Sometirnes known as the indian gooseberry this tangy fruit is considered to be the elixir of good health. Several thousand years ago when the indian herbal system of medicine Ayurveda was already developed sages would go deep into the forests looking for newer and more effective remedies. One such sage Chyavan blended together certain energising herbs fruits and spices based on a secret recipe. The principal fruit used in his mixture Chyovanprash was amla to which are attributed near magical powers. This dark brown tonic is still sold and consumed in India and is believed to increase vitality and stamina.
how it grows
Amla is the fruit of a small deciduous tree grown all over India. The pale green flowels grow in clusters below the leaves and give way to the fruit around winter.
appearance and taste
Amla fruits are between l.5 2.5cm in diameter pale green and translucent. They have a fine glossy skin and crunchy crisp flesh. The skin is faintly divided into 6 lobes and there is l seed within each lobe. The fruit can be round or slightly edged. The aroma is sour. The fruit tastes acidic and leaves the teeth tingling if bitten into. Mature fruits are sweeter.
buying and storing
The fruits can be used fresh or deed. Dried amlas are sometimes ground into a powder and are also available stoned and chopped so they are easy to reconstitute. Store the dried pieces or powder in an airtight container for up to a year. If buying fresh look for fruits that are green and have a tight smooth skin. The fresh fruits need to be put into the refrigerator and will keep for 2 weeks.
Amla is the major ingredient in several herbal tonics which are good for the liver eyes and stomach. A fermented liquor is made of the fruits to relieve indigestion anaemia jaundice heart ailments piles and constipation. Amla is a very rich source of Vitamin C and is used to cure the common cold scurvy and pulmonary tuberculosis. indian beauticians have used amla in various hair preparations for centuries. Amla hair oil (coconut oil in which amla has been boiled) is excellent for hair growth and nourishment. Even the water in which dried amla has been boiled makes a good finishing rinse and adds gloss and bounce to hair. Amla is also used in shampoos dyes and inks. The timber from the amla tree is used for furniture and the leaves are used in cardamom plantations as manure.
Though it is an ideal souring agent amla is not widely used in indian cookery. However it is often made into chutneys and preserves. Fresh amla can be added to salads or used as a garnish. Ripe fruit can be chopped into a fruit salad.