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Arecaceae, Areca catechu, Betel nut, Paaku, Pinang, arequier (French), Betelnusspalme (German)avellana d’India (Italian)

March 19, 2008

Areca seeds are ingested as “betel”, a combination of leaves of Piper betle, slices of fresh seed and lime (to convert alkaloids to their freebase).

Betel has been enjoyed for several hundred years, now a common habit for over 450 million people in Asia and East Africa.

The saliva of a betel chewer is red due to phlobatannins formed after alkaloid treatment. The alkaloid free bases are directly absorbed and quickly pass the blood-brain barrier.

Betel increases salivation and dulls the appetite, but as a stimulant it gives a relaxed feeling. Arecaidine is a mild narcotic, inhibiting the uptake of GABA into inhibitory neurons. It has stimulating and sedating properties.

Side effects include profound sweating, burning in the mouth and throat, and nausea. High doses can cause bradycardia, tremors, vomiting, central disorganization, spasms, dilated pupils, diarrhoea, respiratory or cardiac arrest.

I just transferred some young betel nut palms to the nursery. Collected and planted them from seed about six months ago. The small palms look healthy. I transported them barerooted. This is a species that is practically non-existent in this area of the world. The tree I collected from is thriving, located off the Caribbean coast of Panama.

The palm is native to South East Asia, commonly chewed for its stimulant effects, typically combined with mineral lime and the leaves of Piper betel, among other additives.

See photos on this post. For further information, here’s a great blog entry on Betel nut

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