Phyllanthus emblica: Gooseberry

Family: Phyllanthaceae
Common name: Gooseberry, Indian gooseberry, Emblic, Amla, Malacca tree, Amalaki, Myrobalan, Emblic myrobalan

The home of God Vishnu, according to Indian mythology, Gooseberry trees are valued for their nutritious, versatile fruits that are commonly available in India. The tree can reach a height of 5-8 meters with a twisted, gnarly, mottled trunk that peels off in vertical strips.

Leaves are pinnate, light green, with beautifully arranged leaflets that are about 1-2 cms long. Gooseberry trees produce long bunches of small greenish-yellow flowers with 6 beautiful petals, having a pink tint at the edges. Fruits are almost spherical, light green in color, very smooth, and glossy with 6 segments clearly visible outside.

When cut, gooseberries can be separated neatly into 6 segments that are attached to the seeds. Each fruit contains a single, large, bulbous, green seed, that retains the hard stalk which connects the fruit to the stem. Fruits can stay on the tree for many weeks without getting spoilt, thus giving farmers a long harvest period.

Even after it’s plucked, Gooseberries stay fresh for many days at normal room temperature. They have a sour, astringent, sweet taste that’s very distinctive, evoking nostalgia and memories of childhood. They are usually eaten by children with some salt and chilly powder, which helps set back the sourness.

In Indian kitchens, gooseberries are used to make juices, wines, savory dishes, pickles, and preserves, They are also boiled and then stored in brine to be made into chutneys during meal times. They can also be steeped in sugar or jaggery and used as nutritious sweet treats.

Ayurveda, Unani and herbal medicines use gooseberries extensively in many of their medicines, the most popular one being Chyawanprash, a preparation used to improve immunity and health in children. It is also used in the treatment of jaundice, inflammation, diarrhea, cough, constipation, heart diseases, indigestion, stomach ailments, joint pain, fever, and cholesterol.

Gooseberries are one of the largest natural sources of Vitamin C, along with trace elements like potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, zinc, and phosphorus. Hindu religion considers this as a sacred food that restores health and vitality, especially after fasting. Tender leaves and fruits can also be cooked and eaten.

Gooseberry trees are resistant to fire and most pest infections. Hence they are used for reforestation, and green manure that increases the alkalinity of the soil. They are fast-growers with dense crowns, that provide shelter and food for birds and small animals. The tree takes well to coppicing, cutting it down very close to the trunk, from where they can grow new branches.

Gooseberry leaves produce a brown dye that’s used in clothing, silk, wool, and wicker baskets. Fruits and trunks are also used to produce a black dye. Small pieces of bark are used to clarify the water in muddy streams or ponds. Fruits are used in shampoos and hair dyes. Wood is reasonably sturdy and used for small-scale construction of furniture and other implements.

Propagation is through seeds, layering, grafting, and stem cuttings.