The areca tree is a feathery palm that grows to approximately 1.5 m in height and is widely cultivated in tropical India, Bangladesh, Japan, Sri Lanka, south China, the East Indies, the Philippines, and parts of Africa. The tropical palm trees bear fruit all year. The nut may be used fresh, dried, or cured by boiling, baking, or roasting. The quid is a mixture of areca nut, tobacco, and lime wrapped in the leaf of the betel vine (Piper betel L. Family: Piperaceae).
The chewing of betel nut quids dates to antiquity. In the 1st century AD, Sanskrit medical writings claimed that betel nut possessed 13 qualities found in the region of heaven. It is pungent, bitter, spicy, sweet, salty, and astringent. It was said to expel wind, kill worms, remove phlegm, subdue bad odors, beautify the mouth, induce purification, and kindle passion. Because of its CNS stimulating effects, betel nut is used in a manner similar to the western use of tobacco or caffeine. Arecoline is responsible for some of the effects of betel quid chewing, such as alertness, increased stamina, a sense of well-being, euphoria, and salivation. Chewing the nut stimulates the flow of saliva to aid digestion. Betel nut also has been used to stimulate the appetite.
Betel nut, the seed of the betel palm (Areca catechu ), is one of the most widely used substances in areas of the western Pacific and parts of Africa and Asia. It is prepared with other substances as a mixture for chewing and is used as a mild stimulant by more than 200 million people. References to betel nut appear in ancient Greek, Sanskrit, and Chinese texts from more than a century b.c. Ancient historic documents of Ceylon refer to its use, and its prevalence in Persia by 600 a.d. is documented by Persian historians. Its use in different parts of the Arab world by the eighth and ninth centuries is also well documented, and it had become an important aspect of the economy and social life in India, Malaysia, the Philippines, and New Guinea. Betel was probably brought to Europe by Marco Polo, around 1300; it soon proved to be an important commodity in the western Pacific and a source of tax revenue for the Dutch in the mid-1600s.