A fast-growing climber that thrives in bright indirect light and tolerates (perhaps even prefers) standing water, betel leaf (Piper betel) is one of the most attractive medicinal herbs we grow. Glossy, heart-shaped leaves can overflow from hanging baskets or climb wooden stands or fences. It requires rich soil, regular water and will tolerate full sun if watered well.
When your betel leaf arrives, we recommend giving it a chance to recover from the stresses of traveling by leaving it in the pot it came in. Place the plant in a saucer or decorative pot that holds at least a half-inch of water and keep in bright indirect or morning light until you see new growth. Once new leaves start to grow, you can transplant it to a larger pot. Unless you are able to water daily, we do recommend a pot that holds some water. They don’t like dry soil at all.
In tropical locations, betel leaf can be trained to climb trees. In colder climates, it is happy outside in a pot or hanging basket for the summer but must be protected from temperatures below about 40 degrees.
Use a balanced fertilizer (like 3-3-3 in an organic product or 20-20-20 in a chemical mix) at half strength once or twice a month for optimum growth.
A native of India, betel leaf has many traditional medicinal uses in eastern Asia. In Ayurveda, it is used as a remedy for stomach ailments and to improve digestion. Malaysians use the leaves for headaches and joint pain. In Thailand and China, the roots are crushed and blended with salt to relieve toothaches. You can make a tea with seven mature leaves in two cups of water, simmered until only one cup of water remains.
Betel is also a celebratory food in many parts of India, typically served at the end of important meals because it may help digest curried food and act as a mouth freshener. Most often, the leaf is washed and used as a wrap for spices like cardamom, anise, coconut or lime. Once rolled, it’s traditionally held together with a clove.