The Betel nut comes from a species of palm tree native to the tropical Pacific, Asia and Africa. The trees, which are cultivated, are grown for their nuts. Traditionally, the nuts were used as an ‘entheogen’. Archeological findings at ‘The Spirit Cave’, in Thailand, show remains of the Areca catechu and lime, a combination that when chewed produce psychotropic effects. This discovery has this use of the Betel Nut dating back to 7,500-9,000 years ago, making it possibly the oldest known psychoactive substance used by humans.
In many Asian countries, the chewing of Betel nut is a culture activity, similar to the drinking of coffee or tea in the west. Traditionally, the nuts were dried and broken down into smaller pieces. The smaller pieces can further be grinded into a fine powder, where it is then mixed with edible lime. The combination was then placed in between the cheek and gums and left there sometimes throughout the entire night. Mixing with lime helps for the absorption of the active ingredients, which have more in modern times been found to be arecaine and arecoline. Arecoline is known for it’s stimulating effects.
A part from being used as a stimulant, in ancient Ayurvedic traditions, Betel nut was used as a diuretic, digestive, anthelmintic, astringent and cardiotonic. In Traditional Chinese Medicine, the nuts were used to treat diarrhea, low blood pressure, slow heart rate, and other digestive problems. Also, the extract of the plant was used as an anti-depressant, appetite suppressant, and to increase stamina, endurance and alertness. The nut has also been commonly used for artistic purposes.
In times of antiquity, the nuts were seen as a symbol of love and marriage. One story tells of a princess in Pali, giving a present of Betel to her lover.