-oxidant properties & strengthens the body's internal defense mechanism, the immune system. It’s given to children to build up their immune system and is equally healthy for an adult.It protects one from everyday infections, cough,cold & stress. Amla is the major ingredient of Chywanaprash. Other ingredients include herbs like Ashwagandha, Hareetaki, Dashmul, Ghrit and several other herbal extracts. Amla Pickle,Barfi, Murabba & Laddoo are home made products and results in good profit at the market. With sound management of natural resources and good varieties, every square centimeter of the farm can yield rich dividends.