The small green Haritaki fruits are no easy pickings, coming as they do from the Black Myrobalan tree (Terminalia chebula), which grows up to 30 metres tall throughout South Asia’s forests. Nevertheless, harvesters have braved this task since ancient times, as the fruit is highly prized in Asia’s traditional medicine systems.
Indian mythology traces the Haritaki tree to the Himalayan abode of Lord Hari – that is Vishnu, the highest God – hence its name. The word hara also means green, and is a name for Lord Shiva. It is also known as Harad in Hindi, Kadukkai in Tamil and Halileh in Farsi, and has been called “the life giving”, “the restorative” and even “the divine fruit”. In Ayurveda and Tibetan medicine, it is “The King of Medicines”. From Taiwan to the Middle East, the fruit is used for a variety of conditions, especially for the digestive system.
Since ancient times, Haritaki has been used in traditional Siddha medicine, Ayurveda, and the Tibetan and Nepalese medicine systems. It contains five of the six tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, pungent and astringent – which in Ayurveda helps it to balance the three doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It is part of the popular ayurvedic formula Triphala for rejuvenation. The fruit reduces stomach acidity, improves digestion and treats constipation – but its benefits don’t stop there.
Traditionally, it is used externally to disinfect wounds and heal boils, and also as a gargle for the mouth and throat, strengthening the gums and teeth. It reduces fever and helps with vomiting and respiratory problems like coughing. As part of Triphala, Haritaki is said to help with chronic conditions such as diabetes, stress and nervous disorders and epilepsy.
Seven varieties of the Haritaki plant are cultivated in India, depending on the soil type and climate. These are named in Ayurveda and Tibetan Buddhist texts. In mythology, the different types grew from seven drops of nectar fallen to earth from the mouth of Lord Brahma, hence the name Amrit (nectar of immortality).
Haritaki has a central role in Tibetan medicine, and is used in most Tibetan herbal cures, in spite of not growing in Tibet. In Buddhist iconography, the Medicine Buddha is often shown holding a flowering haritaki branch. The fruit is said to heal illnesses resulting from conflicting emotions, and is considered effective for all 404 diseases catalogued in Tibetan texts. Furthermore, it has the power to open the third eye and illuminate the mind.
Ancient Greek, Roman and Arab doctors helped to spread knowledge of Haritaki around the old world. In Persia, it was used in treating and preventing dementia, and what is today known as Parkinson’s disease.
By 1610, Haritaki was known in England as Myrobalan, and its softness was alluded to in Ben Jonson’s comedic play, The Alchemist:
By inspection on her forehead,The Alchemist, Ben Jonson
And subtlety of her lip, which must be tasted
Often to make a judgment. (KISSES HER AGAIN)
‘Slight, she melts
Like a myrobolane
Today, the powder of the dried Haritaki fruit is considered an immune booster and mild laxative, cleaning the intestines and improving nutrient absorption. It keeps the body running smoothly and can help to maintain a healthy weight. Haritaki is rich in vitamin C, anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory. Anti-bacterial, it improves skin and hair health and can be an excellent natural ally on your health journey.
The Auroville online store sells Haritaki by itself, and as part of the Triphala rejuvenation formula. Haritaki is not recommended during pregnancy or when trying to conceive.