Glass specimen jar containing areca (betel) nuts from India, 1891-1930
Areca or betel nuts (centre) are used worldwide. In Africa, the nuts and palm leaves are chewed to keep the mouth clean. The nuts are also valued for their laxative and parasite-killing properties. In India, the nuts treat urinary infections and heartburn in pregnancy. They also act as a mild stimulant when chewed, similar to drinking coffee. However, the nuts can be mixed with substances such as tobacco for a stronger and more addictive chew.
The nut is native to North Africa and south Asia, especially India. In Britain during the 1800s, areca nuts were a main ingredient when toothpaste was becoming popular. The nuts are shown here with other plants used in herbal medicine, ajwain seeds (A671108) and gum ghatti (A669306).
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