Some years ago, I planted a betel vine next to our garage wall. In a year, the vine covered the rough wall completely. I had enough to supply neighbours and friends. Ever since, I have been growing betel vine and now I have a flourishing one trailing on a drumstick tree.
Betel vine is commercially cultivated in many South Asian countries. Betel leaf is valued for its medicinal properties and cultural value. In India, it enjoys pride of place in most traditional ceremonies and social occasions. Chewing a mixture of betel, arecanut and slaked lime has been a practice for thousands of years. It is not clear how the combination of betel and arecanut came about, but archaeological evidence suggests that they have been together for over 4,000 years.
This perennial, evergreen climber requires plenty of rainfall.
It is grown as a cash crop in most parts of India and each region has its special variety. The varieties cultivated in Karnataka are ‘kariyale' and ‘Mysoreale'. Based on the brittleness and taste, betel leaves are classified into pungent and non-pungent varieties. The mild tender leaf variety is preferred in the south. For an average home, one or two vines are adequate.
Cling to grow
Dig a pit 75 cm in length, width and depth. Put in well-matured manure, handfuls of powdered neem cake, leaf manure and wood ash. If you can buy a rooted sampling, plant it in the pit. If it is a cutting, it should be a healthy stem, a metre long with two or three nodes. Dip the rooting end in a rooting mixture and bury it one node deep in the soil. Press the soil around the planted cutting firmly. Frequent watering is needed but make sure there is no water logging.
Young shoots will appear in a month. Ensure a support to climb on. It could be a thick bamboo, a tree or a rough wall. When the vine comes in contact with the support, it produces adventitious roots to cling with. To keep it in place, tie the vine to the support with thin jute ropes at intervals. Betel vine is a heavy feeder so fertilize with nitrogen rich organic manure on alternate months.
Ayurveda recommends betel leaf as a digestive, carminative, anti-inflammatory and wound healer. Water in which betel leaves are boiled is a mouth freshener. The introduction of tobacco as a combination with betel is harmful.
In Thai and Vietnamese cuisines, betel is a popular ingredient in salads, fritters and as a wrap for steaming meat and fish.
Water in which betel leaves are boiled is a mouth freshener, says Thilaka Baskaran