12 September 2013

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A family drama yesterday upset the apple-cart and made this week’s regular Flora and Fauna Weekly impossible.   Instead this post is dedicated to one wonder plant – piper betel, stock photo above.

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We got to know this plant when we lived in Palau.  Nearly everyone there chews the betel nut, and everyone who chews betel nut, opens it, taps in some powdered lime (from burned coral), and wraps it in a betel nut leaf.  All betel nut chewers carry around a little woven bag with the supplies, including the betel nut leaf.   This leaf has a secondary function – it stops bleeding.
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If anyone has a bleeding wound, someone will take a leaf (without nut or lime), chew it up, and pack it into the wound – even if the wound is large and gaping.  Bleeding stops immediately, and these wounds never get infected.   In Palau, the betel nut leaf is the first “medicine” in the traditional first aid kit.
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So why am I telling you?   Last night a dear relative took a face dive onto the cement.  Blood was pouring from the wounds.  As we organized ice and hospital bag and transport, one person ran for the betel nut leaf.   He crushed it in a mortar and pestle that was handy – and slapped it on the lacerations.    There was instant clotting – that stayed clotted for an hour.
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Then the medical staff at the “this-is-not-Palau-and-I-don’t-really-believe-you” hospital cleaned the leaf from the wound, and the bleeding started back up at 1/4 strength.   After sutures were put in, the bleeding was down to a steady trickle (instead of a steady NOTHING).
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The doctor in the referral hospital looked at the wounds and guessed that the patient had probably lost about 500 cc of blood from it.  I was happy to be able to say, “no – only about 200cc”   I told him about the leaf and his one word response was “vasoconstriction.”
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 God willing, some day this magnificent leaf will get the proper clinical trials that it deserves.
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(With any luck I’ll be back to my no-drama narratives next week.)
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9 thoughts on “12 September 2013

  1. Hi Kim! I did not know that about the betel nut leaf… fascinating. Even after being chewed the wounds would not get infected? It must have antiseptic, as well as, vasoconstriction properties since the average human mouth is not the most sterile environment. Mainstream medicine could no doubt learn a lot from what most might consider folk remedies. I wouldn’t doubt that there are natural cures for cancer and everything else that ails us hiding out there, of course, the trick is to discover it and nurture it before we destroy it in the name of progress. Hope the patient makes a full recovery. 🙂

    • Right, Donalee. I actually heard some foreign doctor in Palau talking about studying the betel nut leaf for antibiotic properties when we lived there (20+ years ago) – until then, I had not clued in on the fact that the wounds weren’t even getting infected. So… he was talking about studying it 20 years ago – why is there still no knowledge of it anywhere else? And thank you for the kind wishes for the patient.

      • The cynical & “uneducated about how betel nut grows” side of me would suggest that it isn’t widely known about because no one has figured out how to capitalize on it. Word spreads quickly when there is money to be made. Seems to me, someone would be looking at it as a cash crop if it science was able to verify it’s healing properties and there was a way to process it so that it could be used in other parts of the world. Perhaps it has a very short shelf life and has to be used fresh, which would only make is useful in areas where it could be grown or some other hindrance that prevents it’s widespread use. It seems like there would be great value in studying something like that which can not only stop bleeding but prevent infection… the applications of that are vast. I’m not a scientist but I find medicinal plants (as well as random bits of useful knowledge) fascinating. I remember the first time I heard about how they used potato starch on war wounds… it just blew mind. Keep blogging… 🙂

  2. Pingback: Chewing to the grave – people’s addiction to betel quid | This World…

    • This is my blog’s first “ping back” – I guess it was from an automatic tagw word response to the word “betel” The article is good in telling the downside of excessive betel nut use. Congrats to the author for promoting a healthy lifestyle. Betel nut chewing really does seem to be addictive – I remember people in Palau being really agitated when there were no nuts following a long drought. However, if no one had chewed it, we might never have known about this miracle leaf.

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