An areca nut bunch hanging from the palm

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The areca nut is the seed of the areca palm (Areca catechu), which grows in much of the tropical Pacific, Asia, and parts of east Africa. It is commonly referred to as betel nut, as it is often chewed wrapped in betel leaves.

The areca nut is not a true nut, but rather a drupe. It is commercially available in dried, cured and fresh forms. While fresh, the husk is green and the nut inside is soft enough to be cut with a typical knife. In the ripe fruit, the husk becomes yellow or orange and, as it dries, the fruit inside hardens to a wood-like consistency. At that stage, the areca nut can only be sliced using a special scissors-like cutter.

Usually for chewing, a few slices of the nut are wrapped in a betel leaf along with lime and may include clove, cardamom, catechu (kattha) and/or other spices for extra flavouring. Betel leaf has a fresh, peppery taste, but it can also be bitter to varying degrees depending on the variety. The combination of areca nut with betel leaf is called tamul in Assamese, kavala in Kannada, tambulam in Sanskrit, bajjai in Tulu, and paan in Hindi, Marathi, Punjabi, and Urdu.

Areca nuts are chewed with betel leaf for their effects as a mild stimulant, causing a warming sensation in the body and slightly heightened alertness, although the effects vary from person to person. The effect of chewing betel leaf and areca nut together is relatively mild, and could be compared to that of drinking a cup of coffee.

The areca nut contains the tannins arecatannin and gallic acid; a fixed oil gum; a little terpineol; lignin; various saline substances; and three main alkaloids — arecoline, arecaidine and guvacine — all of which have vasoconstricting properties. The betel leaf chewed along with the nut contains eugenol, another vasoconstrictor. Many chewers also add small pieces of tobacco leaf to the mixture, thereby adding the effect of nicotine, which causes greater addiction than the drugs contained in the nut and the betel leaf.

In almost all[neutrality is disputed] parts of India, Sri Lanka and southern China, areca nuts are not only chewed along with betel leaf, but are also used in the preparation of Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Powdered areca nut is used as a constituent in some dentifrices. Other medicinal uses include the removal of tapeworms and other intestinal parasites by swallowing a few teaspoons of powdered areca nut, drunk as a decoction, or by taking tablets containing the extracted alkaloids. According to traditional Ayurvedic medicine, chewing areca nut and betel leaf is a good remedy against bad breath. Diplomat Edmund Roberts noted that Chinese people would mix areca nut with uncaria gambir during his visit to China in the 1830s.

Recently it has been reported that areca nut powder extract is capable of reducing silver ions to silver nanoparticles, which may be useful as antimicrobial agents.

Source: Wikipedia

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