Acai is often labelled as a superfood with an impressive list of health benefits. Although many claims are unproven it does have a long history as a medicinal plant.
Acai (commonly pronounced ah-sigh-ee) is considered to be one of nature's most complete and healthy foods. Its scientific name is Euterpe oleracea and acai fruit is a small round dark purple berry that has a large seed and not much pulp. The taste is like a blend of berries and chocolate. Studies have shown that this little berry is one of the most nutritious and antioxidant rich foods in the world!
Where Does Acai Come From?
The Acai berry comes from a palm with a long thin trunk up to 25m high with ribbon-like leaves hanging from a group of branches at the top. The berries hang from these branches in clusters of several hundred, and each Acai palm tree produces about 20 kg of fruit per year.
The rainforest Acai berry palm trees flourish in the lush rainforests that are fed by the mighty Amazon River in South America. Acai has been used for many generations by the natives of Brazil and in recent years it has been reported in the western world as a superfood with an astonishing array of health benefits.
Acai in Amazon Folklore
The Acai berry was introduced to the western world in the 1990s, but it has been around for thousands of years. The Acai berry was first used by the tribes of the Amazon jungle as a cure for various ailments. For hundreds of years, Acai has been a traditional food of the native people of the Amazon. It is also part of their folklore.
Legends tell there was once an Amazon Indian girl named Iaca, whose father was the tribal chief. His tribe had grown so large that there wasn't enough food to go around. Because of this the chief decreed that all newborn babies must be killed. When his own daughter, Iaca, bore a child, the chief had his decree carried out. Iaca mourned her baby's death alone in her hut for days. Then she thought she heard a baby crying.
When she went outside to search for the baby she heard crying, she saw a palm tree shooting up from the earth, covered in fruit. Full of disappointment, she lay beneath the tree and died. The next day, the tribe found Iaca's body under the new tree.
The tree's fruit satisfied the hunger of the tribe and renewed their energy, and the chief lifted his harsh decree, declaring that the fruit would be named after his daughter (Acai is Iaca spelled backwards). Acai has been enjoyed for decades by the people of Brazil, where a bowl of Acai is often eaten in the morning with breakfast.
Acai as a Traditional Medicine Plant
Several Amazonian tribes have medicine men or women who are healers that work with medicinal plants from the rainforest and have for centuries, through tradition, realised the Acai Brazilian berry has medicinal purposes. We now know the Acai berry has natural antioxidant properties, which has been claimed useful in naturally controlling cholesterol.
The tribes of the Amazon knew the benefits Acai berry gave, and found out that it helped build the immune system, fight infection, protect the heart, and control prostate enlargement (nature's Viagra). It was a great energy food for the native people, and the berries were traditionally pulped to make wine that was rich in minerals.
The Acai berry was also discovered to fight the disease schistosomiasis, which is transmitted by snails and affects more than 10 million Brazilians. The Acai berry is incredibly useful but was only known to the traditional tribes people of the Amazon for hundreds of years. A lot of the claims made about it in the western world have yet to be proved, but it is clear that the rainforest berry certainly has some beneficial health properties.