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Areca Catechu

The seeds form part of a masticatory very common throughout the extreme Orient, known as Buyo and composed of a betel leaf

USES.—The seeds form part of a masticatory very common throughout the extreme Orient, known as Buyo and composed of a betel leaf, a little slaked lime, and a slice of the fruit of the bonga, known as Siri in Indo-China and among the Malays. It is so common that it is hard to find a man or woman who does not use it. The saliva of those who use it is red and of a strong odor, and its careless use in time blackens the teeth and makes the breath extremely disagreeable. Habitual chewers consider it a tonic of the mouth and stomach and a general stimulant as well. It probably does possess these properties but they are reversed in the case of persons who use it immoderately for they lose appetite, become salivated, and the whole organism degenerates. The carbonized and powdered fruit is used as a dentifrice but its virtues are doubtless identical with those of any vegetable charcoal, i. e., absorbent and antiseptic.

One unaccustomed to the use of bonga and chewing it for the first time, usually experiences a most disagreeable combination of symptoms; constriction of the oesophagus, a sensation of heat in the head and face, the latter becoming red and congested; at the same time dizziness and precordial distress are experienced.

The same phenomena occur in certain persons after eating palmito salad or the tender central portion of the bonga and of other palms.

The flowers are eaten in salad like the above-mentioned palmito. The seed is astringent and tænifuge; for the latter purpose it is given internally as a powder in a dose of from 16 to 24 grams. Its action is uncertain. The catechu which is obtained in India from the Bonga differs from that obtained from the Acacia Catechu and is a tonic analogous to rhatany and cinchona.

The seeds contain about 14% of a fatty crystalline material which melts at 39°, and after saponification yields a crystalline, fatty acid that may be regarded as a mixture of lauric and muriatic acids. They also contain about 14% of a red, amorphous tonic material which, after drying, is but slightly soluble in cold or hot water.

The lower part of the petiole of the leaves is thin and broad, ensheathing the trunk, is as tough as pasteboard when dry and is used in the Philippines as wrapping paper; Dr. Bholanauth Bose and other physicians of India use it as a material for splints in fractures, a practice which might well be imitated in Manila and especially in the country.

BOTANICAL DESCRIPTION.—A well-known palm with slender stem, surrounded by many circles; it grows to about the same height as the coco-nut palm or less. The flowers spring in bunches of long, thread-like spikes from the trunk a little below the crown of leaves at the base of the long, smooth, green, sheath-like petioles which clasp the trunk; each spike bears many staminate and a few pistillate flowers. The fruit is about the size and shape of a hen’s egg, the husk tow-like or filamentose, the kernel pinkish or light red.

HABITAT.—Grows throughout the islands.

Reference book: The Medicinal Plants of the Philippines

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