Amla: An Indian Superfruit
Indian gooseberry has a long list of medicinal benefits—including supporting hair growth
You already know about the trusty, A-list superfruits such as blueberries. Some of you may be so accustomed to superfruits that you’re already popping goji berries in your mouth like raisins, or blending açai berry powder into your smoothies on a regular basis—but have you heard of amla, the wonder fruit native to Asia?
Amla along with amla candy is listed as one of the front-line immunity enhancers in a “prevention first” approach for COVID-19, according to the Guidelines for Ayurveda Practitioners and India’s Ministry of Ayush, which is responsible for the research and development of indigenous and alternative medicine systems in India.
Amla, or Indian gooseberry, contains a high concentration of vitamin C and other antioxidants, as well as active anti-inflammatory ingredients, which make it a go-to remedy for everything from preventing hair loss to fighting viruses and disease. Amla has superfruit status because of its high concentrations of minerals, amino acids, vitamins C and A, polyphenols, alkaloids, and flavonoids such as quercetin. With all this proven antioxidant and immune-boosting potential, amla may help prevent colds and coughs by fighting free radicals, combating inflammation, and supporting your production of white blood cells.
It’s like the squirt of Windex that the ‘dad’ character from the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” sprays on every ailment and health issue—only amla actually works, and on top of that, it’s completely natural. Weight loss? Squirt. Heartburn? Squirt. Need to lower your cholesterol? Squirt. Stressed out and need to cool down? Squirt. Just think of anything you don’t want to suffer from and amla’s your girl.
In a review article published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences Review and Research, the authors describe amla’s value from a medicinal plant perspective, calling it “mother nature’s gift to mankind” and the No. 1 most used medicinal plant in Indian traditional systems of medicine.
Another review article published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in January 2022 looked at previous research on the plant. The authors concluded that amla “showed remarkable therapeutic activities against several diseases such as diabetes, cancer, inflammation, hepatitis B virus, and malaria.” It also noted that there was a lack of information on dosing and the mechanism of action of the extract.
“Several bioactive molecules were isolated and identified from FPE such as tannins, flavonoids, saponins, terpenoids, alkaloids, ascorbic acid, etc. The in vitro and in vivo pharmacological studies on FPE revealed its antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, anticancer, radioprotective, hepatoprotective, immunomodulatory, hypolipidemic, anti-venom, wound healing, HIV-reverse transcriptase effect. Toxicological studies on fruits indicated the absence of any adverse effect even at a high dose after oral administration,” they wrote.
This fruit is so cherished in traditional Indian medicine that its tree is considered sacred in India.
Amla has a rich history that not many Westerners know about. You may have heard the British Navy used vitamin C-rich citrus fruit as a cure for scurvy (vitamin C deficiency disease) back in the 1700s. Amla grows more abundantly than lemons and limes in the Indian forests. In addition to bounty, the fresh juice of Indian gooseberry contains nearly 20 times as much vitamin C as orange juice. So back in the 1940s, according to the Bombay Sarvodaya Mandal & Gandhi Research Foundation, the Indian people used amla—their most trusted natural resource—to cure scurvy.
Amla for Skin, Hair, and Vision
For me—a beginner to Ayurveda—I was shocked to learn that amla staves off and treats virtually all the diseases that threaten our lives, including the biggies: cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. I was even more intrigued to learn that the wonder berry works for nearly everything that weakens with age: our hair, our skin, our vision. Numerous studies show amla reduces the effects of premature aging.
According to Charaka Samhita, a first-century Indian physician and one of the principal contributors to Ayurveda, amla is top among herbs to keep you aging gracefully.
Amla extracts have been incorporated into dermatological practice for some time. The vitamin C contained in amla brightens your complexion, helps fade hyperpigmentation, and protects skin cells from free-radical damage. Amla has been used in preparations to treat 18 types of skin disease, including psoriasis.
You can mix up your own preparations of amla at home.
As soon as you begin to look for it, you realize it’s not that hard to find. You can find it in natural food stores or Indian grocery stores in powder, capsules, or fruits and seeds (check the frozen section for the berries). The word is definitely out. I even saw an online ad that said they sell it at Walmart.
A study published in Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science in 2019 found amla can protect against age-related macular degeneration by improving the mitochondrial health of eye cells.
Skin care experts and savvy DIY bloggers mix amla with oils, avocados, and bananas to make facial masks for acne, sun damage, and age spots. Amla helps enhance your complexion, preventing the breakdown of collagen, which forms the firm protein matrix in your skin and soft tissues.
Look closer at some of your Ayurveda-based beauty brands, and you may see the extract in your moisturizers and facial products. For instance, if you mix two tablespoons of amla with one cup of coconut oil, boil it until it turns dark brown, you will have yourself a natural remedy for gray hair and a great alternative to chemical dyes containing numerous toxins.
Several promising studies show amla promotes hair growth and strengthens hair follicles—possibly due to its high vitamin content and enzyme inhibiting action. Researchers say amla’s carotene content helps with hair loss and balding and its iron and antioxidant effects prevent free radical damage to hair follicles and hormones.
A small animal study published in the Journal of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Research in 2009 found topical application of an herbal solution containing amla power was more effective than the popular synthetic hair loss product Rogaine (minoxidil) in stimulating hair growth. Amla can prevent gray hairs on your head by maintaining hair color. It may also strengthen the roots and improve hair luster.
In Asian nations such as Thailand and India, using amla for baldness is like using tea tree oil shampoos for dandruff—and—as you may have guessed, an amla hair mask works for dandruff too (Squirt).
Ways to Take Amla
The taste of amla has been described as sour, bitter, fibrous, and astringent. I know—those are not flavor profiles you look for in a food product. (Please send back the wine, it’s corked). Truth be told, amla is so sour-tasting, they use it in India as an ingredient for pickling. Fortunately, there are ways to make it taste good, and you don’t need to be a global food chef to conjure up a few quick and easy preparations.
Unless you have a wise Indian grandmother or are in a relationship with an Ayurvedic practitioner, before you cook up a treatment, you may want to do your research on this potent remedy. I recommend the site: Easy Ayurveda.com. The site, written by an Ayurvedic doctor, breaks down how to take amla based on research and ancient technique.
I learned the hard way how not to take new superfoods. Trying to learn how to naturally boost the immune system, I interviewed a certified nutritionist who told me she drinks a glass of warm lemon water with a scoop of camu camu powder first thing in the morning.
I regrettably skipped the research phase of trying a new food and purchased a huge bag of camu camu powder. I figured if I copied exactly what an expert nutritionist ate each day, my immune system would be like hers—foolproof. Did I mention she’s in her 20 and at the pinnacle of health?
Despite my high hopes, camu camu doesn’t taste like freshly squeezed orange juice. It tastes gritty and tart—more like a ground lemon petrified in granite (and a little like amla). Five minutes after I drank it up, I was dizzy and nauseous, turning green on the couch. I’ll probably never try camu camu again.
Amla in its many forms—fruit, seed, leaf, powder—deserves to be taken seriously depending on your ailment and body sensitivities. Like anything new that you decide to put in your body, you need to know if your body wants it and why it needs it.
Here are a few recipes for eating and drinking amla:
Amla Fry Recipe:
Amla Juice recipe:
Amla Thokku recipe: