Indian Almond Leaves: Magical Cure or Placebo


breeding tank overhead, originally uploaded by revs45.

Indian Almond leaves (Terminalia catappa) are one of those homeopathic additives Betta breeders swear by. They are commonly found all over Southeast Asia and India and are imported to many western countries and available in the U.S. To the best of my knowledge, no serious scientific studies have been performed proving that they are at all beneficial to Bettas but they are so frequently used in Betta breeding that it’s safe to say they pose no danger. Whether you choose to use them in your Betta tanks is up to you.

Some of the claims made by Almond leaf enthusiasts make it out to be more of a miracle cure then a beneficial additive and I, being generally skeptical by nature, raise a questioning eyebrow at some of the claims. Still, I admit it is the only thing I add to my Betta aquariums that doesn’t come sound scientific backing.

Fertility Enhancement:

The primary use for Indian Almond Leaves is to promote spawning. Some Betta breeders are so adamant about the properties of the leaves that to attempt a spawn without them would be recipe for disaster… or at least a recipe for small broods of weak and sickly fry. I admit, I was curious so I matched a male and female together for spawning without the leaves to see what would happen. The female got nice and stripy after a short while and the male flared in a display of masculinity. When the female was released she was chased and beaten on relentlessly and no spawning took place. Ah hah! These two sounded like perfect candidates for a little amore producing Indian Almond Aphrodisiac. I separated them, added leaves to their tanks for two weeks and then repeated the experiment. Wash, rinse, repeat. Same result. A male that put on a show of pompousness followed by beating the scales off of my female. Hmm. Okay, okay, it was hardly a scientific experiment I know. I’m not ready to rule it out though. Should I attempt a spawn again, I will add those leaves, just in case there’s something to it.

Nature’s Antifungal / Antibacterial Medication:

It is also said that the leaves can act as a sort of homeopathic medicine that is very effective against bacterial and fungal infections. This is another reason why breeders love it. The hope is that the addition of Indian Almond leaves to the water will help to cut back on egg-spoiling funguses commonly caused when eggs fall to the tank bottom and bacterial infections that can devastate a brood. Exactly what these chemicals are and how they are produced is up for question but one theory is that the trees produce these chemicals to protect itself against insect predators. Once these leaves are introduced to the water, the chemicals leach out in the form of tannins making their medicating properties available to the fish. Again, I can’t say that there is any truth to this but recently I had a male crowntail showing early signs of a fungus (probably really a rod bacterium) on his anal fin. Because it was so minor, I didn’t treat with any aquarium medication. I increased the frequency of water changes and added part of an Indian Almond leaf. The fungus never progress past the point I first noticed it and disappeared altogether within a week. Was this do to the properties of the Indian Almond leaves, the increased water changes or just the Betta’s own immune system? We’ll never know.

pH and Blackwater Conditions:

Depending who you buy your leaves from, some retailers will claim the leaves lower pH to closely simulate a B. splendens naturally acidic water conditions. Others will claim they won’t effect your pH at all. Personally I think they’re just trying to sell more leaves and are telling you what they think you want to hear. Truthfully, I’m not sure if it affects the pH or not, but I imagine it depends on your existing water conditions. As you know, pH directly effected by the kh or buffering capacity. The more kh the more “buffered” your water is against changes in pH. My water has fairly low kh and a high pH because of steps taken by my local water treatment facility. Adding the leaves to my aquariums didn’t seem to cause any significant change in pH but it’s possible those changes could occur if my buffering capacity was even lower. A simple experiment could be conducted to determine the ability of the leaves to effect pH, but I haven’t gotten around to it. If you have… or want to conduct the experiment please email me the results and we’ll post them here and on the main Nippyfish.net site. It would be pretty cool.

Those are the major three claims made by Indian Almond leaf promoters. There are others uses too including color enhancer, appetite stimulator and water conditioner. They have also been used for years to treat human ailments ranging from headaches to dysentery to leprosy. So without any major proof I will continue to use Indian Almond leaves in my aquariums. Even if none of the claims are true, and I doubt that to be so. I enjoy their fragrant properties when I open the bag full of leaves and even kind of like the tea color my aquarium water turns as the tannins seep out. As long as they are removed before they deteriorate they really don’t seem to cause any harm.

Indian Almond leaves can be purchased online at many Betta breeder sites, on Aquabid.com and on Ebay. The recommended amount varies by who you ask but generally one half square inch per half gallon is average. (or half of a medium sized leaf per 5 gallons).

Written by

Christie F is a Betta splendens hobbyist that enjoys spending time caring for her fish and helping new betta keepers learn the ropes. More posts by:

9 Comments for this entry

  1. Anonymous says:

    The IAL is not a placebo! Some serious studies have actually been done on them especially by German Aquarists. See aquamax website. Many hobbyists who have had little success spawning bettas, catfishes, and other species have had almost instant success once they started using IAL.

  2. Christie says:

    I just resurrected my search for information on Indian Almond leaves just the other day but again, all I could get were confirmations that they work but no solid information as to how or what specifically they do. I appreciate your comment regarding studies with German aquarists and the lead to more information. I will certainly check it out. My goal is to sift though all the internet hearsay and find actual facts based on science whenever possible. Thanks.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Christie,

    I have been a fish breeder for many years where we have a family owned ornamental fish farm. On the farm we have many types of fish which we breed using different techniques. My experience in this area over the years and my personal observations make me believe that the indian almond leaf is indeed a miracle leaf.

    The reason i say this is because of the multitude of naturally occurring compounds in this leaf when compared against other types. It has so many benefits not only to fish buy also for humans. Here in Sri Lanka, the leaf is used as an ayurvedic medicine to cure various ailments. In our fish farm, we use it to condition betas and even Discus.

    The reason we use this leaf in our breeding sections is due to its PH altering capabilities as well as its tannins. This leaf in principle causes the water to swing towards a more acidic state thereby making the environment more conducive to fish that require such water conditions. It also gives that natural peat coloration to the water so the fish "feel comfortable". When the water parameters are conducive to the fish, they breed well. So, to summaries I feel that the following model represents the affects of Indian Almond Leaves on Bettas.

    Model One: Health
    IAL==>Natural Water Condition achieved due to tannins and other leaf compounds==>immune system in fish works optimally==> Healthy Bettas

    Model Two: Breeding
    IAL==>Natural Water Condition achieved due to tannins and other leaf compounds==>Water resembles ideal breeding environment both visually as well as chemically==> Bettas Breed

    Hope this is useful.

    Best regards,
    Nigel

  4. Eduardo De Moya says:

    Almond leaves are really a good natural conditioner for the aquarium. Maybe there is no extended or certified cientific data, but it’s use through the years by a lot of people in different countries is enough empirical information and knowledge of its uses and benefits. And I can assure it’s not poisoning to fish, because I have used it many times and nothing bad or wrong ever happened. On the other hand, there is a lot of good reviews and recommendations on tne internet about it.

  5. blaze says:

    will indian almond leaves will cure fin rot disease???

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