Areca nut or betel nut, as commonly referred in India is a seed of the Areca Palm tree, that goes with the botanical name Areca catechu. Native to India, also known as supari, the word areca originated from multiple South Indian languages like Adike in Kannada, Ataykka in Malayalam and Adaikkay in Tamil. According to historians, it is believed that this hard nut with intense flavour was first introduced to European countries by Portuguese sailors.
In India, areca nut is an indispensable part of the culture. It is often associated with good omen or fortune and is a must-have in ‘tamboolam,’ accompanying betel leaves as a part of customary exchange of gifts in functions like weddings, housewarming and even a golu. For Hindus, chanting the verse Pungi Phala Samayuktam (along with areca nut) while making an offering to the God is an important part of a ritual, without which it is considered incomplete. Extending a spoonful of areca nut to the guests after a hearty meal or nibbling on the tiny bits of it, just to beat boredom is a common sight in the Indian households.
Though referred as a nut, areca is not actually a nut but a berry, according to botanists. Areca nut trees grow up to 12 to 20 meters in height, sporting crown shaped leaves that grow up to 30 – 60 meters in length. The fruits are up to 3 to 5 cm long, smooth, oblong in shape with a single seed and in green to orange colour. The endosperm of this fruit is areca nut, which grows up to 2-4 cm in diameter is in greyish brown, reddish brown lines.
Available commercially in fresh, cured and dried forms, it is chewed as it is or wrapped in a betel leaf smeared with a little bit of calcium hydroxide or slaked lime along with whole spices like cardamom, clove or sometimes even with sugar and patcha karpooram. The ripe fruit’s husk turns yellow to orangish in colour, even as it dries and hardens, making it look like wood. Special scissors are used for cutting areca nut to get the desired shape.
In India, areca nut has multiple names in vernacular languages. It is known as Puga or Supari in Hindi, Vakka in Telugu, Paaku in Tamil, Pophali in Marathi, Atekka in Malayalam, Gua in Bengali and Adike in Kannada.
What Are The Components in Areca Nut?
Areca nuts contain tannins arecatannin and gallic acid, negligible amounts of terpineol, lignin, alkaloids including arecoline, arecaidine and guvacine, loaded with vasoconstricting properties. When chewed along with betel leaf, these nuts produce eugenol, a vasoconstrictor that stimulates warm sensation, elevating alertness and triggering an instant happy mood.
Areca Nut In Traditional Medicine:
Areca nut has been an integral part of traditional medicine for many centuries and is used extensively in Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicines. Ayurveda describes the taste of areca nut as a mix of astringent (Kashaya) and sweet (madhura), dry or ruksha in nature, in cold potency, which transforms into pungent taste during digestion. It has potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, analgesic, antiulcer and neuroprotective properties.
According to Ayurveda, besides being a great masticatory ingredient, areca nut plays a pivotal role in balancing pitta and kapha doshas even while stimulating digestion.
It is highly recommended for removing tapeworms and other intestinal worms and chewing this nut along with betel leaf, serves a natural mouth freshener and a laxative. It is also considered a strong digestive stimulant, diuretic, for strengthening heart muscles and regulating menstrual flow.
Types of Areca Nut:
There are many varieties of betel nut based on the processing techniques. White areca nut is prepared by harvesting fully ripe acrea nut and drying it under for two months. The shells on the nuts are then removed and it is known as supari. The red supari is made by harvesting green areca nut, husking and boiling it in hot water. The final product is known as Chikni supari.
Benefits of Areca Nut:
There is a lot of scientific research that is currently going on to establish the medicinal and therapeutic properties of betel nut. However, it is an undeniable fact that this nut can cause severe adverse side effects, if not used in moderation. The below are few home remedies or uses of areca nut.
- Boil betel nuts in hot water, let it cool down and gargle the concoction to beat mouth ulcers and for instant relief from bleeding gums
- Sipping on betel nut decoction flushes out tapeworms and other intestinal parasites in the gut
- Mix areca nut powder with sesame oil and apply it on the wounds for pain relief in joints
- Brush teeth with betel nut powder for removing dental plaque and for whitening teeth naturally
- Consume 10 to 15 ml of areca nut decoction for regularizing periods and for relief from menstrual cramps
- Intake of betel nut powder mixed with 1 tsp of lime juice stimulates appetite and alleviates nausea
Side Effects of Betel Nut:
Nibbling on supari or areca nut occasionally is permissible but do not let it become an addiction. Regular chewing of this nut can increase heart rate, blood pressure and can interfere with the cognitive functions of the brain leading to lack of focus and memory.
Areca nut or betel nut or supari is an integral part of Indian culture and is a must-have in festivals, function, of course an offering to the God. Native to India, Areca nut exhibits various therapeutic properties. According to Ayurveda, it balances the Kapha, pitta doshas and it serves a natural mouth freshener, cleanses gut from tapeworms, parasites and clear dental plaque.
However, take this nut in moderation as its excessive intake can cause cancer, increased heart rate and increased blood pressure.