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Latin name:                       Areca catechu

English name:                    Areca palm
Sanskrit name:                   Puga
Indian name:                      Supari

Medicinal parts used:         Seeds

Latin name:                       Areca catechu
English name:                   Areca palm
Sanskrit name:                  Puga
Indian name:                     Supari

Medicinal parts used

  Seeds Supari is a palm tree grown extensively in India, mainly for the production of betel nut and for the purpose of the wood for specific building purposes. Areca nut (also betel nut) is chewed with betel leaves, a piece of tobacco and some lime for a stimulating effect. The mixture turns dark red by chewing and stains the mouth. The practice of betel nut chewing is not as regular as it had once been. The practice is addictive and can pose health risks including chances of cancer. It is a medium-sized and graceful palm tree growing straight to 20 m tall, with a trunk 10-15cm in diameter. The leaves are 1.5-2 m long, pinnate, with numerous, crowded leaflets. It  is grown for its commercially important seed crop, the areca nut. The seed contains alkaloids such as arecaine and arecoline, which when chewed is intoxicating and is also slightly addictive. Areca palms are grown in India, Malaysia, Taiwan and many other Asian countries for their seeds.


Botanical aspects

The genus Areca has two species in India: A. catechu Linn., the areca nut which is well known and A. nagensis Griff. of the Naga Hills, which is not so well known, being restricted to the Eastern Himalayas. The latter has a lesser height of 9 – 12 meters. The trunk is attached to the soil by innumerable black fibrous roots. The fruit is somewhat similar to that of areca. Nagas actually use this material as a substitute to it. They call it talpat.

There are two more plants whose fruits are used as a poor substitute for betel nut by the local population. They are: Penanga dicksoni, found in the mountains of Kerala and Western Karnataka. This is calledkanakamukha (gold faced) in Malyalam, konda (the hill betel nut) in Telugu and kadu adike (forest or wild betel nut) or jandarige in Kannada. The other plant is Loxodoccus rupicola Windl. This is almost restricted to Sri Lanka, where it is called dotaly. The plant areca catechu has a characteristic, tall, unbranched, slender and perfectly erect stem, rising to a height of 12 – 30 metres, usually about 50 centimeters in circumference and uniformly thick. A plantation of areca nut gives the distinctive appearance of straight pillar like trees. These graceful pillars hold a crown of elegant leaves. They are also large and much like those of the coconut palm, huge and pinnate, with leaflets arranged on either side of a large central rachis, like the feathers of a bird. The leaflets are numerous, 30 – 60 centimeters long, the upper ones being united and all smooth, hairless, shiny and richly green. The spathe or large bract of the inflorescence is double in nature and is compressed, smooth and bald.

The spadix or fleshy inflorescence bears male and female flowers together, both stalkless and much branched. The male flowers are numerous while the female ones are solitary and situated at or near the base of each branching spadix. The fruit is 3 – 8.5 centimeters long, smooth, green when young, becoming orange or scarlet at maturity. It is a drupe with the wall differentiating into three distinct regions. The regions are: the outer thin epicarp, the middle fibrous mesocarp and the inner stony endocarp.

Inside the fruit, there is a single seed which bears an endosperm that is stony hard at maturity and deeply ruminate in structure, i.e. it appears as if it is deeply but irregularly cut. It is this endosperm that is exposed, cured, dried in the sun and used as the supari or betel nut. The seed is hard, heavy and bluntly conical. Areca nut plantations are an exacting agricultural exercise. They require constant care, but this is highly remunerative as the nuts are always costly and in great demand here and abroad. There are many cultivated varieties of the areca nut such as jahaju which is a long nut, manak chandi (shaped as a sphere), Shrivardhini (a place near Ratnagiri in Maharashtra) and so on. The first two are most common.

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