In Karnataka, women use the inflorescence to adorn their hair. A perfume is obtained from the flowers in Malaysia. The nuts are made into beads. Galls, called `mocharas', are a result of the action of certain insects on the palm. They are used for tanning. In some regions of the Americas, the Arecanut palm is cultivated as an ornamental plant.
The tree is widely distributed in coastal regions, from Maharashtra to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It also grows in the Deccan Plateau, Assam, Meghalaya, West Bengal, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
It is a tree with an annulate stem. The stem is surrounded by a crown of pinnate leaves. The leaflets are numerous, the petioles expanded into a broad, tough, sheath-like growth at the lower end; the inflorescence is a spathe which is compressed and glabrous; the spadices are much-branched, bearing ebracteate male and female flowers. The male flowers are small and numerous; the female flowers are solitary or in groups of two or three and much larger than the male; bisexual flowers have also been recorded; the fruits are ovoid or oblong, smooth and orange or scarlet when fully ripe. They are single-seeded and the endosperm or seed-kernel, popularly called the "arecanut", is greyish brown and ruminate, with reddish brown lines.
The polyphenols of ripe arecanut contain predominantly polymerized leucocyanidins besides minor amounts of (+)-cetechin, leucopelargonidin and leucocyanidin. The polyphenols of arecanut are mainly flavonoids, and their concentration decreases with the maturity of the nut1 Arecanut contains several alkaloids belonging to the pyridine group. The most important of them physiologically is arecoline. Other alkaloids present are arecaidine, arecolidine, guvacine, guvacoline, isoguvacine, norarecaidine and norarecoline2.
The effects of polyphenolics obtained from fresh, unripe areca nuts were studied on rat uteri under various hormonal influences and compared with the effects obtained with alkaloidal fractions. The ethyl acetate fraction of the aqueous extract was a stimulant of low degree on all uteri but its spasmogenic activity was comparatively more on uteri treated with progesterone3. The alcoholic extract of the nuts exerted a distinct oxytocic activity on isolated rat uterus at a dose of 100mcg4. The aqueous extracts of the nuts inhibited the growth of Staphylococcus aureus and Trichophyton rubrum, in vitro, while the alcoholic extract also inhibited the growth of Escherichia coli, Candida albicans, and C. tropicalis5.
Four nitroso compounds, N-nitrosoguvacoline, N-nitrosoguvacine, 3-(N-nitrosomethylamino) propionaldehyde and 3-(N-nitrosomethylamino) propionitrile, have been isolated from the aqueous extract of the betel nuts. They have been found cytotoxic and genotoxic to human buccal epithelial cells and also produced pancreatic, lung, nasal and liver tumours in rats6.
The dried nuts are said to sweeten the breath, strengthen the gums, and produce a stimulant and exhilarant effect on the system. Arecanut has been reported to be a good source of fluoride, when chewed. The non-alkaloid fractions of arecanuts are reported to possess anti-microbial properties.
Mathew, J Fd Sci Technol, 1971, 8, 140; Govindarajan & Mathew, Phytochemistry, 1963, 2, 321; Mathew & Govindarajan, ibid, 1964, 3, 657; Mathew et. al., ibid, 1969, 8, 1543.
Marion in Manske & Holmes, I, 171; Willaman & Schubert, Tech Bull, U S Dep Agric, No. 1234, 1961, 158; Henry, 8; Chang & DeVol, Taiwania, 1973, 18, 123.
Lalithakumari et. al., Ind. J. Pharm., 1964, 26, 268.
Garg, S.K. and Garg, G.P., Bull. P.G.I. Chandigarh, 1970, 4, 162.
Lalithakumari, H. et. al., Ind. J. Exptl. Biol., 1965, 3, 66.
Chem Abstr, 1989, 110, 52690; 1989, 111, 210394; 1991, 115, 225914, 225952.