Botanical name: Piper betle L.
Betel is an evergreen, perennial climber widely grown all over the Sri Lanka. The commercial product is the leaf, mainly used for chewing with Arecanut, slaked lime, tobacco and some other ingredients. Betel chewing habit in Sri Lanka goes dates back to 340 B.C and during that time betel was a prestigious item used by the prestigious society of the country. The origin of betel is believed to be in Malaysia or in surrounding East Asian region and it is said to have been introduced to Sri Lanka and other South Asian Countries by Chinese and Arab merchants. However, over ten wild relatives of betel are found in Sri Lanka.
Today betel is grown for local consumption and exports and Major betel growing countries are Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and Bangladesh. Pakistan is the major importer of Sri Lankan betel.
Products and Uses
The leaves of this plant have a higher economical and medicinal value but from ancient times it has been mostly used for chewing purposes and ceremonial events along with other condiments. This chewing combination in the form of a betel quid could be varied with different ingredients from country to country.
Several value added products from betel has been formulated and those include betel toothpaste, mouthwash, shampoo, face cream, instant betel quid and pellets.
Major Growing Areas
Betel is grown in all over the country but the commercial production of export quality betel, with bigger leaves with dark green colour combined with thickness, known as “Kalu bulath” is significantly confined to few districts such as Kurunagala, Gampaha, Kegalle, Kalutara and Colombo.
Large number of local betel accessions are grown in Sri Lanka. Among them "Maneru", "Ratadalu" and "Galdalu" are popular betel varieties with high export quality .
Soils and Climatic Requirements
Betel can be successfully grown in well-drained, fertile soils in wet to dry climatic zone of Sri Lanka. Especially the lataritic and clay loam soils in Kurunagala and Gampaha districts are highly suitable for betel cultivation. Waterlogged, saline or alkali soils are not suitable for the growth of betel.
Elevation – Can be successfully grown up to 1000M amsl.
Well-distributed annual rainfall enhances the growth of betel vines.
Betel is a sun loving plant but produces better quality leaves in the wet zone and intermediate zones rather than in the dry zone. Appropriable shade levels and irrigation are essential for successful cultivation of the crop. Hot dry winds are harmful and retard the growth of the vine.
Betel is usually propagated by using stem cuttings. Cuttings should be healthy and taken from mother vines with high yielding and leaves are comparatively bigger and dark green in colour. Cuttings can directly be field planted or can be planted as rooted cuttings established in poly bags filled with a mixture of equal parts of top soil, cow dung, coir dust and sand.
Betel is usually planted in sunken beds. The field should be flat, well drained and with good sun shine. The field should not have a betel cultivation infected with Bacterial Leaf Blight at least for 2 years. After the land preparation, beds, usually in the size of 1.2mx7.5m, are prepared. Bed size can vary with the space available. Adequate spacing should be left between beds to allow management practices and to control the spread of disease. Beds should be sterilized by burning straw or ash on it. Around the cluster of beds a drainage canal of 30cm width, 60cm depth should be built.
An artificial live or dead support should be provided to betel for upright climbing. Supports, called as stakes, are established in the beds at the spacing of 45cmx 45cm. Two cuttings are planted near a stake. Before planting, cuttings should be immersed in a fungicide mixture for about 2 minutes.
Instead of beds betel can be established as single plants. Cuttings are planted in 30cmx30cm pits, filled with top soil and cow dung mixture, and stakes of 2-4cm diameter should be established as supports. The spacing between plants is 1.8x1.8cm. Either live supports of Gliricidia sepium or durable dead wood support can be used.
Beds should be covered with coconut fronds or other shading material for about 4-6 weeks. Beds should be watered once or twice daily. Sprouting from cuttings starts within 20-45 days and after that shade should be removed gradually.
Betel leaves are picked once in every 3-4 weeks and with that substantial quantity of nutrient is removed from the field. Therefore application of chemical fertilizer is essential for higher yield and better growth.
Triple Super phosphate 65g
Muriate of Potash 100g
420g of above mixture should be applied to 100 betel vines in every three weeks intervals.
Initially cow dung or compost should be applied to the bed after about one month and it should be mixed well with soil without damaging to the newly planted cuttings. Well composed poultry manure or goat manure can also be used for betel. Application of decomposed Glyricidia leaves is highly beneficial for better growth and higher yield.
Pruning and Training
It is generally trained either to live supports or dead supports but concrete post or coir ropes can also be used as substitutes.
- Pruning at 1m height of the betel vine is preferred to increase the plageotropic branches and yield.
- After 1.2 m growth of the betel vine Trellis is established.
Bacterial Leaf Blight
Betel leaf blight is caused by bacteria, called Xanthomonas campestris betlicola. Disease becomes epidemic during rainy seasons. First characteristic symptom is moist oily patches on underneath of leaves. Gradually they spread and turn into brown or black in colour. When the condition is serious these patches can spread to the stem resulting of shedding leaves and nodes. Consequently the plant will die but the disease can easily spread into surrounding vines. No control measure has been identified other than destruction of seriously diseased plants. Diseased plants and near by plants should be burned on the spot. A chemical treatment can be applied to control the spread. All matured leaves of remaining vines should be removed and a chemical solution (mixture of 28g of copper based fungicide, 28g of Mancozeb and 28g of Captan dissolved in three gallons of water) should be sprayed once or twice to betel vines.
The spread of disease can be controlled by lowering the application of chemical fertilizer and water for infected betel plots. Use of disease free planting material, use of a agro well or a isolated water source for irrigation and adhering to strict hygienic practices are important ways to avoid contamination.
Occasional death of betel vines in a plot can be observed in some betel cultivations. Main reason for such situation is due to nematode attacks. Nematodes attacks to root system and cause partial destruction but secondary attacks of fungus and bacteria cause foot rot and destruction of root system causing to consequent death.
Fungal Foot rot and fungal attacks on leaves are other minor disease problems in betel cultivation.
No economically important pest problems are reported but insect damages by suck sapping insects and damages of red mites to betel leaves are commonly found in betel cultivations.
Harvesting and Post Harvest practices
Harvesting is started when the betel vine is grown up to 1.2-1.8m in length. Initially matured leaves (Kanda kola) are removed in lower parts of the main stem 2-3 times. After that betel leaves are harvested both from main stem and lateral stems. For export market betel is harvested from three weeks intervals and for local market in two weeks intervals. Harvested betel leaves are bundled, having 40 leaves for each, before sending to the market. For export market those bundles are packed in specially prepared cane baskets.
Medicinal and Chemical Properties
The important constituent of the betel leaves is a volatile oil. Some of the major compounds identified in Sri Lankan betel oil are β-phellandrene, 4-terpinol, eugenol, chavibitol acetate, safrole and allylpyrocatechol diacetate.
Standard quality specifications
There are no specific quality parameters for betel. But for export quality betel following criteria is considered,
Size of the leaf – At least 20cm in length and 15cm in width
Color – well matured dark Green color leaves
Freshness of the leavesStem of the leaf must be 2.5-3cm