Betel Leaves

Betel Leaves

(Botanical Name: Piper betle)

Origin, Distribution and Composition
The betel plant is a slender, aromatic creeper, rooting at the nodes. The branches of the plant are swollen at the nodes. The plant has alternate, heart-shaped, smooth, shining and long-stalked leaves, with pointed apex. It has five to seven ribs arising from the base; minute flowers and one-seeded spherical small berries. The use of betel leaf can be traced as far back as two thousand years. It is described in the most ancient historic book of Sri Lanka, Mahavasma, written in Pali.


Betel is a native of central and eastern Malaysia. It spread at a very early date throughout tropical Asia and later to Madagascar and East Africa. In India, it is widely cultivated in Tamil Nadu, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Orissa, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh. Offering betel morsel (pan-supari) to guests in Indian subcontinent is a common courtesy.


An analysis of the betel leaf shows it to consist of moisture 85.4 per cent, protein 3.1 per cent, fat 0.8 per cent, minerals 2.3 per cent, fiber 2.3 per cent and carbohydrates 6.1 per cent per 100 grams. Its minerals and vitamin contents are calcium, carotene, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin C. Its calorific value is 44.


Recent studies have shown that betel leaves contain tannins, sugar and diastases and an essential oil. The essential oil is a light yellow liquid of aromatic odor and sharp burning in taste. It contains a phenol called chavicol which has powerful antiseptic properties. The alkaloid arakene in it, has properties resembling cocaine in some respects.


Healing Power and Curative Properties
Betel leaf has been used from ancient times as an aromatic stimulant and anti-flatulent. It is useful in arresting secretion or bleeding and is an aphrodisiac. Its leaf is used in several common household remedies.


Scanty or Obstructed Urination
Betel leaf juice is credited with diuretic properties. Its juice, mixed with dilute milk and sweetened slightly, helps in easing urination.


Weakness of Nerves
Betel leaves are beneficial in the treatment of nervous pains, nervous exhaustion and debility. The juice of a few betel leaves, with a teaspoon of honey, will serve as a good tonic. A teaspoon of this can be taken twice a day.

 

Headaches
The betel leaf has analgesic and cooling properties. It can be applied with beneficial results over the painful area to relieve intense headache.


Respiratory Disorders
Betel leaves are useful in pulmonary affection in childhood and old age. The leaves, soaked in mustard oil and warmed, may be applied to the chest to relieve cough and difficulty in breathing.


Constipation
In the case of constipation in children, a suppository made of the stalk of betel leaf dipped in castor oil can be introduced in the rectum. This instantly relieves constipation.


Sore Throat
Local application of the leaves is effective in treating sore throat. The crushed fruit or berry should be mixed with honey and taken to relieve irritating cough.


Inflammation
Applied locally, betel leaves are beneficial in the treatment of inflammation such as arthritis and orchitis, that is inflammation of the testes.


Wounds
Betel leaves can be used to heal wounds. The juice of a few leaves should be extracted and applied on the wound. Then a betel leaf should be wrapped over and bandaged. The wound will heal up with a single application within 2 days.


Boils
The herb is also an effective remedy for boils. A leaf is gently warmed till it gets softened, and is then coated with a layer of castor oil. The oiled leaf is spread over the inflamed part. This leaf has to be replaced, every few hours. After a few applications, the boil will rupture draining all the purulent matter. The application can be made at night and removed in the morning.

 

Lumbago
A hot poultice of the leaves or their juice mixed with some bland oil such as refined coconut oil can be applied to the loins with beneficial results in lumbago.


Problem of Breast Milk Secretion
The application of leaves smeared with oil is said to promote secretion of milk when applied on the breasts during lactation.
 

Precautions: Cancer of the mouth and lips has been found to be more frequent in areas where the betel chewing habit is widely prevalent. Other ill-effects of pan-chewing like dyspepsia, pyorrhea, cancer of the tongue and cheeks have also been observed amongst excessive chewers.


Other Uses
Aphrodisiac: Pan-supari, especially the pan, is prescribed by Ayurvedic physicians as an aphrodisiac. Partly owing to its deodorant, aphrodisiac, and invigorating properties, pan-supari came to form a part of the ritual with which a wife welcomed her husband.


The betel leaves are chewed together with betel nut as a masticatory. In its simplest form, sliced betel nut is wrapped in a betel leaf, smeared with lime and chewed. Often though, a clove and other spices such as cinnamon and cardamom are added. When chewed after meals, it sweetens the breath and acts as a gentle stimulant.

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