Betel plants are native to Malaysia, Sri Lanka and India. It is also found in Africa and Madagascar. It is believed that the leaves of the herb were used during the Harappan civilization in Asia. In ancient India, vedic medical experts acknowledged the importance and herbal usage of Betel leaves. Betel leaves are considered auspicious and are still extensively used during religious functions in Asia.
The whole betel plant had some very bad press due to reports associating the usage of the herb with mouth cancer. However, studies conducted at the Cancer Institute in Mumbai highlighted the finding that betel nut and tobacco can definitely cause cancer, but betel leaves does not.
What is Betel Leaf?
Betel leaf is the leaf of Piper betle and belongs to the Piperaceae or pepper family. The herb is also known as Wild pepper, karuk, betel pepper and daun kaduk. Betel leaf is heart shaped and shiny in appearance. Betel plant is an evergreen and perennial herb. The leaves of the betel plant have a clove like flavor.
How does it work?
Betel leaves contain the following – tannins, chavicol, phenyl, propane, sesquiterpene, cyneole, alkaloid, sugar and some essential oil. Betel leaf has the following medicinal actions – aromatic, anti-bacterial, mild stimulant, euphoria-inducing, antiprotozoan, anti-fungal, appetizer, digestive, expectorant, carminative and aphrodisiac.
The following are the health related benefits of Betel leaves:
Cold & Asthma
The leaves of the plant are often chewed by Indonesians as according to them the resulting juice when swallowed helps in treating cold and cough. It also helps in reducing difficulty in breathing for people suffering from asthma. Some apply mustard oil to the leaves of the betel plant, warm it and then keep it on the chest to bring relief from asthma.
In Malaysia, betel leaves are used for treating headache and also to reduce the pain associated with arthritis. The juice from the leaves can be mixed with any hot oil (like coconut oil) and applied topically to treat lower back pain. The juice of the leaves are also used to relieve headaches.
The leaves of the betel plant can increase alertness and mental functions in humans. The herbal extract offers an energetic feeling and motivates people to undertake physical exercises with exhilaration. Some say, taking the juice of the betel leaves with honey can help in curing nervous exhaustion.
In an animal study using betel leaves, it was found that low dose of the herb can decrease T4 levels and increase T3 levels.
In Indonesia, herbal tea made using betel leaves help in freeing the body from the unpleasant odor of sweating and menstruation.The herb also helps in treating the following – bad breath, intestinal worms, scanty urination, inflammation of the testes, low breast milk production, diabetes, constipation, palpitation, wounds, ulcers and other skin inflammatory conditions.
There is no standard recommended dose for using betel leaves. Most people prepare herbal tea by using the leaves of this herb.
Many research studies have highlighted the finding that chewing betel nuts or paan (a combination of betel nut and betel leaves) causes different types of cancer.
While many world health bodies report that chewing betel nuts may cause cancer, studies conducted in India show that it is the nut of the herb that causes cancer and not the leaves. A study conducted at the University of Calcutta found that betel leaves have the ability to kill free radicals and prevent degeneration of cells.
Interactions of betel leaves with other drugs and herbs are not known.