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Piperaceae (Pepper Family); Pipereae Tribe

Forms and Subspecies

The two most frequently cultivated and utilized

varieties differ from one another primarily in their

concentrations of essential oil and oleoresins:

Piper betle L. var. bangla: 5.90/0 oleoresin, 1.6%

essential oil

Piper betle L. var. metha-thakpaIa: 4.9% oleoresin,

2.40/0 essential oil

Numerous cultivars are distinguished in Sri

Lanka: 'Rata Bulath-vel', 'Siribo Bulath', 'Naga

Walli-Bulath' (with spotted leaves), 'GetatoduBulath',

'Mala-Bulath', 'Gal-Bulath', and 'DaluKotu-

Bulath' (Macmillan 1991,427*).


Chavica auriculata Miq.

Chavica betle (L.) Miq.

Chavica chuvya Miq.

Chavica densa Miq.l.c.

Chavica sibirica (L.) Miq.l.c.

Piper malamiris L.l.c.p.p.

Piper pinguispicum C. DC. et Koord.

Piper siriboa L.

Folk Names

Beatelvine, betel, betel, betele, betel-leaf, betel

pepper, betelpfeffer, betel vine, betle, betre (Malay,

"single leaf"), bettele, bettele-pfeffer, bu, buio,

bulath (Singalese), bulath-vel, buru, daun syry

(Malay), fu-liu, fu-liu-t'eng (ancient Chinese),

ikmo (Philippines), liu, ma-lu, nagavalli (Sanskrit),

paan, pan, pelu (Thai), pu, sirih, tambul

(Sanskrit), tambula (Sanskrit), tembul, veth-thile


In Southeast Asia and India, the use of betel leaves

must be very ancient (cf. Areca catechu, betel

quids). The plant is mentioned in early Sanskrit


The first European representation of the betel

leaf (although entirely inaccurate) can be found

on a copperplate engraving from the Delle

navigationi e viaggi of Giovanni Battista Ramusio

(1485-1557), published in Venice in 1553. The

first botanically correct representation was

published in Paris in 1758 in Histoire generale des

voyages, by Antoine-Fran<;:ois Prevost.

Today, betel pepper (fresh betel leaves) is one of

the most important articles of trade in Southeast

Asia and in all areas in which large numbers of

Indians or Tamils have settled.


Betel pepper is indigenous to the Indo-Malayan

region but is now grown in all of southern and

Southeast Asia and even in'the Seychelles and in

Mauritius, Madagascar, and eastern Africa. It

appears to have originated in central or eastern

Malaysia. Some authors have suggested that the

plant is originally from Java (Gupta 1991, 79*).


Propagation is performed almost exclusively with

cuttings taken from the stem (10 to 20 cm in

length). They are either placed in water until they

develop roots or placed in moist cultivation beds.

The plant requires moist and humus-rich soil and

a semishaded location (Macmillan 1991,427*).

In the tropics, the leaves of this evergreen plant

can be harvested throughout the year. They

normally are picked in the early morning.


Betel pepper is a climbing half-shrub that bears

shiny, light green, heart-shaped leaves (up to 18

cm in length). The sheen of the leaves is a reliable

characteristic for distinguishing this species from

other species of Piper, with which it can easily be

confused (cf. Piper spp.). The "buds" (spikes)

hang on the leafstalks like long, light-colored

threads. The male spikes are cylindrical; the female

grow to a length of only 4 cm. The fruit IS a

spherical drupe about 6 mm in diameter.

Psychoactive Material

- Betel leaves (folia piperis betle, piperis betle

folium, betel pepper leaves)

Only fresh leaves are suitable for making betel

quids; dried leaves can be used for medicinal purposes.

The leaves are pressed after they are collected.

Occasionally the "buds" (= spikes) are also

used for betel quids.

Preparation and Dosage

Fresh, undamaged leaves that have not begun to

dry are used almost exclusively for psychoactive

preparations. A normal dosage is one leaf per betel

quid. A tea can be brewed from fresh or dried

leaves. Again, one leaf is used per dosage.
Ritual Use

In India, all of life is ritually associated with the

betel pepper. When a parcel of land is being

prepared for cultivating betel pepper, a goat is first

sacrificed while special mantras are recited. The

head of the goat is buried in one corner of the future betel field (paan mara), the four hoofs are

buried in the four cardinal directions, and the

blood, mixed with earth, is distributed along the

borders of the field as a landmark. Then a number

of shobhanjana (Moringa oleifera) trees are planted.

The betel vines will later grow up the branches of

these fast-growing trees. Rows of mandara trees

(Erythrina indica; see Erythrina spp.) are planted

along the margins of the field as windbreaks. Anyone

who enters the field must perform a gesture of

veneration, for the field is regarded as a temple

and is revered accordingly (Gupta 1991, 77 f. *).

Betel leaves are regarded as sacred and are

among the more important offerings that can be

made to Shiva, to whom all inebriating plants are

sacred (cf. Aconitum ferox, Cannabis indica,

Datura metel, Strychnos nux-vomica). Myths

describe how the betel vine first grew only in

heaven. Shiva asked the plant to go to the people

on the earth. At first the vine refused because it

was afraid that it would not be sufficiently

respected and venerated. Shiva promised the plant

that its leaves would be used with respect in all

ceremonies. When he had convinced the plant, it

came down from heaven to the earth. For this

reason, it is considered good manners to offer

guests a few betel leaves (with or without areca

nuts; cf. Areca catechu). Betel leaves are also used

for sprinkling sacred water during every ceremony.

When the leaves are combined with cloves,

castoreum, salt, and red, black, white, and yellow

colors, they are considered a sure agent for

banishing demons (Gupta 1991, 78 f.*).

For more on ritual uses, see betel quids.Artifacts

The heart-shaped leaves have been depicted in

Indian art since ancient times and are often used

as an ornamental decoration on objects for

making or consuming betel quids.

Medicinal Use

In the folk medicine of southern and Southeast

Asia, betel leaves are chewed or eaten to treat

coughing, inflammations of the mucous membranes,

diphtheria, inflammations of the middle

ear, and all types of stomach ailments. In India, the

leaves are also used to treat snakebites and as an

aphrodisiac (Gupta 1991,79*).

In Southeast Asia, the roots and inflorescences

are used in cases of weak digestion (Macmillan

1991, 424*); the same custom is found in the

Seychelles and in other places with an Indian

population. In the Seychelles, the leaves are

"chewed in order to stay healthy. Seven leaves,

finely chopped and placed on wounds, promote

healing. A compress is also said to be effective

against varicose veins" (Milller-Ebeling and

R~itsch 1989,29*).


The leaves contain 0.2 to 2.60/0 essential oil with

phenolic constituents (eugenol, isoeugenol, allylpyrocatechol,

chavicol, carvacrol) as well as

nonphenolic substances (cineole, cadinene, and acaryophyllene)

(Roth et al. 1994, 569*). Also

present are safrole, anethol, hentricontane,

pentatriacontane, 13- and 'Y-sitosterol, stearic acid,

and triacontol. The pungent substance piperine,

present in most Piper species, has not been

detected in the betel pepper.

A team of Chinese researchers isolated and

clarified neolignans (methylpiperbetol, piperol A,

piperol B, crotepoxide) from the stems (and

leaves) (Yin et al. 1991). Betel pepper flowers

contain large amounts of essential oil, primarily

with eugenol and isoeugenol.


The leaves have stimulant, antibiotic, digestionpromoting,

and antiflatulence effects (Roth et al.

1994, 569*). They have a clear stimulating and

awakening effect and open the perception. The

effects appear to be synergistically potentiated by

the other ingredients in betel quids.

The essential oil has anthelmintic properties

(Ali and Mehta 1970) and appears to have antimutagenic

and cancer-inhibiting effects. As a result,

the betel leaf is an important health-promoting

component of the betel quid. Pharmacological

investigations of aqueous leaf extracts of Indonesian

plants carried out at the Center for Research

for Traditional Medicine (Airlangga University,

Surabaya) have demonstrated that they stimulate

phagocytosis, thereby strengthening the body's

immune system (Sutarjadi et al. 1991). On the

other hand, the neolignan crotepoxide is said to

have pronounced cytotoxic effects (Yin et al.


Commercial Forms and Regulations

Because betel leaves are internationally recognized

as not being an "addictive drug" or "narcotic;' the

plant is not subject to any laws regarding medicines

or similar regulations but is classified as a

foodstuff (the laws regulating such products may

apply). In Switzerland, the fresh leaves are available

in shops selling Indian articles.


See also the entries for Areca catechu, Piper

auritum, Piper methysticum, Macropiper excelsum,

and betel quids.

Ali, S. M., and R. K. Mehta. 1970. Preliminary

pharmacological and anthelmintic studies of the

essential oil of Piper betie. Indian Journal of

Pharmacy 32:132-33.

Patel, R. S., and G. S. Rajorhia. 1979. Antioxidative

foleof curry (Murray koenigi) and betel (Piper betle) leaves in ghee. Journal ofFood Science and

Technology 16:158-60.

Sen, Soumitra. 1987. Cytotoxic and histopathological

effects of Piper betIe 1. varieties with betel nut,

lime, and tobacco. PhD thesis, University of


Sutarjadi, M., H. Santosa, S. Bendryman, and W.

Dyatmiko. 1991. Immunomodulatory activity of Piper betle, Zingiber aromatica, Andrographis

paniculata, Allium sativum, and Oldenlandia

corymbosa grown in Indonesia. Planta Medica 57

suppl. (2): A136.

Yin, M.-L., J. Liu, 2.-1. Chen, K. Long, and H.-W.

Zeng. 1991. Some new PAF antagonistic

neolignans from Piper BetIe. Planta Medica 57

suppl. (2): A66.

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