Betel nut palm
Cultivated throughout Asia (although its exact country of origin remains unknown), the betel nut palm (Areca catechu) is one of the most economically important palms. It is cultivated for the hard, dried inner layer (endosperm) of its seeds. This is chewed by people in South-East Asia and India as a narcotic and masticatory. Small pieces of endosperm are wrapped in a betel pepper (Piper betle) leaf to which some slaked lime has been added. The package, or quid, is chewed slowly and eventually spat out.
Betel is chewed by people of all ages on special occasions and after meals. Utensils for preparing and storing betel-chewing ingredients are often exquisitely crafted and some times made of silver. Betel-chewing is said to be beneficial to health 'to expel wind, to remove phlegm, to kill germs and to subdue bad odour'. However, it grinds down and blackens the teeth, and stains the lips and mouth bright red and produces copious red saliva, the betel-chewer frequently having to spit.
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Search Kew's electronic Plant Information Centre for scientific information about Areca catechu