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Try Amla to Aid Your Body’s Response to Inflammation

Amla. Credit: Sarah Khan

Amla. Credit: Sarah Khan

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.



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:

» Neem and inverted yoga

» Amla

DECEMBER: Anti-stress herbs and calming yoga and breathing exercises:

» Ashwagandha

» Brahmi

JANUARY: Detox herbs to recalibrate, rebalance and activate resolutions:

» Trikatu churna

» Triphala

EAT TO HEAL: Previous articles covering the numerous benefits of herbs and foods:

black pepper | cilantro | cinnamon | cardamom | holy basil | nutmeg| ginger | turmeric | thyme | bay leaf | parsley

Food, herbs and nutrients that you can ingest and bathe your insides that are anti-inflammatory are a good bet against inflammation. Anti-inflammatory foods protect against the long-term deleterious effects of chronic inflammation like heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Amla, a sour fruit packed with nutrients and phytochemicals, fits the anti-inflammatory bill and much, much more.

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

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.


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Amla fruit boiling in water. Credit: Sarah Khan

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

Zester Daily contributor Sarah Khan writes about food, culture, climate and sustainability. For her second Fulbright, she is presently traveling in South and Central Asia for a year (2014-15) to tell the stories of female farmers as they contend with a rapidly degraded agricultural landscape, gender inequality, poverty and climate change. She will document their challenges and victories in multiple media. To follow her journey, visit her website.

  • amba sanyal 11·10·12

    have been using amla for a long time , just today restarted the amla regime as i found them in the market…a big spoonfull of amla juice freshly made on empty stomach first thing in the morning is a great immune booster !!….have a healthy winter…!!!

  • Candace 11·16·12

    Hi Sarah, Seriously, Amla is amazing! I took the syrupy stuff when I visited Pune, India and got totally sick–not the usual stomach thing–more like swine flu! I’m pretty sure this is what kept me going, as I only had a couple of tylenol on the road to ward off fever. Was able to get Amla at the direction of my travel buddy, on the side of the road at a bus stop. hat a blessing!!!

  • Mary Michaud 12·27·12

    Great article, Sarah. I like how you have integrated it with yoga practice. I wonder: Does turning the fruit into a “morraba” reduce its medicinal/nutritional benefit?