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Mm… Mm… Amla

Mm… Mm… Amla: It’s a fruit. It’s a medicine.

When I’m shopping for produce here in Kerala and point to this round green fruit, if the shopkeeper speaks English, he will say, Gooseberry?

The amla fruit also known as amalaki, or nellikka here in Kerala’s Malayalam has many names and many uses. It’s used as a food, but also as an important Ayurvedic medicine.

Amalaki is both cleansing and rejuvenating a unique rasayana. Amalaki is known to be incredibly high in vitamin C and many other antioxidants. Fresh amalaki is often cooked into the classic Chyavanprash the nutritive and spicy jam we use in Ayurveda to build all the body’s tissues. In dry powder form, amalaki is one of the three ingredients in the most famous Ayurvedic formula of all triphala. Triphala’s been in international news lately, noting it’s potential to address cancer:

Amalaki is also a popular ingredient in hair oils and shampoos for scalp health and beautiful hair. Since medicine is, in many ways, integral to daily life here in Kerala, amalaki is commonly made into a tasty pickle, served as a condiment alongside the noontime meal. It’s also considered a treat just to suck on an amla fruit.

There is a nellikka tree just outside my window. Sometimes, I’ll come across the ladies and kids of my house just chillin’ by the well, enjoying these big green berries as a simple snack. Whenever I’m offered the chance to eat amla, I can’t help but remember the flavor-changing Everlasting Gobstopper that Violet Beauregaard couldn’t get enough of in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. When you first pop an amalaki fruit in your mouth and break the skin with your teeth, the amla or sour flavor, hits the tongue. But that’s soon followed by a strong, lip-smacking bitterness. Next, an astringent quality comes thru. Then, an indescribably sweet taste washes the mouth. There’s so much to tasting this single fruit, one can feel compelled to taste it again and again.

Ayurvedic theory maintains that the six different possible tastes of foods and herbs affect our brain, and that we need to experience all the tastes on a regular basis. Amla is practically a one-stop shop in the taste delivery department!

I can’t explain the science behind amla’s cycle of taste sensations. All I can say is that the amalaki fruit is a fine example of the abundant plant medicines here in Kerala so numerous, you can just walk outside and pick them off trees.