Haritaki is the Hindi name for a large, herbaceous tree that is native to southern Asia and common in India. It produces small, hard fruit that has been used for centuries in ayurvedic medicine as a nutritional supplement. It is considered to be so useful, in fact, that some call it a cure-all. Haritaki is also known by its Latin name, Terminalia chebula, as well as Chebulic myrobalan, Harada, and Black myrobalan.
The fruit of the haritaki plant is harvested when green. It is said to have a complex flavor that includes sweet, sour, astringent, and bitter aspects. It may be eaten raw, dried, boiled, or divided into parts, with its skin, seed, and flesh each used to treat different ailments. It is commonly sold in markets and health food stores, and may be acquired whole, dried, in powdered or tablet form, or as a liquid.
Haritaki is believed to be capable of extreme rasayana — rejuvenating — properties through increased digestive tract function. It has a laxative effect, which makes it a useful remedy in treating constipation. According to ayurvedic tradition, haritaki allows the body to better absorb nutrients and fight illness by completely flushing out the digestive system. Haritaki fruit contains a gallic acid that is also reported to have antibacterial properties that can aid in the treatment or inhibition of common illness-causing digestive tract bacteria and fungi, such as E. coli. It may also aid in increased liver and spleen function.
The extract of the haritaki fruit is used in the preparation of a number of ayurvedic formulas that treat everything from ulcers to skin problems. Some credit the seed of the fruit with treating common eye problems and improving eyesight. Used as a paste, haritaki is used as an anti-inflammatory and an analgesic in treating wounds and skin diseases. In this form, it is also used to treat hemorrhoids, as a gargle for sore throat, and as an astringent to treat pain and bleeding of the gums. Haritaki may also be used to treat asthma, anemia, hepatitis, urinary stones, and sexually transmitted diseases.
Haritaki is highly regarded not only because it is useful in treating so many ailments, but also because it is a very mild fruit with few reported side effects. Some users of haritaki complain of a feeling of dryness. For this reason, it is not recommended for use by people who are dehydrated. No other side effects are known.