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Sunday, 8 December 2013





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Ayurveda’s wonder fruit : Nelli

Phyllanthus emblica known as the Indian Gooseberry in English and Nelli in Sinhala is a small-to-medium-sized tree reaching 8 to 18 m in height which naturally grows in forests of the tropical Asian countries. The fruit is nearly spherical, light greenish yellow, quite smooth and hard on appearance, with six vertical stripes or furrows.

The tree is easy to grow, fire resistant, free of pests and diseases and needs little care.

Nelli is a popular backyard crop that is commonly seen in Sri Lanka. The tree is suitable to be cultivated in fire prone arid and semi-arid areas of Sri Lanka. The Nelli tree is a common tree that is used for the rehabilitation of degraded wastelands and also for agroforestry. The tree is commonly used in the Asian region for conservation purposes and for the restoration of barren lands. In Sri Lanka, the Nelli trees are used as attractive ornamental plants to decorate avenues, streets, parks and riverbanks.

Indian gooseberry

The fruits of the Nelli tree come into bearing in Sri Lanka from December to March. The taste of the Indian gooseberry is sour, bitter and astringent, and it is quite fibrous.

The Nelli tree is considered to be a very sacred tree in Sri Lanka, particularly among the rural people. The tree is considered to wash away the sins of the people.

Planting a Nelli tree is considered a sign of spirituality. The fruit is the most commonly utilised part of the tree. The mature fruits are edible and high in nutrition. The Nelli fruit is one of the riches sources of Vitamin C among the tropical fruits. 100g of Nelli contains 600 -1,300mg of antioxidant ascorbic acid. The fruit is eaten raw or used for cooking.

A common way to preserve the fruit is to dry it as it only loses 20 percent of its vitamin content within one year of refrigeration. The fruit is made into a sweetmeat with sugar and prepared as a pickle. It is also made into jam, jelly, syrup, candy, dried chips, chutney, cordial or juice. The fresh Nelli fruit is baked into a tart, added to other foods as flavouring during cooking and the juice is also used to valour vinegar. Both the ripe and the half ripe fruits are candied as a whole. It is used to give acidity to many of the dishes and is often used as a substitute for tamarind.

The Nelli fruit contains 30 percent - 50 percent of pulp. The pulp of the Nellie fruit is rich in protein, fibre, calcium, vitamin C and riboflavin.

The importance of the Nelli fruit for the practice of the traditional Sri Lankan Veda healing system has been well documented. The dried fruit is used as one of the ingredients which constitute the well-known Ayurveda blend known as Trippala. Nelli is commonly prescribed by Ayurveda physicians to promote longevity, enhance digestion, treat constipation, reduce fever, purify the blood, reduce cough, alleviate asthma, strengthen the heart, benefit the eyes, stimulate hair growth and enhance intellect. The dried fruit is used as a cure for diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhage, anaemia, jaundice, dyspepsia. Boiled Nelli leaves are very effective for skin eruptions.

A paste made from the leaves is used for eczema and wounds. An infusion of leaves with fenugreek seed is given to patients with chronic diarrhoea. Like the fruits, the barks and the roots are also used to make traditional medicines. The seeds are used to treat asthma and bronchitis.

Every part of the Nelli tree is highly valued in commerce. Among many other benefits, the Nelli tree provides subsistence for rural folks and generates international revenue through herbal formulations.

Nelli is a multi-purpose tree used for medicinal purposes, dyes for fabrics and tannins, wood, fire wood and green manure. It is commercially used to produce herbal shampoos and hair oils as it is traditionally believed to nourish the hair and scalp and prevent premature grey hair.

Nutritional composition

Product diversification of Nelli is taking place mainly due to its rich nutritional composition. Nelli is now available in the international market in capsule and tablet form. It is used also in the preparation of indigenous and modern medicine. Fodder and organic compounds are extracted from leaves, fruits, bark and trunk.

Commercial industries such as pharmaceuticals, leather, dyeing, chemicals, oil, beverages and cosmetics use Nellie as a natural ingredient. Although Nelli has a wide array of domestic and industrial uses, the potential of the Nelli tree is yet to be explored fully in Sri Lanka.

However, the demand for Nelli is steadily increasing due to its medicinal uses and its ability to make high quality dye and tannin. Nelli can be cultivated in many parts of the country. It has potential to create livelihoods for many rural Sri Lankans. There is an urgent need to facilitate the improvement of planting material and encourage product development, innovation and diversification.


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