Betel nut palm

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Betel nut palm
Betel nut palm (Areca catechu), illustration

Betel nut palm ( Areca catechu ), illustration

Family : Palm family (Arecaceae)
Subfamily : Arecoideae
Tribe : Areceae
Sub tribus : Arecinae
Genre : Betel Palms ( Areca )
Type : Betel nut palm
Scientific name
Areca catechu
Betel nut palms in Kolkata, India
Betel palm with fruits
Structure of arecoline
Women sell betel nuts in East Timor

The Areca ( Areca catechu ), and betel palm , Katechupalme or Arekapalme called, is a plant from the family of the palm family (Arecaceae). Together with about 60 other species from the genus of the betel palms ( Areca ), it is common in the Indo-Malay region.


The betel nut palm forms slender, single-stemmed pinnate palms that can grow up to 25 m high. The leaflets reach lengths of up to 2 m. Both the male and female flowers are in cylindrical panicles with about 150–200 oval, orange to red stone fruits. They are about the size of a hen's egg , about 7 cm, and enclose a 3–10 g heavy, brown stone core with fibrous pulp . The stone kernels ("nuts") of the fruit are called betel nuts or areca nuts .


The betel nut palm is an ancient cultivated plant that is distributed throughout Southeast Asia from Malaysia to the Solomon Islands , northeast to Taiwan and the Philippines , and south to northern Australia . In Thailand , the remains of betel nuts have been found, which are dated to over 7500 years. The plant is also grown in tropical rainforests in East Africa and Madagascar .


Active ingredients

The active ingredients of the plant are predominantly alkaloids , the content is 0.3–0.6%. The main alkaloid is arecoline , arecaidine , arecolidine , guvacoline and guvacine are also present. If the nuts chewed, done in part, a hydrolysis of arecoline to arecaidine.


In Asia, immature betel nuts are chopped up with betel cutters. Usually these are rolled in leaves coated with slaked lime , which do not come from the betel palm, but from the betel pepper ( Piper betle ). The finished betel bite (also sirih ) is chewed. Because of the bitter taste, spices such as peppermint , liquorice or chewing tobacco are often added. The slaked lime causes the left in the nuts arecoline in arecaidine and methanol is hydrolyzed , but also attacks the gums. The purpose of converting the alkaloid into the free base is to make it easier to absorb. The active ingredients are absorbed directly in the mouth after chewing and quickly cross the blood-brain barrier, which works against fatigue. Betel chewing has been practiced for centuries, and according to current estimates in East Africa and Asia by more than 450 million people. As a result of the alkalization, phlobatannins are formed, which color the saliva red. This is why it was also used for coloring the lips in Asia.

Similar "nuts", Chinese betel nuts, are supplied by the Manila palm Adonidia merrillii or other palm trees such as Areca caliso , Heterospathe elata and Livistona jenkinsiana and the like. a., but they are a bad substitute.

In addition to human consumption, Arecoline is also used in veterinary medicine. In cattle and dogs it is used as a remedy for intestinal worms. The green, unripe fruits can also be used to extract tannins for coloring.

Seeds of the betel palm germinate under warm and humid conditions within a few weeks. The young plants are occasionally offered in flower shops , but in Germany they can only be kept as indoor plants because they cannot tolerate frost . The leaves of young betel palms also do not tolerate direct sunlight .

Purified and pressed leaves of the betel palm can be used to make dimensionally stable objects such as disposable tableware.


The consumption of betel nuts leads to increased salivation and well-being. On the other hand, it dampens the appetite. The effect is similar to that of alcohol . Other typical symptoms are nausea, profuse sweating and a burning sensation in the mouth and throat. In high doses, the nuts cause bradycardia , tremors, vomiting, confusion, cramps and diarrhea. Death from respiratory or cardiac arrest can result.


The active ingredients of the plant are neurotoxic, have a stimulating effect and are poisonous. The contained arecoline has a parasympathomimetic effect and activates the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor. It works in a similar way to pilocarpine . The effect is increased secretory glandular activity, i.e. increased salivation. In addition, arecaidin has a weakly numbing effect. This is due to the reduced GABA uptake in inhibiting neurons, which is triggered by the substance. Arecaidin also has stimulating and sedating properties. The alkaloids contained, possibly also eugenol , are mutagenic and can lead to cancer of the oral cavity and esophagus. As a rule, however, longer-term consumption is necessary for this. Ingesting 8–10 g of semen can be fatal to a human. The LD 50 of arecaidin for mice is 850 mg / kg body weight for oral intake and 520 mg / kg for intravenous administration. For arecoline, an LD 50 in mice of 100 mg / kg subcutaneously and 34 mg / kg intravenously was determined.

First aid

Gastric lavage is only carried out after the ingestion of very large quantities; activated charcoal and sodium sulfate are usually sufficient. It may be necessary to apply 1–2 mg atropine as an antidote. Intubation with artificial ventilation of the patient is only carried out in the case of severe poisoning. In the event of cardiac arrest, cardiac massage or shock therapy is carried out accordingly. Monitoring of liver, kidney and heart function is also necessary.

Selling in Taiwan

A betel nut girl in a typical Taiwanese stall

Betel nut girls can be found on every street corner in Taiwan selling betel nuts. Since the competition is very high, the saleswomen are often only scantily clad in order to increase their sales, especially with male customers. Most of the country's sales locations are marked with green fluorescent tubes.

Taiwan's health agency is committed to curbing consumption. In addition to yellow teeth and bad breath, regular chewing can also cause oral cancer, the fifth deadliest cancer in Taiwan in 2011. Around 6,000 people are diagnosed with oral cancer each year in Taiwan.

Tradition in Vietnam and Malaysia

In Vietnam , the betel nut is a very important symbol for marriage. In Malaysia it is traditionally a welcome greeting for guests. It adorns the flag of the island of Penang .

Betel measure in India

In Pondichery the measure 1 adoucu = 48 leaves of betel was used.



  • E. Wink, Ben-Erik van Wyk, Coralie Wink: Handbook of poisonous and psychoactive plants. Wissenschaftliche Verlagsgesellschaft, Stuttgart, 2008, ISBN 3-8047-2425-6 .

Individual evidence

  1. The dangerous betel nut intoxication In: Asienspiegel. dated April 23, 2012.
  2. ^ The Culture of Betel and Areca. at Vietnam Pictorial, accessed November 25, 2018.
  3. Betel nut tradition. Retrieved June 10, 2017 .

Web links

Commons : Betel Nut Palm  - Collection of Images, Videos, and Audio Files