Tambula Sevana – Paan the Ancient Mouth Freshener

When you still crave dessert after a good meal, worry not, because Ayurveda has suggested a special herb that satisfies the palate and enhances digestion. For ages, tambula, better known as paan to most Indians and betel leaf (Piper betle) to the west, has been both a favorite mouth freshener and a gut helper. The term tambula is the Indonesian term for tambūla, where it grew indigenously. The term betel leaf comes from the term Tamil term vett-ilai (ilai is leaf).

Known for millenia throughout the lands of ancient India, this herb known as the betel leaf creeper that grows around the supari tree. From its use as an auspicious gift for welcoming guests to its importance in Vedic rituals, to its use in the acts of foreplay as highlighted in ancient love ritual texts such as Kamasutra, tambula is celebrated for its versatile uses. In recent times tambula has recaptured admiration due to its unique taste, and adventurous uses in various recipes such as ice creams, mocktails, cocktails, lattes, and doughnuts.

Badmouthed by those who misunderstand the value of paan, the essence of this heart-shaped leaf herb however, is its therapeutic quality of nutritional effectiveness. Wise scholars of the ancient period gave detailed accounts of its use as a post-meal treat for aiding detoxification of the mouth and stimulating digestion of an individual. The Ayurvedic recipe of tambula is very unique in itself, as it is infused with various herbs such as clove buds,and purified camphor, which enhance digestion and bring about satiety. 

Its appeal is partly in its fast-growing evergreen creeper nature. It is an herb that can be easily grown in a warm kitchen or small garden with low maintenance. Once the plant is fully grown, it yields lush green heart-shaped leaves you can pluck, clean and use for your tambula preparations. The simple recipe suggests enclosing 1-3 herbs inside the betel leaf, wrapping into a conical shape, and tucking into the space between the cheeks and gum.

To understand the actions of each substance with our body, Ayurveda wisemen understood its interactive properties through the concept of rasa pañchaka, the specific influence of any herb with its chemical composition on the physiology. These factors acknowledge the drug's effects from the entry to ultimate effect in the body. Tambula has rasa (tastes) of tikta (bitter) and katu (pungent), alkaline qualities and possesses heat-generating potency in our body (ushna guna) which instigates the pitta dosha (the body’s actions of transformation). 

The pitta dosha is also involved in the process of digestion at the gut level and instigating metabolism at the cellular level in our body. Hence, consumption of tambula directly influences the metabolism in the body. The strong bitter and sharp qualities counter any toxins produced by the bacteria in our mouth and also reduce both mouth odour and any inflammation-inducing agents. The tastes also stimulate sensory organs in our head region and reduce kapha to prevent buildup that could cause diseases in the sense organs in our head. 

This strong and potent drug must be used with caution, as it directly influences pitta in the body. If used in excess, tambula may generate excessive heat in the body, producing ulcers in the mouth, and affecting the function of sensory organs. 

Its bad reputation comes from its mode of common consumption in modern times. Like many processed foods, ancient ingredients are changed into fanciful ignorant combinations that promote disease. Intoxicants such as betel nut or tobacco, which are known as sensory stimulants, are added, along with chalk lime, calcium carbonate, tamarind, cinnamon, clove, and various salts and processed sugars, then folded and tucked into the mouth. The freshness and stimulation both to the taste buds and to the nervous system make one fall prey to paan addiction. These new combinations are a known strong risk factor for cancers of the head and neck, and of inflammatory diseases. 

But the consumption of paan is not the same as the ancient daily routine of chewing one freshly-picked paan leaf each day after the mid-day meal.

When consumed with reverence, the betel leaf provides therapeutic benefits for chronic cough, rhinitis, asthma, headache, chronic lack of appetite.  It is also an ingredient in dozens of diseases, mostly related to excess kapha accumulation in the body.

The Piper betle leaf has been analyzed in modern laboratories to provide a nutritive source of vitamins A and C, thiamine, riboflavin, potassium and calcium. A good and potent digestive fire has the capability to keep the diseases away, and tambula is definitely a special herb to consume after meals to easily reap its benefits.