COMMON NAMES areca nut, betel morsel, ping fang, supari

Believe it or not, you are now reading about one of the most widely used-drugs in the whole world, Literally hundreds of millions of people in Asian 'countries chew betel nuts regularly.

Betel nuts are usually consumed in the form of betel morsels. The recipe for morsels might not excite Julia Child, but here it is anyway: Take a piece of the nut from an areca palm tree (Areca catechu), a bit of catechu gum from a Malaysian acacia tree, add a pinch of burnt lime, and wrap the whole business in a betel leaf (Piper chavica betel). For gourmet tastebuds, a little bit of nutmeg, tumeric, or cloves will enhance flavor. The betel morsel can then be placed in the cheek or under the tongue and sucked on for a few hours much the same way as one would do with a sourball. It may not be candy, but to Asians it's dandy.

The effect of this concoction is primarily due to the oily, volatile arecoline contained in the areca palm nut. Saliva, when mixed with the lime in betel morsels, releases the arecoline which in turn excites the central nervous system. Respiration increases while the work load placed upon the heart is decreased. The betel leaf contributes to the mix by adding several other mild stimulants such as chavicol, chavibetol, and cadinene.

A side effect of arecoline is that it increases salivation markedly. Before you start worrying about ruining your new, T-shirt with dribble, however, take comfort in the fact that the catechu gum in the recipe for morsels will effectively inhibit the excess saliva flow.

Asians have long recognized that betel morsels, sold openly in streets and marketplaces, can lift the spirit, stimulate the nervous system, and generally work as an effective aphrodisiac. They are often included in an Eastern bride's dowry. Adolescents who harvest the nuts and munch while they work often take lovemaking breaks in much the way as we take coffee breaks.

The aphrodisiac quality of betel nuts does not result from a direct effect upon one's sexual organs. Rather, it is due to the stimulating properties of the drug, its elevation of mood, and a general increase in the chewer's available energy.

As with many substances, for those interested in betel nuts, moderation would seem to be the answer. -While a little may be harmless or even beneficial, a lot can actually weaken one's sexual potency and bring on undesirable side effects. Ingestion of too much arecoline, or the use of unripe betel nuts, can cause a feeling similar to being drunk. Dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, or even convulsions may occur. Regular use will also result in telltale dark-red staining of the mouth, teeth, and gums.