54. Areca Catechu, Linn.—Catechu Palm.
Sex. Syst. Monoecia, Hexandria.
(Semen.—Extract of the kernels, E.—Carbo seminis, Offic.)
History.—Areca nuts are not mentioned in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Avicenna speaks of them under the name of Fufel. [Lib. ii. tract, ii. cap. 262, p. 306, Venet. 1564.]
Botany. Gen. Char.—1. MALE: Calyx three-parted. Corolla three-petalled. 2. FEMALE: Calyx three-leaved. Corolla three-petalled; nectary six-toothed. Ovarium superior, one-celled, one-seeded; attachment inferior. Drupe coriaceous. Seed single, ruminate. Embryo in the base of the albumen. (Roxburgh.)
Sp. Char.—Trunk straight and slender, from forty to fifty feet high. Fronds pinnate; leaflets compound, linear, opposite, premorse. Spathe erect, ramous. Male flowers hexandrous. Seed of a roundish conic form, and obtuse. (Roxburgh.)
Hab.—Cultivated in all the warmer parts of Asia.
1. Description and Uses of the Seeds.—The fruit of the Catechu palm is about the size and shape of a small egg, yellowish, and smooth. Within the fibrous pericarp is the seed (areca nut; betel nut; pinang). This is about the size of a nutmeg, roundish conical, flattened at the base, hard, horny, inodorous, externally reddish brown, internally brown with whitish veins. The principal part of the seed is the ruminate albumen, at the base of which is the embryo. [Roxburgh's Plants of Coromendel, pl. 75; Flora Indica, vol.iii. p. 615.]
The varieties of this fruit are numerous: of these, some have been figured by Blume, [Rumphia, vol. ii. p. 68, tab. 102, 1830.] viz., Pinang Putie (Areca alba), Pinang Susu (Areca lactea), Pinang Betul (Areca propria), and Pinang Pict.
According to Morin, [Journ. de Pharm, viii. 449.] areca nuts (seeds) are composed of tannin (principally), gallic acid, glutin, red insoluble matter, fixed oil, gum, oxalate of lime, lignin, &c.
With lime and the leaves of Piper Betel, these nuts form the celebrated masticatory of the East, called betel. They are usually cut into four equal parts; one of which is rolled up with a little lime in the leaf of the Piper Betel, and the whole chewed. The mixture acts as a sialagogue, and tinges the saliva red. The Indians have an idea that by this means the teeth are fastened, the gums cleansed, and the mouth cooled. Peron [Voyage aux Terres Australes.] was convinced that he preserved his health, during a long and difficult voyage, by the habitual use of the betel, while his companions, who did not use it, died mostly of dysentery. In this country, areca-nut charcoal is used as a tooth powder. I know of no particular value it can have over ordinary charcoal, except, perhaps, that derived from its greater hardness.
2. Areca-nut Catechu.—In the southern parts of India, and probably in Ceylon, an extract called catechu is procured from areca nuts. [Ainslie (Mat. Indica, vol. i. p. 65) notices two preparations of areca nuts, which, he says, have been confounded with the true or real catechu (i. e. catechu of the Acacia Catechu). One of these he calls cuttacamboo (in Tamool), the other cashcuttie (in Tamool); and he adds that both are brought to India from Pegu. It is probable, however, from his description, that by cuttacamboo he means gambir (an extract of Nauclea Gambir), and by cashcuttie, Pegu cutch (an extract of Acacia Catechu).—Blume (Rumphia, vol. ii. p. 67) denies that an extract called catechu is procured from areca nuts; and says that the error has arisen from the circumstance that old and dry areca nuts, broken in small pieces, are macerated in rose-water in which catechu has been dissolved.] The mode of preparing it has been described by Herbert de Jäger [Miscellanea curiosa, Dec. ii. Ann. iii. p. 10, Norimb. 1685.] and Dr. Heyne. [Dr. Heyne, Tracts, Historical and Statistical, on India.] The lastmentioned author states that it is largely procured in Mysore, about Sirah, in the following manner: "Areca nuts are taken as they come from the tree, and boiled for some hours in an iron vessel. They are then taken out, and the remaining water is inspissated by continued boiling. This process furnishes Kassu, or most astringent terra japonica, which is black, and mixed with paddy husks and other impurities. After the nuts are dried, they are put into a fresh quantity of water, boiled again, and this water being inspissated, like the former, yields the best or dearest kind of catechu, called Coury. It is yellowish brown, has an earthy fracture, and is free from the admixture of foreign bodies."
None of the extracts brought from India under the denomination of catechu are distinguished by any name by which they can be referred to the areca nut. It is probable, however, that some of them which come over in the form of round and flat cakes, and also in balls, and which are more or less covered with paddy husks (glumes of rice), are obtained from this seed. A decoction of some of these kinds of catechu yields, when cold, a blue colour on the addition of iodine, indicating the presence of starch. The presence of fatty matter in them is considered by Professor Guibourt [Journ. dt Pharm. et de Chimie, 3me Sér. t. xi. p. 363, 1847.] to be a proof that the areca nut has been employed in their production.
I think it probable that the Colombo or Ceylon catechu of commerce, in the form of round flat cakes, covered by paddy husks, is the Kassu of Heyne; and Professor Guibourt is of opinion that the dull reddish catechu in balls partially covered by paddy husks is the Coury of Heyne. (For further details, the reader is referred to the article Acacia Catechu, where a general notice will be given of all the commercial sorts of catechu.)