For Your Health and Beauty

by Pierre-Olivier Albano, 81100 Castres, France
Chamaerops No.45, published online 29-01-2003

- Areca catechu, the Betel Nut Palm in Kandy, Sri Lanka.
- Elaeis guineensis, fruiting prolifically in the Botanical Garden Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
- Betel leaves and Areca nuts.
- Serenoa repens fruit being collected in Florida
Photos: Pierre-Olivier Albano

Palm trees supply an unbelievably diverse number pf products. For centuries many of these have been used to heal us or to enhance our beauty.Although the Areca family is relatively poor in secondary metabolites, capable of producing pharmacological activity, certain traditional medicines used in tropical climes claim certain therapeutic virtues.Similarly, the fruit and seeds, often oleaginous, are an important source for traditional preparations, desired to beautify skin and hair. From a symbolic point of view, the palm tree has been the apothecary emblem in France since 1777.

Scientific knowledge of the palm tree and its attributes passed into the western pharmacopoeia, most notably the Betel Nut. This chewing mixture is largely used in southwest Asia, and is composed of several ingredients. The leaves or inflorescences of the Pepper Betel (Piper betel) is only one ingredient. Others are lime, tobacco, or other spices. In Asia, each region has its own recipe, but the Betel nut is ever present as it contains the pharmacological substances arecaine and arecoline. The first is slightly narcotic and has never been used in Europe. The second has worming properties and has been used for a long time in Europe for both animals and humans against parasitic intestinal worms. Today, it has been replaced by synthetic substances, less toxic and more effective. Even if it cannot be held responsible, it must be pointed out that regular chewing of the Betel Nut has been linked to throat cancer.

Another traditional substance is the resin extracted from the fruits of Daemonorops draco (Willd.) also known as Dragon Blood because of its bright red colour. Reputed for its antiseptic and healing qualities, it was used until a few years ago in toothpaste in many European countries. Today, only Chinese medicine still uses this.

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