Coconuts and the ‘Tree of Life’
They’re everywhere you look in one form or another – be it a mat for the floor, the water to refresh and quench our thirst, the milk to liven up a meal or the oil to….well we all know the numerous amazing uses for the oil ! Yes we’re talking coconuts.
There’s some debate as to exactly where they were first discovered, either the Americas or Asia but Sinbad the Sailor mentioned them in one of his voyages, as did Marco Polo.
The coconut, aka Cocos nucifera, refers to either the coconut palm or the seed and is not actually a nut, as you might imagine but a drupe (which has an outer fibrous part that surrounds a hard shell with a seed inside).
They grow on those elegant looking palm trees that instantly bring a smile to your face when you see one, being reminiscent of holidays!
However, they’re more than pretty to look at. They are an important sustainable resource, often surviving even hurricanes and tsunamis.
Coconuts are a natural product, not manufactured, and are in season all year long and grow in bunches of 5 to 20 fruits each. A new bunch begins to grow every month, whilst another bunch matures every month and so the cycle goes on. A coconut palm produces about 100-200 coconuts a year.
The word coconut comes from Spanish ‘coco’ meaning skull or scary face because of the three indentations on the coconut shell that could look like facial features.
Who’d have thought that this rather odd looking, hairy, hard ball shape could have so many uses and be used the world over?
So, How are Coconuts Used?
Well where to even begin with this? There are so many uses:
The coconut itself produces:
- Coconut oil – This versatile oil is extracted from the flesh of mature coconuts and varies greatly in quality and taste depending on the raw material used, extraction method and where the coconuts are grown.
Lucy Bee coconut oil is of the highest quality being unrefined, raw, cold pressed, organic and fair trade,too. Its numerous health and beauty benefits make this natural oil a must-have in any home. You can cook with it, add it to smoothies or coffee, moisturise your body with it, take off your make-up or even loosen up a sticky zip!
It fuels athletes, feeds the brain and gives your body that extra energy boost – a nourishing all-rounder.
- Coconut milk – Deliciously enriches a meal offering a hint of coconut and is used in many Asian dishes.
It is made by grating and soaking the kernel (the meat of the coconut) in hot water. The coconut cream rises to the top and can be skimmed off, whilst the remaining liquid is squeezed through a cheesecloth to extract a white liquid, which we know as coconut milk. This process can be repeated several times to make successively ‘thinner’ milk.
- Coconut jam – Made from coconut milk and muscovado sugar. I haven’t tried this but for those with a sweet tooth it sounds amazing.
- Coconut butter – This is pureed flesh and therefore contains a little oil. In other words, it is ground up desiccated coconut – rather like peanut butter.
- Coconut flour – A wonderful addition to gluten-free baking. It’s made from the dried meat once the oil has been extracted and is finely ground to its flour consistency.
It has a sponge-like way of soaking up any liquid or moisture in your recipe so you’ll need to increase the amount of oil and even eggs (1/2 cup of coconut flour needs approx 3 eggs) to get the right consistency. I’d recommend increasing the liquid, too – maybe add extra as you go along to get the perfect consistency.
- Coconut water – Now hugely popular as a refreshing and hydrating drink and comes from immature coconuts. As the coconut matures, the water is transformed into the kernel. So a young coconut has a small amount of meat and a lot of water.
The water contains sugar, antioxidents, proteins and provides an isotonic electrolyte balance. During the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia it was used in place of saline (which was unavailable) to intravenously hydrate patients.
It makes a thirst-quenching drink on its own and is the perfect addition to smoothies too.
Much like the oil, coconut water tastes different depending on where the coconuts are grown. Most supermarket aisles are laden with cartons (or cans) of coconut water but there’s something quite appealing about drinking it straight from the coconut itself.
When fermented, coconut water becomes coconut vinegar.
- Coconut flakes – The finely sliced or shredded meat is dried or dehydrated to produce naturally sweet flakes and can be used in cooking or to snack on.
The coconut husk fibre, also known as coir, is used for making body brushes, walls (piled on top of each other), ropes, door mats, sacks, fibre in mattresses, for geo-textile erosion control and even used in potting compost for plants!
The actual shell makes a hardy cup to drink from and is sometimes made into buttons or ground down and used as a natural skin exfoliator. It can also be made into activated carbon.
Apparently, in World War 2, a coast watcher scout from the Solomon Islands was one of the first people to reach a US shipwrecked torpedo boat captained by John F Kennedy. With no paper on which to write a message, a coconut shell was offered instead and the future US President inscribed his message on this – the shell now sits in the JF Kennedy Library.
Onto the Palm Tree……
The many uses of all things coconut does not stop here. The leaves from the tree are used too:
- In the Philippines, rice is often wrapped in coconut leaves then cooked and stored in this way.
- Village households will have brooms made from coconut leaves – the leaf is stripped and the long veins tied together to make the brush head.
- The leaves are also used for baskets or roofing thatch.
The coconut timber from the trunk is a multipurpose resource for veneer, fine strong furniture, parquet flooring, building materials and complete houses and even the tree root can be used as a dye. I’ve even heard of a frayed root being used as a toothbrush!
And have you ever tried ‘coconut vodka’? This is the tree sap, in the Philippines known as ‘lambanog’ and in Sri Lanka as ‘toddy’. It becomes alcoholic when fermented!
With this abundance of uses for the coconut tree, Mother Nature has excelled herself. It’s little wonder that the villagers and farmers who produce our coconut oil call this ‘The Tree of Life’. Not only does it provide food and household items and even power diesel engines (that would be by coconut oil) but an entire working family is able to participate in providing an income and thereby improving standards of living.
So, as you look around your home, I wonder how many items you can spot that come from the ‘Tree of Life’?
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practioner.