November is for strengthening your immunity. In the last post, I introduced the powerful Ayurvedic neem tree. For the second immune-boosting medicinal plant food, I turn from away from the bitter neem leaf toward a sour fruit, a powerhouse known as amla, or Indian gooseberry.
Integrative medicine practitioners have long observed that most chronic diseases are caused because of an excessive inflammatory response.
THE HECTIC HOLIDAYS
In this three-month series, learn to pair simple herbal and yoga techniques to build immunity, counter holiday stress and start the New Year cleansed, detoxed and armed to activate your resolutions.
NOVEMBER: Double your body strength with simple yoga postures to stimulate your dynamic immune system:
DECEMBER: Anti-stress herbs and calming yoga and breathing exercises:
JANUARY: Detox herbs to recalibrate, rebalance and activate resolutions:
EAT TO HEAL: Previous articles covering the numerous benefits of herbs and foods:
Origins, culinary and
traditional medicine uses
Amla, Emblica officinalis, is an exceptionally sour (think triple pucker), round and plum-sized fruit native to parts of tropical southeastern Asia such as central and southern India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and southern China. In the subcontinent, some sweeten or pickle amla into a murraba, a jam-like preserve in the north. Others boil the whole fruits in cardamom, saffron and sugary syrup. You can make the former or latter with dried amla that is available in local markets outside South Asia. One or two tablespoons are taken after a meal, or given to schoolchildren in the mornings to stave off illness.
In the ancient and rich tradition of Ayurveda, amla is the key ingredient in medicinal mixtures like chyawanprash and triphala (I’ll discuss triphala in more detail in January for the detox article). Both are considered rasayanas — complex poly-herbal preparations — prescribed to rejuvenate and prevent degenerative diseases. Amla is equally valued in other healing traditions like Unani, Siddha and homeopathy.
Take a look at the series of photos showing the steps to make a homemade Chyawanprash packed with anywhere from 10 to 50 additional health-protective spices and medicinal plants.
Contemporary research in the laboratory and clinical trials has repeatedly supported amla’s ethnobotanical and traditional medicinal uses. In the European Journal of Cancer Prevention in 2011, a review of amla reported many protective, immune-enhancing and cancer-preventive effects due to a high concentration of ascorbic acid and many plant chemicals. Additionally, amla reduces fevers, pain and coughs. It can regulate cardiovascular disease and improve wound healing. Many phytochemicals present in amla may decrease the effects of radiation, chemotherapy and cancers, in addition to acting as a heavy-duty antioxidant and immune modulator.
Yoga for immunity
In the last article, I discussed yoga poses that support the immune system. I focused on learning the basic sun salutation series and inverted poses that stimulate and support the dynamic lymphatic system. Other yoga poses that strengthen immunity relate to the glandular system. The master gland, the thyroid — often referred to as the control center– is located below the Adam’s apple along the front of the windpipe. Three simple yoga poses that stimulate the thyroid gland are the cat (Marjaryasana), cobra (Bhujangasana) and bow (Dhanurasana) poses. When you complete your yoga practice, and after your meal, make sure to savor some sour and sweet amla preparations laced with subtle saffron and fragrant cardamom.
For health advice and recommendations, always consult with your chosen health-care professional. To ensure proper yoga training, seek the advice of a certified yoga specialist.
Photo: Amla. Credit: Sarah Khan