Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Areca Nut

The batelnut or areca nut (Areca catechu), known locally as pinang sirih, occurs throughout Southeast Asia, growing best in humid lowlands. In Indonesia, this palm is found in home gardens, where one or two trees are cultivated to provide for household purposes only. It is a slender palm with featherlike leaves, growing to a height of 12 meters. The stern is grey and ringed with leaf scars and bears a well-defined crownshaft - the conspicuous 'cylinder' formed at the top of the stern by the leaf bases. The fruits, for which this palm is most highly valued are egg-shaped and ripen to a bright orange colors.
areca nut

Stimulating Wed

The fruits of this palm are harvested for their seed which contain the alkaloid arcane, which is a mild stimulant. It is this property which has led to the widespread practice of betel-chewing. The seed is sliced and wrapped in the leaves of the betel pepper (Piper betel), together with lime to form a chewing wed which, when held in the mouth, is said to relieve hunger and tiredness. Betel chewing has along history in the region, and has been recorded since the 13th century. As well as being an everyday practice, it is also of ceremonial significance. Many artifacts are produced which are associated with betel chewing, such as boxes and scissors. Betelnuts are still widely sold in the markets but chewing betel is becoming less popular, particularly among the younger generation. In part this is because of the staining properties of the betelnut, which turns saliva red and stains a person's teeth black.

Batik Dye

The staining property of betelnuts is exploited in the batik industry, which uses the seeds as a source of red dye. The seeds is also used medicinally, for the treatment of leprosy, anemia, obesity, for expelling worms and as a toot powder. Other parts of this palm can be used, although these are of secondary importance, for example thatch is made from the leaves and the trunk is used as a source of wood.

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