Coconuts! Millions and millions of them. Madonna could have easily sang “I am a coconut girl…living in a material world” and it still would have been a big hit. Here in the Philippines, as I go about my daily life, I literally see thousands of coconut trees everyday, and usually without even paying attention. Sometimes I find myself staring in complete amazement about how plentiful the coconut fruit is where I live here in Samar province. Coconuts are found throughout the tropics (and some sub-tropical regions), and is about the most versatile fruit you will find on the planet Earth. So, I welcome you here to my quick crash-course on coconuts!
Where Coconuts Live
The scientific name for coconut is Cocos nucifera (nucifera meaning nut-bearing”). Coconut is highly nutritious and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and on many islands it is a staple in the diet and can be found in much of the local cuisine. In addition to consuming coconut as a food source, coconut plays an important role in both traditional and modern medicine practice.
Coconuts are different from any other fruits because they contain a large quantity of water. The coconut is not actually a nut, but a drupe. Typical drupes include peaches, plums, and cherries. Young, or immature green coconuts, are full of this water and can be harvested early for drinking. After maturation, they still contain some water and can be used as seed-nuts or the kernel can be processed for their oil. The hard shell in many parts of the world is processed into charcoal. The “Coir”, or the fibrous natural fiber found between the hard, internal shell and the outer coat of the coconut, is used in many useful applications such as brushes, ropes, doormats, floor mats, mattresses, and more. Many people are most familiar with the endosperm of the coconut, which is the actual cellular layers deposited along the interior walls of the coconut, and eventually is that which becomes the edible flesh, or the shredded white coconut used in cooking and other edible applications. Now, as I literally describe the coconut here, it has my mouth is watering for one of my favorite candy bars, Mounds (or Almond Joy).
When dried, the coconut flesh is called copra and is the dried meat, or kernel, that is used to extract coconut oil. The husks and leaves of the coconut plant is put to many uses in making a variety of products for the home. The coconut is known to have many cultural and religious significance within the societies that use it. Did you know that coconut water can be a substitute for blood plasma. Coconut water contains a high level of sugar and other salts that make it possible to add it to the bloodstream intravenously. Coconut water was known to be used during WWII in tropical areas for emergency transfusions.
When we re-located here to live in Samar Province in the Philippines from the United States last year, I brought with me an old orange Home Depot hard-hat that was shipped with our household goods. My brother-in-law quickly accepted it as a gift from me to him, and it didn’t take me long to figure out why. His house is surrounded with a few tall coconut trees and on one occasion, as he tells the story, they were sitting down to supper one evening and a coconut came crashing through the roof and landed on the dinner table, cracking the wood table nearly in half. I have no doubt this story is true as I’ve seen how hard a coconut hits the ground when it lets loose from 50 plus feet in the air. I’ve even heard of the tales of death caused by falling coconuts here in the Philippines.
Sometimes, when driving through the jungle to and from our house on my motorcycle, I can look up and see the potential for disaster that looms overhead. If just one rogue coconut decided to fall as I was passing, I could easily become one of those not-so-tall tales. If for no other reason, I usually make sure I am wearing my helmet when riding my bike. Coconut trees are so abundant, they seem to always slip into many of the photos taken here.
What is really interesting about the coconut, is that there are so many claimed benefits from coconut oil, it is should hold the title as the most notable fruit in the world. While an “Apple a Day Keeps the Dr. Away”, coconut oil literally has many more benefits and uses. Among the most notable uses are:
– Cooking oil with a high smoke point
– Nutritional supplement for energy
– Skin lotion
– Treatment for varicose veins
– Helps improve cholesterol ratios
– To season a cast iron skillet
– As an anti-inflammatory for arthritis
– Massage oil
There are literally so many uses, one could build a library of books written about and dedicated to the benefits and uses of coconut products. It’s used by manufacturers of soap and body lotions. It is found in shampoos and shaving creams. It’s used in aromatherapy (this reminds me…I need a massage). It supports healthy thyroid function and can be substituted for caffeine when that boost of energy is needed. The health benefits alone are enough to write an encyclopedia about.
The wood from the coconut tree itself is widely used as lumber (coco lumber) for building just about anything here in the Philippines. Houses here are mostly framed with coco lumber. Former President of the Philippines, Ferdinand Marcos, had his opulent palace built using coco lumber and products. It is estimated that seventy percent of the palace was built from coco lumber. Other assorted components of the coconut tree were also incorporated into the interior decor and architecture.
Did you know you could even put coconut oil on your kitty’s paw to help keep your cat keep a shiny coat and also cut down on hairballs?
It’s like a miracle fruit, and it grows everywhere I look. The mountainside view that I enjoy outside my living room window is covered with coconut trees. The coconuts themselves are part of our everyday life here and the trees I can visibly see provide me with a visual tell-tale sign of wind and direction. I recently planted a couple of three-foot dwarf coconut trees outside our compound walls just to provide some green in our new landscape, and as coconut tree uses go, we find they are also used by the local children in their run, chase each other, and hopscotch routines. My poor little coconut trees sure take a lot of abuse!
I have and know of friends who live here and make a living in the copra business. Buying and selling coconuts is a livelihood that provides sustenance for many families here in the Philippines, and across much of the tropical regions of the world.
Since coming to live in the Philippines, I’ve really come to appreciate and enjoy the scenery that is full of palms and coconut trees. While we personally are only just consumers of coconuts and the products thereof, and while we easily recognize the health benefits that coconuts can impart in our lives, one must always remember that coconuts also have a dark side if you live among them…that is if you’re not paying careful attention. The danger they pose is real and I am smart enough in that I constantly remind myself that there is not enough aspirin in the world to cure a headache from a falling coconut.
The photo above depicts the coconut sunsets we see on a daily basis….all it requires from us is just a short walk down to the pier. It’s so close, I don’t even require a coconut energy drink to find the motivation to go enjoy it.