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%
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.
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.
- 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 driedleaves. Again, one leaf is used per dosage.
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.
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
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
Patel, R. S., and G. S. Rajorhia. 1979. Antioxidative
foleof curry (Murray koenigi) and betel (Piper betle) leaves in ghee. Journal ofFood Science and
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 57suppl. (2): A66.