Have you ever thought whether nature has a heart? If yes, then here’s your answer. The heart shaped Betel leaf is beckoned as the ‘Golden heart of nature’. Dating back to 7000 BC, Betel is one among those oldest divine herbs bestowed on mankind. Besides numerous health benefits, these appealing leaves are a symbol of status and hospitality for greeting Kings, nobles and guests in the cultural heritage of India. Botanically called as Piper betle, Betel vine is a member of the pepper family Piperaceae. It’s an evergreen and perennial creeper.
Significance of leaves has been explained in relationship to every sphere of human life including social, culture, religious and is very much relevant even in modern days. The plant, by itself, is said to have originated in India. Betel Leaf is cultivated in majority of South and Southeast Asia, and is a much esteemed leaf across the dozen nations. In India, the leaf is considered auspicious and is used as an auspicious exchange material not only during ceremonies, but also when fixing deals, business transactions and even marriage alliances.
The betel plant is called nagvalli in Sanskrit language meaning serpentine growth. The betel plant is a slender creeper which has alternate, heart shaped, smooth, lustrous dark green leaves with pointed apex. Leaves are edible part of plant which is bitter in taste but aromatic. Betel leaves are not famous in the western world because western food habits are much different than that of eastern. In India and few other Asian countries it is common practice to eat masala pan (betel leaves stuffed with sliced betel nut and other spices) after food.
Sanskrit- Tambul, Saptashira, Nagavallari, Nagavalli and Nagini
English - Betel pepper, Betel vine and Betel.
Marathi- Vidyache paan or Naginiche paan
Gujarati- Naagarvel na paan
Kannada- veeleyada yele
Malayalam – vettila
- In these ancient texts Betel leaves were referred as Tambulika, Tambuladhikara, Tambuladayini, and Tambuladyaka and so on. Ayurvedic encyclopedias like Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita have also indicated the many uses of Betel leaves.The primeval Ayurvedic texts also highlight the aphrodisiac properties of Betel leaf that aid in treating male and female reproductive problems.
- The Chinese Traditional medicine also used Betel leaves for its warm and spicy nature that aided in the treatment of cough, itching, inflammation, headache and respiratory infections. Betel leaves were used in various medical preparations of the Unani medicine and was used as a brain tonic, and in treating throat infections, cleansing the blood and for enhancing the appetite.Toward the 13th century, European traveler Marco Polo recorded betel chewing among kings and nobles in India.
- According to the study of numerous Anthropologists, the traces of Betel leaves were said have been found in spirit caves of Northwest Thailand, which dates back to 5500 to 7000 B.C. The oldest historical book of Sri Lanka, ‘Mahawamsa’ written in Pali talks about the leaves of the Betel vine. There are certain other findings in human skeletons dating back to 3000 BC in countries like Philippines and Indonesia, indicating the use of Betel leaves even before thousands of years.
- 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 to guests in Indian subcontinent is a common courtesy. 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 traditional practice of chewing Betel leaves with areca nut has been mentioned in the pre-historic books of the Indian mythology and the most predominant among them are Raghuvamsa written by Kalidas and Kamsutra written by Vatsyayana. In one of the oldest text named Sakta-tantra, Betel leaves have been denoted as one of the important ways of attaining siddhi or abundant blessings from the Almighty.
- Betel leaves were also used in the traditional healing system for treating various health disorders like conjunctivitis, leucorrhea, rheumatism, ringworm, constipation, infertility, bad breath, ottorrhoea, cough and asthma. Singers chewed these leaves to enhance their voice.There is archaeological evidence that the betel leaves have been chewed along with the areca nut since very ancient times
Culture n tradition
- Betel leaves are not exclusive to holy deeds. They play an important role in most Asian cultures, from India to the Philippines."The betel begins the conversation", is a saying in Vietnam that refers to how the practice of chewing betel in formal occasions can "break the ice". In traditional Vietnamese weddings, the groom offers the bride's parents betel leaves and areca nuts (among other things that hopefully include wads of cash) in exchange for the bride. The betel and areca are such important symbols of love and marriage, that in Vietnamese the phrase "matters of betel and areca" is synonymous with marriage.
- Offering betel leaves with areca nut to guests in India is a common courtesy. In fact, it is safe to say that all traditional ceremonies governing the lives of Hindus use betel and areca. In India, when paying a priest, the money is placed next to betel leaves and set by his side.
- Any discussion about betel leaf needs to include those cosmic seasonings that make up the renowned betel trio: the areca nut (often inaccurately called betel nut) and hydrated or mineral-slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) these three ingredients served together is known as the "betel chew" or "betel quid" and also represents the Balinese trinity of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu. The downside is that betel chew tends to produce a brilliant red color on the lips, a look that was once prized by Indians and who knows, maybe it was a forerunner to lipstick.
Plant description and Cultivation
- A very attractive spice, fast growing, perennial, evergreen to 1 meter, with creeping stem branches, dark green, glossy, heart-shaped leaves to 15cm long. White catkin flowers turn into green/brown when mature. Propagation is easy by root division or cuttings, preferably taken in spring or summer.
- Being a creeper it requires a pole or a compatible tree to grow. Fertile as well a high lands are best for cultivating betel leaves. Saline, waterlogged and alkaline soils are good for growing this plant. Betel leaf plant prefers a semi-shade position. It makes a good under storey plant. Regular feeding and watering will keep it growing very lush. In about 3–6 months time, vines grow to a height 150-180 cm. At this stage branching is noticed in the vines. Leaves are removed along with the petiole with the right thumb. Once harvesting is commenced, it is continued almost every day or week. The interval of harvesting varies from 15 days to about a month till the next lowering of vines.
- The betel leaf is cultivated mostly in the deltaic region of South and Southeast Asia stretching from Bangladesh to Indonesia. The harvested leaves are consumed locally or exported to other parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the United States. The harvested leaves are consumed locally and exported to other parts of Asia, the Middle East, Europe, and the Americas. Betel is grown and cultivated as an important crop in rural Bangladesh.
- 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.
In ayurveda, Tambool or Tambuli has been mentioned in numerous ayurvedic texts including Charaka Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, where these glossy leaves have been prescribed for enhancing metabolic functions, reducing inflammation, expelling mucus, strengthening the heart muscles, improving appetite, purifying blood, treating ulcer, nosebleed, acne, bronchitis, halitosis, bleeding gums, headache and reproductive problems.
According to ayurveda it contains
Guna (properties) – tikshna (sharp), ruksha (dry) and laghu(light)
Rasa (taste) - katu (pungent) and tikta (bitter)
Virya (potency) – ushna (hot)
It pacifies kapha and vata dosha and increases pitta dosha in the body. It is an effective anti wormal agent because of its pungent taste. It is an excellent anti infectious agent again because of its pungent taste. It helps in normalizing the digestive tract hence is very effective in maintaining the digestive system because of its light properties. It provides strength to the heart and tones up the cardiovascular system. It also helps in expelling out the mucus form the respiratory tract because of its hot potency. It is also a good aphrodisiac agent.
How to select leaf
Ensure that the leaves are green, fresh and free from any tear, blemish, dirt etc. It should not show any signs of wilting.
How to store
It is best to use fresh leaves. However, if you wish to store for more than 2 to 3 days, wrap in a newspaper and store under refrigerated conditions.
Part used – leaf
- Betel leaf is in use from ancient times as a digestive, anti-flatulent and mouth freshener. It induces secretion of saliva and digestive juices and generates peristaltic wave which is very important for digestion.
- Fomenting the stomach (in case of children) with heated leaf of betel cures stomach ailments. Boil 3 betel leaves with little black pepper in 200 ml water and strain it. Taking 2 tsp. of this decoction twice a day cures indigestion.
- 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.
- Betel leaf is considered aphrodisiac i.e. an agent who stimulates sexual desire. It is a common practice to offer betel quid(masalapan) to newly married couple before retiring to bed. It adds to love making and pleasures is a common belief.
- To prevent or treat vaginal discharge and reduce itching of the vagina betel leaf decoction is used to wash the vagina.
- Prepare decoction with 2.5 liters of water and 5-6 betel leaves (crushed) reduced it to about 2 liter. Let the decoction cool for some time. After that this water should be used by women to wash genital organs. Use this method on a regular basis until the vaginal discharge in women is reduced.
- Betel leaf juice is credited with diuretic properties in scanty and obstructed flow of urine. Betel leaf juice given with milk or honey helps in easing urination.
- Betel leaves are useful in cough syndrome in children and aged people. The leaves, soaked in mustard oil and warmed, may be applied to the chest to relieve cough and difficulty in breathing.
- Juice extracted from crushed Betel leaves mixed with honey is another traditional remedy for loosening tough phlegm deposits and relieving severe cough
Weakness of Nerves/ Pain/ Trauma
- Ayurvedic texts have recommended the use of betel leaves in the treatment of severe pain and aches, mainly originating from the nervous system. This pain-relieving attribute of Betel leaf is due its analgesic, numbing and cooling properties.
- 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.
- 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.
- In trauma/contusion betel leaf can be a good solution though of a temporary nature. Tying betel leaf with turmeric on minor injuries helps to stop bleeding.
- The betel leaf has analgesic and cooling properties. It can be applied with beneficial results over the painful area to relieve intense headache.
- Applied locally, betel leaves are beneficial in the treatment of inflammation such as arthritis and orchitis (inflammation of the testes) etc.
- 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 within 2 days.
- Juice of betel leaves with honey or gulkand (rose pedal marmalade) is a good tonic.
- Consuming betel quid after food gives relief from exhaustion, travel fatigue or mental tensions.
- 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.
- The application of leaves smeared with oil is said to promote secretion of milk when applied on the breasts during lactation.
- It also supports healthy gums, assists strong teeth and combat germs and other micro-organisms that cause oral infections. According to numerous research studies, Betel leaves and its essential oil are the best remedies for treating plaque, dental decay, dental caries and other oral infections caused by bacteria and other harmful micro-organisms.
Betel leaf Essential oil Uses
- Gargling every morning and night with one cup of warm water mixed with 1 drop of Betel leaf oil can act as a protective shield against tooth decay, plaque, halitosis or unpleasant odor in the mouth, harmful effects of bacteria, germs and other oral pathogens. This also helps in sweetening your breath, arresting oral bleeding, strengthening your gums and fortifying your teeth.
- Certain studies also state that Betel leaves and its extracts also possess bactericidal activity on various urinary tract pathogenic bacteria It also contains anti-fungal activity and proves challenging to fungi and the resulting fungal infections. This property of Betel leaf oil helps in treating related skin problems like acne, wounds becoming septic, ringworms, athletes’ foot and certain other infections.
- Gently applying 2 drops of Betel leaf oil blended with 1 drop of Peppermint oil and 1 drop of turmeric oil along with 2 ml of coconut oil on the affected parts can help in relieving wounds and infections quickly along by combating and preventing the growth of destructive microbes. You can also add 2 drops of Betel leaf oil to your bathing water to protect you from germs, prevent body odor and grant ultimate refreshment all through the day.
- The essential oil extracted from these aromatic betel leaves are also claimed to possess carminative, intestinal, anti-flatulent and gastro-protective properties .Massaging your abdomen with 2 drops of Betel leaf oil mixed with 2 drops of Peppermint oil and 2 ml of sesame oil can be an excellent digestive assistance.
- Inhaling the warm aroma of Betel leaf oil by adding 1 drop of this oil to your hankie or a tissue paper can aid in treating constipation, diarrhea, gas pain, flatulence, intestinal spasms and sluggish digestion. Certain researches have also established that the essential oil of Betel leaf has been highly effective against hookworms and tapeworms.
- Betel leaf oil has expectorant properties that aids in expelling accumulated mucus and phlegm especially in the lungs and the respiratory passages. Adding 2 drops of Betel leaf oil in steam inhalation and inhaling this medicated steam can help in treating nasal congestion, chest congestion and cough.
- Mix 2 drops of Betel leaf oil with 2 drops of Eucalyptus oil and 2 ml of mustard oil and warms it slightly. Gently massage your throat, chest and back with this medicated oil to eject excess water deposits in the body leading to the amassing of phlegm and mucus deposits.
- Rheumatism is often regarded as a health disorder caused mainly due to kapha vitiations. Excess of kapha dosha due to changes in food habits, climatic conditions and other lifestyle changes leads to stagnation of water in the system, built up of toxins, inflammation, pain, irritation and certain other symptoms. Betel leaf essential oil with its warming properties increases the heat energy in the system and reduces excess of kapha dosha.
- Massaging the affected parts with 3 drops of Betel leaf oil mixed with 1.5 ml of coconut oil can help in alleviating the surplus water deposits in the system by promoting frequent urination with its diuretic properties. You can also add 4 to 5 drops of this oil in hot or cold compress and use it gently on the painful parts. This can also help in relieving headache, lumbago or lower back pain, arthritis pain, swelling, redness and muscular tension.
- Betel leaf juice mixed with turmeric powder is a trusted folklore medicine for treating wounds, boils, acne, cuts and other minor injuries. With its powerful antiseptic and antimicrobial properties, Betel leaf and its essential oil have been proven effective in treating allergies, skin ulceration, body odor, itchiness, acne and other skin infections. Mix 2 drops of Betel leaf oil with 2 drops of Lavender oil and 2 ml of Jojoba oil and applies it on the infected parts and leaves it for half an hour. Wash it thoroughly with a mild skin cleanser.
Note-Avoid ingesting or using essential oils internally. Make sure that you dilute essential oils in suitable carrier oils before topical application. This is because pure and organic essential oils are the vital life force of plants and are highly concentrated liquids.
- Betel leaves are traditionally used in the preparation of "Pan"(betel quid). Betel leaves are smeared with calcium hydroxide/ slaked lime/ chuna and filed with areca nut/ supari, mukhwas, sugar coated confectionary and dry coconut. It is then neatly folded and served at the end of the meal. The folding of the leaves and presentation differs from region to region.
- Combine chopped betel leaves with gram flour, spices and water to make fritters. They go well as an afternoon snack.
- Try a unique Thai salad using betel leaves, peanuts and carrots. Make a marinade with soya sauce, Thai peppers, tamarind pulp, palm sugar, lemon juice and mint leaves and pours over the betel leaves and carrot mixture.
- Vietnamese cuisine uses betel leaves to wrap meats, fish, sea food which is further grilled, steamed etc.
- Whether they are busy or idle, they chew; whether they sit or walk, they chew. Teeth or no teeth, they chew. From almost infancy to old age, chews betel. Chewing betel quid the fourth most popular psychoactive substance in the world after tobacco, alcohol and caffeine exposes its 600 million users to substances that act as direct carcinogens in the mouth.
- Although use of BL was wide spread in ancient times, but there has not been strong evidence of incidence of oral cancer in ancient times.
- Chewing habits of people have changed over time. The betel leaves are chewed together in a wrapped package along with areca nut and mineral slaked lime. It is not known when these two different stimulant substances were first put together. Catechu (kattha) and other flavoring substances and spices were also added subsequently.
- The lime acts to keep the active ingredient in its freebase or alkaline form, thus enabling it to enter the bloodstream via sublingual absorption. The areca nut contains the alkaloid arecoline, which promotes salivation (the saliva is stained red), and is itself a stimulant. This combination, known as a "betel quid", has been used for several thousand years.
- Betel quid with or without tobacco, in an addictive psycho-stimulating and euphoria-inducing formulation with adverse health effects. Betel is notable for staining the teeth of regular users. Areca nut is considered carcinogenic when consumed with tobacco. Other substances are often added to the betel quid, in particular spices, such as cardamom, saffron, cloves, aniseed, turmeric, mustard or sweeteners according to local preferences. Numerous commercially produced mixtures containing some or all of these ingredients are also available in various parts of the world.
- Smearing a dash of lime on a betel leaf and adding quarter teaspoon each of grated dry coconut, a pinch of peppermint extract, fennel and a tiny spot of rose preserve(gulkand)and aniseeds on to the leaf, and folding it in the form of a quid and savoring it after a heavy meal, has its own health benefits. Betel leaves are an excellent aid for refreshing the breath instantly even after heavy meals or especially after having food items that may possess strong odor like garlic, onion and non-veg food.
- On chewing, the betel leaf induces salivation. Saliva fights bacteria in the mouth, and helps reduce plaque formation on teeth. Further, the Betel leaf contains compounds that act as heart beat regulators, relaxing the blood vessels.
- It has been reported that expectant mothers, who chew betel quid, during pregnancy, significantly increase adverse outcomes for the baby. The effects of betel quid and areca nut were similar to those reported for mothers who consume alcohol or tobacco during pregnancy. Lower birth weights, reduced birth length and early term were found to be significantly higher.
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.Eating them with tobacco is injurious to health. Overeating of masala pan is bad for oral hygiene. It can start dental caries. It can be a cause of gingivitis, stomatitis, leukoplakia i.e. formation of white spots or patches on the mucous membrane or tongue and oral cancer. If one will take due care of oral hygiene after eating pan/masala pan etc, then betel leaves are a boon to digestive system. Do not add more than a dab of lime, and be aware that chewing betel on an empty stomach may be unpleasant.
The never-ending list of health properties of betel leaves is about as long and intriguing as the River Ganges. In short, Betel leaf is a storehouse of several chemicals that are of much pharmaceutical value. Studies are on, to isolate and identify each molecule and study their effects. It is hoped that several more medicinal properties of this wonderful leaf are yet to be revealed. However one precaution to be taken is to avoid chewing the leaf with areca nut and tobacco, instead, try some variety spices including cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon and enjoy its health benefits.
This article is meant only for the use of education and information. It is not intended to cure or prevent any medical condition or replace any prescription medicines. This is only an initiative to spread the time-honored wisdom and medical excellence of ayurveda.