The heart-shaped betel leaf occupies a special place in the hearts of Indians. Throughout the ages, whether chewing paan in religious ceremonies and weddings, added as slices to green mango drinks, or an essential ingredient in an ayurvedic formulation, the betel leaf has managed to mark its territory as an integral element of Indian culture. 

Known as tambula in ancient times, this leaf belongs to the betel vine (Piper betle), which climbs around the thin-stalked tall areca palm tree (Areca catechu), also known as the supari tree or betel nut tree. Because the betel nut is wrapped by betel leaves when eating, they are related by function. But the leaf and the nut are not from the same plant!  

The betel nut/areca is recognized by its round, caffeine-filled brown-and-white-speckled hard berry seeds. Its leaves are of the palm tree family, long and fibrous and dried for making disposable, eco-friendly palm leaf plates and bowls.

In contrast, betel leaves are evergreen, glossy heart-shaped leaves with a distinct central vein. Betel leaves are known as paan in Hindi, paanpatha in Bengali, tambula in Sanskrit, vettilakkoti in Malayalam, vettilai in Tamil, tamalapaku in Telugu, and villayadela in Kannada> The betel leaf is an evergreen vine of south and southeast Asia.  


Paan (tambula) leaves are described in the daily routine of a healthy person in the ancient text Charaka Samhita, showing that its medicinal use was known 5000 years ago. Ayurvedic texts mention tambula sevana (chewing) as an essential element of a healthy daily routine. It is the ancient equivalent of chewing gum. The ancient physician Vagbhata suggests chewing one cleanly picked leaf each day with powders of nutmeg, edible true camphor, betel nut, clove, cardamom, kankola. Betel leaf is reputed to improve skin complexion, promote health, intellect, and memory, and is also mentioned as a digestive aid. 


Sloka -                                        

ताम्बूलं विशदं रुच्यं तीक्ष्णोष्णं तुवरं सरम् | 

वश्यं तिक्तं कटुक्षारं रक्तपित्तकरं लघु ||  

बल्यं श्लेष्मास्यदौर्गन्ध्यमलवातश्रमापहम् |  

Transliteration -        

taambuulaṃ viśadaṃ rucyaṃ tiikṣṇoṣṇaṃ tuvaraṃ saram |

 vaśyaṃ tiktaṃ kaṭukṣaaraṃ raktapittakaraṃ laghu ||

 balyaṁ "sleṣmāsyadaurgandhyamalavāta"sramāpaham |

Translation - Tambula is clarifying (visada), enhances appetite (rucyaṃ), is sharp, penetrating and produces heat (tiikṣṇoṣṇaṃ), is astringent (tuvaraṃ) and flowing (saram) | It is vaśyaṃ, making a person obey the eater of tambula. It is bitter (tiktaṃ), pungent and caustic (kaṭukṣaaraṃ) and in excess, it causes bleeding and destruction of tissues (raktapittakaraṃ), thus it lightens the body (laghu) |Tambula improves the body's strength (balyaṁ), relieves kapha and phlegmy diseases (sleṣma) and rids excess moistness from the mouth, removes bad breath (daurgandhya), wastes (mala), and cleanses the oral cavity |

Source: Bhavaprakasha Nighantu, Guduchyadi varga, sloka 10

Each medicinal plant in ayurveda is clarified for use by its medicinal properties, which were deduced by master ancient clinician-scientists. These are known as rasa pañchaka, reflecting five main influences it imparts to the human from its nature. 

The betel leaf has properties are 

  • rasa (~taste): katu (pungent) , tikta (bitter) and kaṣāya (astringent) 
  •  guna (~quality):  laghu (light), tīkṣṇa (penetrating) and visada (cleansing)  
  • vīrya (~effect after reaching the cell):  uṣṇa (heating) 
  • prabhaava: vaśyaṃ

Tambula pacifies vāta and kapha doșas and is thus excellent for singers and orators.   


Even today, betel leaves are still incorporated into contemporary dishes, such as Betel Leaf Dosa, Betel Leaf Modak, and Betel Leaf Sharbat.  One tasty way to add betel leaf into the diet is in rasam broth. Betel leaf broth is an excellent digestive and prescribed in the medicated diet during common cold, sore throat and indigestion.  

Betel leaf broth 


Tamarind paste, made into a gooseberry size ball  

Tomato, 2 medium 

Peppercorns,  1 teaspoon 

Coriander whole seeds, 1 teaspoon 

Cumin whole seeds,  ¼ teaspoon 

Garlic,  4 cloves 

Betel leaves,  2   

Water,  2 glasses

Asafoetida,  ¼ teaspoon 

Turmeric,  ¼ teaspoon 

sea salt to taste 

Oil,  2 teaspoon 

Mustard,  1 teaspoon 

Dried red chilly,  2 

5-7 curry leaves

7-10 coriander leaves  

Preparation - Soak the tamarind ball in a sufficient quantity of water and extract the juice, casting away any solid parts. Grind the tomatoes, peppercorns, coriander, cumin seeds, garlic, betel leaves, curry leaves, coriander into a paste and add it to the tamarind juice. To this mix, add 2 glasses of water, asafoetida, turmeric, salt and boil until it becomes frothy. Season it with mustard, dry red chilly and curry leaves sautéed with oil. Garnish it with a few fresh curry leaves and coriander leaves.    

The betel leaf is also an appetizer. It provides strength and removes bad breath. A unique mystical property of betel leaves is vashya, which makes another person agree with the one eating betel leaf. It might be one reason that betel leaves are an essential item in business deals, marriage alliances, and august occasions.