Betelnut - crafts

Betelnut palms are associated with a variety of crafts in South Asia. These serve both decorative and household purposes, from weaving to walking sticks and beads to boxes.

Betel boxes

A photograph of a box decorated with betelnut seeds.
Image: Betelnut seeds have been used as a veneer to decorate this box.

Betel boxes are made across South and South-East Asia and are often given as gifts at weddings. They are not actually made from the betenut palm, but are made as containers for their seeds. They are used to hold betel pepper leaves and betelnut seeds ready for chewing. They are usually brass or silver with many small holes to keep the leaves fresh. Many larger boxes have compartments for all other ingredients that might be added to make up a betel quid. The betel quid might be placed on decorated plates or cups.

Leaves, stems and seeds

The leaves and petioles of the betelnut palm are woven to make cups, bags and plates for food and water. They can also be written on and are useful for making fans, umbrellas and hats. The flower sheaths were used as a packing material and can also be used to make dishes, small umbrellas or even skull caps. The trunk often formed the roof rafters of poorer houses in Bombay, and wood from the palm was was put walls of houses. The hollow stems makes a good water channel. The palm wood has sometimes been used to make small items like boxes or pen trays (Swarup).

The green unripe fruits were used to tan leather in South India. The fruits contain tannin and can be boiled down into a solid brown mass called 'catechu'. Catechu is used as an orange-brown dye and is also used as a source of tannin for preparing fibres before using other dyes.

Pieces of the stems of betelnut palms are used as brush handles to apply pigment in Indian mural paintings. The palm may have been used as a tool in this way since ancient times, and they are still used by some artists today. Betelnut stem is preferred for this as the wood does not react with the colour of the pigments.

When betelnut seeds are cut there are fine dark lines rippling throughout the interior of the seed, rather like a nutmeg. This attractive patterning has led to their use as beads for jewellery. Less obviously betelnut seeds have been made into interesting walking sticks. Each section is roughly one centimetre high with a hole bored through and the whole stick tapers smoothly down its length. In 1897 they were described as '[betel] nuts ringed and strung with ivory on an iron rod'. They are very heavy.

More images of Betelnut