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.
The betel leaf has analgesic and cooling properties. It can be applied
with beneficial results over the painful area to relieve intense headache.
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.
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.
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
Applied locally, betel leaves are beneficial in the treatment of
inflammation such as arthritis and orchitis, that is inflammation of the
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
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.
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
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.
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.