Harper's Weekly 04/12/1873


THE BETEL-NUT.

There is a fascination in the betel-nut more
extraordinary than in the tobacco passion. The
consumption of the latter in chewing alone, in
the United States, is a modern phenomenon.
An inveterate chewer may have moral resolution
enough to break off the habit, though it rarely
happens that an effort is made to do so, as an
apology is found for continuing a practice that
is positively destroying the foundations of health.
Once addicted to chewing tobacco, to abandon
it is an achievement few have the happiness to
perform, notwithstanding the melancholy mor-
tality of men in the meridian of life who are
constantly being destroyed by the subtle influ-
ence of that strange plant on the nervous sys-
tem. Thus sudden palsy of the heart, palsy of
a limb, palsy of one-half the tongue, and even
instantaneous death, are traceable by physicians
to excessive use of tobacco. But the vice of
betel-nut chewing is still more remarkable.
When the habit is established there seems no
retreat. The victim wears out his teeth, gums,
and digestion, and dies with an unsatisfied long-
ing for another quid. Betel-nut trees thrive in
most parts of tropical India, the Indian Archi-
pelago, and the Philippine Islands. They grow
up gracefully about thirty feet, rarely more than
eight inches in diameter. It is an areca cate-
chu. Penang is the universal name of the nut
in those places where it is produced; hence
Pulo Penang means a betel-nut island. At six
years of age the tree commences bearing nuts
of the size of a small pullet's egg, of a bright
yellow color, inclosed in a husk similar to that
of the cocoa-nut; within is a spherical nut, very
much like a nutmeg. Broken, a bit of it is
wrapped up with a piece of unslacked lime in a
peculiar leaf, the Siri betelpiper, extensively cul-
tivated for that purpose. The gums and mu-
cous membrane of the mouth are quickly stain-
ed a brick red; the teeth crumble to a level with
the gums; and in that condition an inveterate
betel-chewer is wretched without a supply.
There are large plantations of betel-nut trees in
Java to meet the demand for nome consumption
and in distant provinces. To augment the pleas-
ure, those who can afford it add tobacco to the
lime.



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