Connoisseurs of traditional Indian food will tell you that no grand meal or a feast can be considered complete unless it culminates with the chewing of paan.
Festivities are incomplete with the absence of this green leaf. A medicine cabinet which falls short of these leaves cannot be considered to be efficient enough.
If you are wondering which leaf I am talking about, it is the betel leaf, also known as vilaedele in Kannada, vetrilai in Tamil, vettila in Malayalam and paan ka pattha in Hindi.
The betel plant is a creeper which either runs along the ground or trails up on areca nut trees or palm trees. The creeper holds on to its substratum with tiny roots that appear as and when the plant sees the necessity to hold on.
This lovely evergreen leaf, with its dark green tones, has been identified for its medicinal properties not only in India, but in just about every country in South Asia.
The leaves of this creeper are considered to be auspicious and sacred by the people. Perhaps it was an ancient way of conserving the precious resources of nature by giving them a divine status so that people do not abuse or exploit them unnecessarily.
The leaf, when chewed with slaked lime (calcium hydroxide) and processed areca nut, not only aids in digestion but also acts as a stimulant, an antiseptic and a breath-freshener.
It is infamously known to redden the interiors of the mouth and the lips. Goddess Lalitha of the Indian pantheon is described as ‘Tamboola Pooritha Mukhi,’ the one whose mouth is filled with the juicy tamboola which makes her appear supremely attractive.
Syrup made from extracted betel juice by immersing it in boiling water along with pepper can work wonders on a sore throat.
The leaf is used in combination with other herbs to treat various other ailments. Arthritis and joint pain are believed to heal to a large extent if two spoons of the decoction and ajwain are consumed before going to bed every night.
Long before calcium supplements hit the shelves of drug stores, our grandmothers knew how to take care of their bones. Lactating mothers may consume the elaborate meeta paan that is readily available outside most restaurants.
Yet one can try a simple paan at home. For this, all you need is meeta supari and scented chuna (calcium) available in condiment shops and chew them along with five or six betel leaves.
Besides aiding in lactation, the consumption of the traditional paan can control hunger and thirst for long hours without debilitating the system, thereby helping control obesity.
One of the most time tested aphrodisiacs is the betel leaf consumed along with cardamom, clove, supari and slaked lime at bedtime.
Bleeding wounds and severe abrasions will vanish in a day or two if the crushed betel leaf is placed on the area and another leaf is placed over the crushed leaf and bandaged.
The betel leaf is often misused and chewed with tobacco which can prove to be cancerous, hence misleading people into thinking that the leaf can cause cancer.
Small children are asked to abstain from chewing betel leaves directly for it can thicken their tongue and hamper their pronunciation and stimulate baser instincts in them.
Ensure that the central vein of the leaf is eliminated before consumption. Sesame oil can be heated with a few betel stalks and grains of ajwain and used for oil massage and application on the scalp before washing the hair.
This preparation will prevent the user from catching a cold especially during the winter months.
When the stalk of the betel leaf dipped in castor oil is inserted into the rectal passage of a constipated infant, there will be sure relief in an hour’s time.