PROTA homepage Prota 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins
Record display

Terminalia chebula Retz.

Observ. bot. 5: 31 (1788).
Chromosome number
2n = 24, 36, 48, 72
Vernacular names
Chebulic myrobalan, chebulic myrabolan, black myrobalan (En). Cadou, myrobalan noir, myrobolan noir, myrobolan chébulique (Fr). Mirabolano quebúlico (Po).
Origin and geographic distribution
Terminalia chebula occurs naturally from the sub-Himalayan region of Nepal and northern India to Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Indo-China and southern China. It has been introduced in tropical Africa where individual trees are occasionally cultivated (e.g. in Côte d’Ivoire, DR Congo and Tanzania).
The fruits of Terminalia chebula are rich in tannin and are used on a large scale in India in the leather industry, usually combined with syntans and other vegetable tanning materials such as black wattle (Acacia mearnsii De Wild.), avaram (Senna auriculata (L.) Roxb.) and yellow mangrove (Ceriops tagal (Perr.) C.B.Rob.). Terminalia chebula is used in the production of sole leather, and in a last tannage after chrome tanning to give the leather weight and a fast colour. An extract of the fruits is suitable for pretannage of cattle hides. The fruits are also used in calico dyeing and printing, both as auxiliaries and as dyes; their tannins act as mordants to fix the dyes onto the cotton cloth and the unctuous consistence of the pulp makes the surface of the cloth suitably smooth to receive fine printed or painted designs. A reaction of the tannins with iron salts produces black dyes and inks. Brownish yellow to brown dyes for cotton and wool are prepared from the fruits with an alum mordant. The flowers give a yellow dye used for painting yellow and green details on calicos (chintzes). The tanning material (myrobalan) is also used as a mordant for basic aniline dyes and in the silk spinning industry to give some weight back to degummed silk.
The fruits are considered laxative, stomachic, tonic and alterative, and are often used in combination with emblic myrobalan (Phyllanthus emblica L.) and beleric myrobalan (Terminalia bellirica (Gaertn.) Roxb.). In Ayurvedic medicine the fruits of these 3 species are collectively called ‘triphala’ and are used to treat headache, dyspepsia, liver complaints, ascites, leucorrhoea and as a purgative, blood purifier and to improve mental faculties. They are also credited with anti-inflammatory, analgesic, anti-arthritic, hypoglycaemic and anti-aging properties.
Fruits of chebulic myrobalan are highly nutritious and could be an important dietary supplement for vitamin C, energy, protein and mineral nutrients. The wood is used as construction timber and for furniture, carts and implements, but is not of much value.
Production and international trade
India is by far the main producing country of chebulic myrobalan. The production of dried fruits in 1981 was estimated at more than 100,000 t. Only a fraction (about 20%) of this was exported, as dried fruits, complete or crushed, or as extract, not only to countries in the region, but also to Europe and the United States. In trade, fruits are usually known by place of origin; those from Salem (Karnataka, India) are considered the best. Trees are usually only felled when no longer important for fruit production. No data are available on the amounts of timber produced.
The dried fruit pulp has an average tannin content of about 30%, but the content varies considerably with the place of origin. Poor samples may register less than 20% tannin, good ones over 40%. Solid extracts as well as spraydried myrobalan extracts are prepared, containing about 60% tannin. Other parts of the plant such as roots, bark, wood and leaves also contain tannin, but less than the fruits. The tannin of the fruits is classified as an ellagitannin and is quite complex in nature. The major constituents are chebulagic acid, chebulinic acid and corilagin. A number of hydrolysis products are present in variable proportions, such as chebulic acid, ellagic acid and gallic acid. Myrobalans contain more sugarlike components than most other tanning materials, about 3–5%, which causes ready fermentation and satisfactory plumping of the hide in the early stages of tanning. They produce a brownish deposit on the leather, called bloom. The tannin is of a ‘mild’ type and penetrates hides slowly. Used alone, myrobalans produce a soft, spongy, pale yellow leather of poor wearing quality. They are usually mixed with tannins of the proanthocyanidin group, such as extracts of wattle and mangrove bark or quebracho wood, to give the leather more weight.
The mixture of tannin compounds, sugar and other fruit pulp substances make myrobalans a particularly useful product to mordant and prepare the surface of cotton cloth in the Turkish red dyeing process and in calico printing.
The medicinal properties of Terminalia chebula have been tested in numerous experiments in Asian countries. Extracts showed antioxidant activity. Fruit extracts exhibited significant inhibitory activity on oxidative stress and the age-dependent shortening of the telomeric DNA length, and thus an inhibitory effect on cellular aging. They also have shown cardioprotective effect against experimentally induced myocardial injury in rats. A crude extract of the fruits inhibited cancer cell growth in several malignant cell lines, with chebulinic acid, tannic acid and ellagic acid as the most inhibitory phenolics. Antidiabetic effects of the extract have also been demonstrated.
The fruits showed antiviral activities. Gallic acid and 3 galloyl glucoses were isolated as inhibitors of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) integrase. Extracts inhibited replication of human cytomegalovirus (CMV), and may be beneficial for the prophylaxis of CMV disease in immuno-compromised patients. They also showed activity against herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). Antibacterial activities have been demonstrated. An extract inhibited glycolysis of salivary bacteria and may serve as an anticaries agent. Topical administration of a leaf extract accelerated the healing process of wounds in rats, partly by possessing antimicrobial activity.
Per 100 g, fresh fruits contain approximately: water 58 g, energy 600 kJ (143 kcal), protein 4 g, carbohydrate 9 g, Ca 128 mg, Mg 67 mg, P 64 mg.
The heartwood is greyish brown to reddish brown and distinctly demarcated from the yellowish grey to grey sapwood. The density is about 880 kg/m3 at 12% moisture content. The wood is strong and tough, with interlocked grain and fine texture, durable under cover but not in contact with the ground. It is very difficult to season and work.
Deciduous tree up to 30 m tall, with a usually short cylindrical bole up to 10 m long and up to 80(–130) cm in diameter; bark dark brown, usually longitudinally cracked with woody scales; crown rounded, with spreading branches. Leaves alternate or opposite, simple and entire; stipules absent; petiole 1–3 cm long, provided with 2 glands near apex; blade ovate to ellipticalobovate, 7–15 cm × 4–10 cm, cuneate to slightly cordate at base, obtuse to acute at apex, thinly leathery, pubescent beneath, pinnately veined. Inflorescence an axillary or terminal, simple or branched spike 3–7 cm long. Flowers bisexual or male, regular, 5-merous, small, yellowish white, unpleasantly scented; calyx with glabrous tube; corolla absent; stamens 10, exserted; ovary inferior, 1celled, style simple. Fruit an obovoid or cylindrical-ellipsoid drupe 2.5–5 cm long, faintly 5angular, yellow to orangebrown when ripe, glabrous, 1-seeded. Seedling with epigeal germination, with a long, fairly thin primary root, short and thick hypocotyl, and glabrous cotyledons with 3 prominent and 2 less conspicuous veins.
Other botanical information
Terminalia is a pantropical genus of about 200 species. In tropical Africa about 30 species occur naturally, but Terminalia chebula is introduced and only occasionally planted.
Growth and development
The germinative power of Terminalia chebula seeds is poor. Viability of the seed is retained for about 1 year. Seedling growth is comparatively slow, with 10–20 cm height attained by the end of the first season and 25–50 cm by the end of the second season. Growth rates are slow in later stages too. The flowers appear together with the new leaves after the tree has been leafless for several months. Fruits ripen some 8 months later, and fall soon after ripening.
Under natural conditions in Asia Terminalia chebula occurs in mixed deciduous forest, extending into forests of comparatively dry types. It ascends to considerable elevations, up to 1500 m or even 2000 m altitude and grows on a variety of soils, clayey as well as sandy. It is a lightdemander, but withstands some shade in youth, and may then benefit from protection from the sun. It is fairly tolerant of frost and drought, and withstands fire, recovering well from burning and also from coppicing. Regeneration of natural stands from seed is usually poor, maybe because people harvest the fruit, but also because of predation by animals.
The tree coppices well. The resulting shoots are 2–3 m long after 5 years.
Propagation and planting
The fallen fruits are collected and dried thoroughly first. Later the hardened flesh is removed. Fermentation of the stones gives the best germinative results, but clipping the broad end of the stone without damaging the embryo, followed by soaking in cold water for 36 hours gives good results too. Direct sowing is not advisable, because of the risk of predation and because the seeds germinate poorly. In India, seeds are usually sown in boxes or nursery beds before the rainy season, covered with soil, and watered regularly. A mere 20% success is reported. Transplanting from the nursery into the field can be done in the first or second rainy season. Shading is desirable in early stages in the nursery and after transplanting. Propagation by cuttings is possible, but less successful than transplanting nurseryraised seedlings. In the forest, regeneration is facilitated by creating small gaps in the canopy, and this may be supplemented by sowing seeds in the clearings.
Diseases and pests
Terminalia chebula does not suffer from any serious disease or pest, although some defoliators have been reported. Fallen fruits are heavily predated by rodents and insects. The timber is attacked by borers.
Fruits are collected from the time they begin to turn yellow until they are quite yellow and ripe.
Per year one Terminalia chebula tree yields up to 10 kg fruit.
Handling after harvest
The fruits are sun dried, avoiding wetting by rain. They shrivel considerably during drying. Myrobalans are transported as whole fruits, or crushed without the stones, or as extracts. For the extraction of tannin and the preparation of extracts the crushed fruits are infused for 8–10 hours with hot water in a series of vats. The tanliquor is left to settle in a tank at a temperature of 60°C. To prevent fermentation, bleaching agents such as sodium hydrosulphite, alum or oxalic acid are often added; sometimes sodium acetate or formate are also added. The tanliquor is concentrated in evaporators. The concentrated solution is fed into vacuum pans for preparing solid extracts, or through an atomizer for preparing spraydried extracts. Various methods of reducing sludge formation in the tanliquor and of utilizing the tannin more efficiently have been suggested. They include solventextraction of the fruits with chloroform or acetone, heating the extract at about 120°C, ultraviolet irradiation of the powdery extract, passing chlorine through the tanliquor, and reducing the acidity of the liquor by treating it with salts and acetate buffers. Controlling of the pH of the tanliquor seems to be the most promising method.
For making myrobalan mordant for calico printing and the Turkish red dye process, crushed fruit flesh is first soaked in water for one night. For treating approximately 5 kg of cotton, 2 kg of dry fruits are necessary. The liquid is filtered and the cotton plunged into it and then dried without washing. To dry the cloth, it is spread out evenly in the sun. Without a mordant, dyeing with myrobalans gives a brownish yellow colour to textile fibres, but by mordanting or printing with Fe compounds a black dye develops on the cloth. Myrobalans also serve as mordants, together with alum, for other dyes, such as the red dye from Indian madder (Rubia cordifolia L.). To dye wool yellowish brown, about 1 kg of fruits for 2 kg of wool is boiled in water. The seeds are removed, water is added and the wool is plunged into the dye bath, which is kept boiling for one hour. For a deep brown colour, the same process is followed, with 2 kg of myrobalans added to an already used Indian madder dye-bath.
Whenever possible, the timber should be sawn when the wood is still green. Slow seasoning in protected and closestacked piles is best to avoid cracking and splitting.
Genetic resources
Terminalia chebula is widespread and does not seem to be in danger of genetic erosion.
Terminalia chebula might be an interesting source of tanning material for Africa. Because it is the fruit that yields the tannin, harvesting is not injurious to the trees, in contrast to trees of which the bark is harvested as tanning material. The nutritive and numerous medicinal properties of the fruits make chebulic myrobalan an interesting multipurpose tree worth planting on a larger scale.
Major references
• Burkill, H.M., 1985. The useful plants of West Tropical Africa. 2nd Edition. Volume 1, Families A–D. Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, United Kingdom. 960 pp.
• Cardon, D., 2003. Le monde des teintures naturelles. Belin, Paris, France. 586 pp.
• CSIR, 1976. The wealth of India. A dictionary of Indian raw materials & industrial products. Raw materials. Volume 10: Sp–W. Publications and Information Directorate, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, New Delhi, India. 591 pp.
• Fundter, J.M., de Graaf, N.R. & Hildebrand, J.W., 1991. Terminalia chebula Retz. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 3. Dye and tannin producing plants. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 122–125.
• Mohanty, B.C., Chandramouli, K.V. & Naik, H.D., 1987. Natural dyeing processes of India. Calico Museum of Textiles, Sarabbiai Foundation, Ahmedabad, India. 284 pp.
Other references
• Ahn, M.J., Kim, C.Y., Lee, J.S., Kim, T.G., Kim, S.H., Lee, C.K., Lee, B.B., Shin, C.G., Huh, H. & Kim, J., 2002. Inhibition of HIV-1 integrase by galloyl glucoses from Terminalia chebula and flavonol glycoside gallates from Euphorbia pekinensis. Planta Medica 68(5): 457–459.
• Barthakur, N.N. & Arnold, N.P., 1991. Nutritive value of the chebulic myrobalan (Terminalia chebula Retz.) and its potential as a food source. Food Chemistry 40: 213–219.
• Jagtap, A.G. & Karkera, S.G., 1999. Potential of the aqueous extract of Terminalia chebula as an anticaries agent. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 68: 299–306.
• Kurokawa, M., Nagasaka, K., Hirabayashi, T., Uyama, S., Sato, H., Kageyama, T., Kadota, S., Ohyama, H., Hozumi, T. & Namba, T., 1995. Efficacy of traditional herbal medicines in combination with acyclovir against herpes simplex virus type 1 infection in vitro and in vivo. Antiviral Research 27: 19–37.
• Na, M., Bae, K., Sik Kang, S., Sun Min, B., Kuk Yoo, J., Kamiryo, Y., Senoo, Y., Yokoo, S. & Miwa, N., 2004. Cytoprotective effect on oxidative stress and inhibitory effect on cellular aging of Terminalia chebula fruit. Phytotherapy Research 18(9): 737–741.
• Naik, G.H., Priyadarsini, K.I., Satav, J.G., Banavalikar, M.M., Sohoni, D.P., Biyani, M.K. & Mohan, H., 2003. Comparative antioxidant activity of individual herbal components used in Ayurvedic medicine. Phytochemistry 63: 97–104.
• Sabu, M.C. & Kuttan, R., 2002. Anti-diabetic activity of medicinal plants and its relationship with their antioxidant property. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 81: 155–160.
• Saleem, A., Husheem, M., Härkönen, P. & Pihlaja, K., 2002. Inhibition of cancer cell growth by crude extract and the phenolics of Terminalia chebula Retz. fruit. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 81: 327–336.
• Sosef, M.S.M., Boer, E., Keating, W.G., Sudo, S. & Phuphathanaphong, L., 1995. Terminalia L. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J., Soerianegara, I. & Wong, W.C. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 5(2). Timber trees: Minor commercial timbers. Backhuys Publishers, Leiden, Netherlands. pp. 474–492.
• Suguna, L., Singh, S., Sivakumar, P., Sampath, P. & Chandrakasan, G., 2002. Influence of Terminalia chebula on dermal wound healing in rats. Phytotherapy Research 16(3): 227–231.
• Yukawa, T.A., Kurokawa, M., Sato, H., Yoshida, Y., Kageyama, S., Hasegawa, T., Namba, T., Imakita, M., Hozumi, T. & Shiraki, K., 1996. Prophylactic treatment of cytomegalovirus infection with traditional herbs. Antiviral Research 32(2): 63–70.
Sources of illustration
• Fundter, J.M., de Graaf, N.R. & Hildebrand, J.W., 1991. Terminalia chebula Retz. In: Lemmens, R.H.M.J. & Wulijarni-Soetjipto, N. (Editors). Plant Resources of South-East Asia No 3. Dye and tannin producing plants. Pudoc, Wageningen, Netherlands. pp. 122–125.
P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
Based on PROSEA 3: ‘Dye and tannin-producing plants’.

P.C.M. Jansen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
D. Cardon
CNRS, CIHAM-UMR 5648, 18, quai Claude-Bernard, 69365 Lyon, Cedex 07, France
General editors
R.H.M.J. Lemmens
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
L.P.A. Oyen
PROTA Network Office Europe, Wageningen University, P.O. Box 341, 6700 AH Wageningen, Netherlands
PROSEA Network Office, Herbarium Bogoriense, P.O. Box 234, Bogor 16122, Indonesia

Correct citation of this article:
Jansen, P.C.M., 2005. Terminalia chebula Retz. In: Jansen, P.C.M. & Cardon, D. (Editors). PROTA 3: Dyes and tannins/Colorants et tanins. [CD-Rom]. PROTA, Wageningen, Netherlands.
Distribution Map planted

1, flowering branch; 2, flower; 3, fruits