Açaí is the fruit of a palm tree native to riparian zones of the tropics of south and central America. Belonging to the Arecaceae family, Açaí is related to the other Palm Family members such as Coconut, Dates, and Saw Palmetto. Açaí’s Latin name, Euterpe oleracea, is related to the daughter of Zeus, Euterpe, who was known for ‘ministering delight’ and for being one of the muses residing atop Mt. Olympus, and related to the plant’s aesthetic growth habit. The species name, oleracea, is related to its edibility, and cabbage, kale, and broccoli also share the ‘oleracea’ species name. Interestingly, the widespread desirability of Açaí berries is a relatively modern phenomena, as it was more traditionally cultivated as an ornamental and was of interest for its potential in the palm heart industry. Açaí palm was of significance for the native people who inhabited the same region where Açaí grows. The tender heart of the tree can be eaten, the leaves used as fiber and building material, a tea of the roots can be drunk to support the blood and liver, and the seeds could be roasted and made into beverage to support the immune response. The young leaves would be placed on babies to keep them healthy and protect from evil influences. The berry was consumed to support immune health, energy, libido, and glycemic balance. A felled Açaí palm tree was also used to attract the Rhynchophorus palmarum beetle, whose edible larvae is rich in protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals.
What is Açaí Used For?
In the modern western world, the deep purple berries of the Açaí palm are known as a health-promoting superfood rich in free radical scavengers, or antioxidants. The antioxidant capacity of Açaí is thought to be largely delivered through compounds called polyphenols. Anthocyanins, a type of polyphenol, are purple pigmented compounds that are found in dark berries such bilberries, elderberries, and açaí. Açaí berries have been found to have an appreciable amount of anthocyanins, higher than other superfruits like acerola, camu-camu, goji, jambul, and maqui. The consumption of antioxidant rich food is associated with numerous health benefits. In a study done on healthy adults, blood plasma concentrations of anthocyanins were shown to increase 2.3 – 3 fold following consumption of açaí fruit preparation compared to placebo (apple sauce). This increase in plasma concentrations indicates the bioavailability of anthocyanins and their ability to interact with various tissues and organs due to their systemic circulation. In another study done on healthy, overweight men, açaí consumption along with a high-fat morning meal was shown to improve the vascular function by flow-mediated dilatation (FMD), indicating that açaí consumption may support a healthy cardiovascular system. Compounds in açaí other than anthocyanins have also been studied. In an analysis on the bioactivity of flavonoids from açaí berries, the compound velutin was shown to modulate the actions of NF-kB, a type of immune cell, which may support a healthy inflammatory response. A dye prepared from açaí berries is also being investigated as a non-toxic alternative to indocyanine green (ICG), which is utilized to stain thin membranes during optical procedures.
Traditional Health Benefits of Açaí
Additional Information on this Herb
Flavonoids, Polyphenols (most notably anthocyanins), and phenolic acids such caffeic and ferulic acid
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- This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.
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