The haritaki fruit is one of the three ingredients of Triphala, the famous Ayurvedic formula. Its use as a medical herb goes back thousands of years and its tonic qualities have been praised by Indian epics. The plant's scientific name is Terminalia chebula and it is a member of the Combretaceae family.
The name reflects the strong belief of the Indians in its therapeutic powers. In traditional medicine, it is nicknamed "the removal of diseases" and thought to be the best herbal cure for any problems of the respiratory or digestive systems. The name comes from Hara, which is one of those used for Shiva, one of the most important gods of the Hindu pantheon. According to the legend, Haritaki was born when a drop of the nectar of the gods accidentally fell from heaven to earth. The name also means "green" and an alternative nickname is "abhaya", or without fear of diseases.
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This herb is native to India and the island of Sri Lanka and it can be found at altitudes of up to 2000 m. It is the most common in the foothills of the Himalayas, all the way from Western Bengal to Ravi. It can also be found in the forested areas of the states of Bihar, Assam, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
It grows in deciduous forests and can reach an impressive size, with a maximum height of 30 m. It has a large round crown, with imposing branches between 1.5 and 2.5 m long that spread out from it. Leaves grow in opposite pairs, they are very long and can reach 20 cm. The leaves have an oval shape, with a pointy tip. Flowers blossom at the end of branches and are thorny, with a white color.
The most useful part of the tree is the fruit. Fruits are small in size, similar to nuts, with a ragged exterior. Normally, fruits are harvested when unripe and used in various ways. The green fruit can be turned into a preserve, pickled or boiled in its own juice and then eaten. The pulp of haritaki is fleshy but with a strong texture. There is only one seed in every fruit, with a faint yellow color. These elliptical and rough seeds are the most important for medical purposes and considered a universal cure in the ancient medicine of both Vedic India and Tibet. The fruit also has some use in the local traditional garment industries, in processing of silk, cotton and wool or in tanning leather.
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There are several varieties of the fruit, classified considering not only the region of production but also its shape or color. There are seven recognized types in total: vijaya, rohini, putana, amrita, abhaya, jivanti, and chetaki. The one valued the best is vijaya, which has the roundest shape of all varieties, the others being more oval. Vijaya comes from the Vindhya Mountains, in the central-western part of the Indian sub-continent.
Fruits, roots, bark.
The haritaki fruits have numerous benefits but the most important ones are their antibacterial effect and the boost to blood circulation. The antibacterial effect is especially strong in the stomach, where it kills multiple strains of harmful bacteria. Indians also believe the fruit can increase the accuracy of the five senses.
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The antibacterial properties can be put to use in several ways. Ulcers of both the stomach and the mouth can be cured by swallowing half a spoon of powder made from fruit pulp, with a bit of water. A solution made from the powder can be used to wash the eyes in order to treat various types of infection.
A decoct prepared from the fruits is valuable against infections inside the mouth and other related conditions such as sore throats or stomatitis. In such cases, the decoct is best administered by gargling it. A hot mixture composed of haritaki powder and ginger powder can be effective against hiccups or asthma. According to herbalists, the fruit powder can alleviate other number of various diseases like fever, leprosy, diarrhea, anorexia and narcosis.
The fruit is especially powerful against digestive problems. It can treat several diseases, from distention and flatulence to infestation with parasites, which is common in India. Haritaki is also very effective as some kind of sedative, calming nervous people and strengthening the nerves. Researchers have discovered that compounds in the pulp can boost the amount of blood oxygen, which allows tissues to survive longer. A paste prepared from the pulp can be applied directly on wounds, reducing infection and swelling as well as boosting the rate of recovery and cicatrisation. Haritaki decocts can influence the metabolism, which helps in diseases like morbid obesity or hepatitis.
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Haritaki powder paste can heal conjunctivitis if applied directly on the eyelids. Its astringent taste works well with the antiseptic effect against problems inside the mouth, such as wounds, ulcerations, loose gums or gum bleeding. The ancient remedy Triphala, of which haritaki is one of the key ingredients, is also used to treat gum problems as well as infected teeth and as a medicinal shampoo.
It works well against internal problems of any kind, especially of an infections nature. Examples include digestive problems, parasites, infestation with worms, ascites, piles, colitis or swelling of the spleen and liver. A mixture of cane sugar and haritaki powder is considered a treatment for gout, while in combination with ghee and honey it can stop anemia.
An effect of curing stomach problems is improved digestion and better appetite. It can also be used in spermatorrhea and other urethral discharges, as well as vaginal ones such as leucorrhea, because of a mix of antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and astringent qualities. In addition, haritaki can help with dysuria, remove urinary stones and even improve memory.
A traditional use of haritaki in India is to cure infections and allergies caused by jewellery like earrings. While jewellery made from precious metals like gold and silver doesn't cause any problems, many cheap earrings are made from alloys that sometimes include nickel. These can cause allergies to some people and in time their ears become red and start to itch. The locals prepare a cure by grinding a haritaki fruit on a sandalwood stone with some boiled water, significant force is required because of the durability of the fruit. The result is a light green paste which is considered to be the best remedy for ear allergies and irritation. The paste is applied generously directly on the irritated earlobes and is usually very effective.
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In some Indian provinces, haritaki oil is considered to be a strong medicinal shampoo. When used every day as a hair oil, it can remove dandruff and prevent lice infestation. The oil is a home remedy prepared manually as follows: three haritaki fruits are mixed in a pan with a cup of coconut oil and heated just until the shell of the fruits cracks. The resulting oil must be cooled then deposited into a glass bottle. Locals strongly believe that this oil can stop dandruff and kill lice but also prevent hair loss and boost its regeneration. The fruit can be crushed and applied directly on the hair. Sometimes, a paste is prepared mixing haritaki powder with other natural ingredients like amla powder, curry leaf powder or yogurt.
The fruit is also useful in the treatment of acne, again due to its germ-killing ability. The traditional method is simply to prepare a paste from fruit powder and hot water, then apply it directly on the dots, This can cure the infection and prevent the formation of permanent scars. Haritaki is also used on the skin to shield it from the destructive effects of direct sunlight. The UV protection provided by the plant extract has been known for a long time and confirmed by modern research.
While famous mainly for their medical properties, haritaki fruits are an excellent food choice with a high content of nutrients, especially proteins, vitamins, and minerals. They are extremely rich in vitamin C as well as bioactive minerals including potassium, manganese, iron, copper and selenium.