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A Piper betle leaf
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiospermae
(unranked): Magnoliidae
Order: Piperales
Family: Piperaceae
Genus: Piper
Species: P. betle
Binomial name
Piper betle

The Betel (Piper betle) is the leaf of a vine belonging to the Piperaceae family, which includes pepper and Kava. It is valued both as a mild stimulant and for its medicinal properties.

The betel plant is an evergreen and perennial creeper, with glossy heart-shaped leaves and white catkin. The Betel plant originated from South and South East Asia (India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka).


Vernacular names

The betel leaf is known as Paan in Urdu/Hindi/Odia/Bengali, and Taambuul and Nagavalli in Sanskrit. Some of the names in the regions in which it is consumed are: Vetrilai Tamil,Tamalapaku Telugu, Vidyache pan Marathi, veeleyada yele Kannada, Vettila Malayalam, Plū Mon, Malus Tetum, Maluu Khmer, Plue Thai, Malus Tetum, Bulath Sinhalese, Malu Tokodede, Bileiy Divehi, bulung samat Kapampangan language, daun sirih Malay language, Papulu Chamorro, Ikmo Philippines and Trầu Vietnamese.


A betel vine

The betel leaf is cultivated in most of South and Southeast Asia. Since it is a creeper, it needs a compatible tree or a long pole for support.

Paan cultivation is a special type of agriculture. High land and especially fertile soil are best for betel. Waterlogged, saline and alkali soils are unsuitable for its cultivation. In Bangladesh, farmers called barui[1] prepare a garden called a barouj in which to grow betel. The barouj is fenced with bamboo sticks and coconut leaves, and on top it is also covered by paddy leaves. The land is dug well and laid out into furrows of 10–15 m length, 75 cm width and 75 cm depth. Oil cakes, cow dung, rotten farmyard manure and leaves are thoroughly incorporated with the topsoil of the furrows and wood ash. The creeper cuttings are planted after proper dressing in the months of May and June, at the beginning of the monsoon season. The plants are neatly arranged in parallel rows about two feet apart, and the saplings are twined around upright sticks of split bamboo and reeds.

Proper shade and irrigation are essential for the successful cultivation of this crop. The plants are regularly watered in the hot months. The leaves of the plant become ready for plucking after one year of planting and the production of the barouj[1] lasts for several years from the date of planting. Betel needs constantly moist soil, but there should not be excessive moisture. Hence, frequent light irrigations are given. The quantity of irrigation water should be such that the standing water should not remain for more than half an hour in the bed. If water logging by heavy rains or excess irrigation occurs, drainage should be arranged immediately. The best time for irrigation is morning or evening.

Dried leaves and wood ash are applied to the furrows at fortnightly intervals and cow dung slurry is sprinkled. Application of different kinds of leaves at monthly intervals is found advantageous for the growth of the betel.

Betel leaf and Areca nut consumption in the world.

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. After each harvest, manuring has to be done.

There are various types of leaves, the most popular being : Calcutta, Banarasi, Magahi, etc. In Bangladesh Dinajpur, Rangpur, Chittagong, Faridpur, Jessore, Narayanganj, Barisal and Sylhet are the areas producing the most betel. The harvested leaves are used both for domestic consumption and for export to Middle East, to European countries, USA, UK, Pakistan, and Myanmar. Paan is one of the major economic sources of rural Bangladesh. The best Betel leaf is the "Magadhi" variety (literally from the Magadha region) grown near Patna in Bihar, India. In Kerala, the famous variety of betel leaf is from Venmony near Chengannur and it is called "Venmony Vettila". Betel leaf cultivated in Tirur in Kerala, Hinjilicut in Odisha are of fine quality. Betel leaves exported from Tirur are famous in Pakistan as "Tirur Pan".


The active ingredients of betel oil, which is obtained from the leaves, are primarily a class of allylbenzene compounds. Though particular emphasis has been placed on chavibetol (betel-phenol; 3-hydroxy-4-methoxyallylbenzene), it also contains chavicol (p-allyl-phenol; 4-allyl-phenol), estragole (p-allyl-anisole; 4-methoxy-allylbenzene), eugenol (allylguaiacol; 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy-allylbenzene; 2-methoxy-4-allyl-phenol), methyl eugenol (eugenol methyl ether; 3,4-dimethoxy-allylbenzene), and hydroxycatechol (2,4-dihydroxy-allylbenzene)[citation needed].

Several terpenes and terpenoids are present in the betel oil as well. There are two monoterpenes, p-cymene and terpinene, and two monoterpenoids, eucalyptol and carvacrol. Additionally, there are two sesquiterpenes, cadinene and caryophyllene.


Display of the items usually included in a chewing session. The leaves are folded in different ways according to the country and generally feature some calcium hydroxide daubed inside. Slices of the dry areca nut are on the upper left hand and slices of the tender areca nut on the upper right. The pouch on the lower right contains tobacco, a relatively recent introduction.
A phoenix wing shaped- betel leaf plate in Vietnam.

There is archaeological evidence that the betel leaves have been chewed along with the areca nut since very ancient times. It is not known when these two different stimulant substances were first put together. In most countries, the mixture of both has a ceremonial and highly symbolical value.

In India, Burma, Nepal, Sri Lanka and other parts of South Asia, as well as Southeast Asia, the leaves are chewed together in a wrapped package along with the areca nut (which, by association, is often inaccurately called the "betel nut") and mineral slaked lime (calcium hydroxide). Catechu, called "Kattha" in Hindi, and other flavoring substances and spices might be added. 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. Tobacco is sometimes added.

Betel leaves are used as a stimulant, an antiseptic and a breath-freshener Paan. In India, the betel and areca play an important role in Indian culture, especially among Hindus. Many traditional ceremonies governing the lives of Hindus use betel and areca. For example to pay money to the priest, they keep money in the betel leaves and place it beside the priest.

The betel and areca also play an important role in Vietnamese culture. In Vietnamese there is a saying that "the betel begins the conversation", referring to the practice of people chewing betel in formal occasions or "to break the ice" in awkward situations. The betel leaves and areca nuts are used ceremonially in traditional Vietnamese weddings. Based on a folk tale about the origins of these plants, the groom traditionally offer the bride's parents betel leaves and areca nuts (among other things) in exchange for the bride. The betel and areca nut are praised as an ideal combination to the point that have become important symbols of the ideal married couple bound together in love. Therefore in Vietnamese the phrase "matters of betel and areca" (chuyện trầu cau) is synonymous with marriage.

The high rate of oral cancer in South Asia is thought to be due to the chewing of betel preparations; the inclusion of tobacco may worsen the risk, but there is also evidence that the areca nut, alone or as part of a betel quid, may cause cancer even without tobacco.[2] See its article for more discussion of this point. The addition of tobacco leaf to the chewing mixture is a relatively recent one, introduced during colonial times a few centuries ago.

Medicinal properties

In India, betel is used to cast out (cure) worms. And according to traditional Ayurvedic medicine, chewing areca nut and betel leaf is a good remedy against bad breath (halitosis).[3] They are also said to have aphrodisiac properties.

In Malaysia they are used to treat headaches, arthritis and joint pain. In the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and China they are used to relieve toothache. In the Philippines, they are used specifically as a stimulant and was believed to strengthen the teeth and gums. In Indonesia they are drunk as an infusion and used as an antibiotic. They are also used in an infusion to cure indigestion, as a topical cure for constipation, as a decongestant and as an aid to lactation. Almost all Indonesian women use sirih leaves in bath water after giving birth as it shrinks the vaginal canal. It also counters unpleasant smells.[citation needed] The Indonesian government has endorsed betel leaves (daun sirih) as a natural medication against vaginal discharge.[4]

A related plant P. sarmentosum, which is used in cooking, is sometimes called "wild betel leaf".

Further reading

  • P. Guha: Betel leaf:The neglected green gold of India. J. Hum Ecol., 19(2) 2006 [1]
  • U J Nair et al.: Role of lime in the generation of reactive oxygen species from betel-quid ingredients.[2]
  • The Merck Manual. Tumours of The head and neck. [3]


  1. ^ a b "Pan". 27 September 2006. Retrieved 2006-09-27. 
  2. ^ A., Merchant; Husain SS, Hosain M, Fikree FF, Pitiphat W, Siddiqui AR, Hayder SJ, Haider SM, Ikram M, Chuang SK, Saeed SA. (1 April 2000). "Paan without tobacco: an independent risk factor for oral cancer.". International Journal of Cancer. PMID 10728606. 
  3. ^ [Naveen Pattnaik, The Tree of Life]
  4. ^ "Daun Sirih Mengobati Mimisan Sampai Keputihan - Sirih leaves for the medication of nosebleed up to vaginal discharge". 

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