A Nasty Little Habit Betel Nut

Found in nature’s holistic cabinet of pain relief are plant based medicines that are often abused for their satisfying endorphin rush. During the 1993 U.S. incursion known as “Operation Restore Hope” and the resultant Black Hawk Down calamity, America, if not the world, became aware of a plant called Khat being chewed by the local Somali militia. Decreed by segments of the western media to be a causative factor in the Somali’s bravado to fight–this amphetamine-like stimulant induces euphoria and mild addiction.

Similarly, the Areca nut, aka betel nut, which hails from parts of the equatorial Pacific, Asia, and slices of east Africa is chewed in much the same manner as Khat. In Vietnam, the Betel nut is so interwoven into society’s social fabric that it has come to symbolize an integral part of love and marriage. Malaysian tradition offers areca nuts and betel leaves in the same manner one offers drinks to a house guest. The Areca nut is wrapped in Betel leaves with an edible lime spread (the secret sauce–if you will) and chewed mixing with the mouth’s saliva forming a stimulating red chemical reaction. The red saliva is then expelled not swallowed.

Streets discolored with spittle can tell as persuasive a story about a people as pictures of hieroglyphic etchings. Not immune to such practices, turn of the century America found snuff dipping and smokeless tobacco in vogue witnessed by its dotted-spattered streets. In Taiwan, so common is the ingestion of the Areca nut one can hardly walk a block without spotting a Bin Lang, (betel nut), outlet from the “Mom and Pop” stand to the competitive scantily clad “Betel Nut Beauty” beckoning her customers to buy from her with the lure of sexual innuendo.

Countless scooter riders and automobiles pull to the side of the road at these outlets to make their purchases as convenient as drive-thru customers buy fast food. The Betel plant is commonly bought by the bag ranging from 20 to 40 or 50 to 80 nuts. Widely popular among taxi drivers, truck drivers, and fishermen whose long work hours require them to remain awake and alert the abuser is easily spotted and tracked by their red-stained teeth and trail of red spittle leading to their doorstep.

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