Coconut (botanical name Cocos nucifera) is basically a variety of palm that has the aptitude to endure saline, sandy soils and is frequently found growing along the beaches in places having tropical climatic conditions. However, coconut plantations are generally found inland. Coconut is primarily a crop of the small holders. In addition, coconut is cultivated in a number of places having sub-tropical climatic conditions, such as Florida. It is interesting to note that the origin as well as domestication of coconut has been the topic of enough debate and till date there is no common concurrence. However, it is commonly believed that coconut has its origin in the Melanesian area of the Pacific region from where it was taken to Asia during the ancient times. Afterwards, coconut was introduced to different regions of the world, including Panama, East Africa as well as the Atlantic coasts of Africa and the Americas. Undoubtedly, much of the dispersal of coconut is attributed to the humans. However, some botanists believe that since the coconut fruits have the aptitude to float in sea water, it is possible that they were dispersed by the ocean currents to distant places devoid of losing any of its properties to germinate provided it reaches an appropriate site where it can propagate readily.
The tall coconut palms are the most universally planted species and these trees generally grow up to a height of 20 meters to 30 meters having a stem without any branches and a crown comprising anything between 25 and 35 leaves. The plant bears male or female flowers and they start blooming after 6 years to 12 years of existence of the plant. In addition to the common tall coconut palm, another variety called dwarf palms also exist and they normally grow up to a height of 8 meters to 10 meters. The mature coconut fruit is about 20 cm to 30 cm in length and weighs anything between 1.2 kg and 2.0 kg. The coconut fruit comprises of an external skin called the epicarp, a gristly outer covering called the mesocarp as well as a hard shell known as endocarp that surrounds the familiar nut that is traded internationally.
The coconut fruit has three soft areas, often called 'eyes', at one end of the shell and the young shoot of the plant comes out from one of these three 'eyes'. Within the hard shell there is a thin brown hued seed coating that covers the vital white color endosperm or 'meat', which encloses a minuscule embryo. At the center, the endosperm has a cavity which is filled with some water when the fruit matures. Usually, the first fruit appears on the tree six years after planting the tree, while the palms continue to bear fruits for approximately 80 years thereafter. Normally, a coconut tree will produce some fruits throughout the year and this is considered to be a distinctive gain of the coconut palm over several other crops.
There are several different ways by which the coconut fruit is harvested. In most cases expert climbers make use of a rope that is passed around the trunk of the tree in the form of a belt or encircled to form stirrups for their feet. The harvesters may possibly cut the fruit from the tree using a knife fastened to a long bamboo pole. Generally, the fruit is let to naturally drop on the ground and collected by people on the ground or by the harvesters between climbing two trees. However, in a number of South-East Asian regions, harvesters utilize the services of pig-tailed monkeys, who are trained to go up the coconut trees and throw the fruits down. Coconut is always propagated by germination of the fruit's seeds.
We obtain a valuable vegetable oil from coconut. To obtain this oil, first the husks, including the epicarp as well as the fibrous mesocarp of the fruits are removed and, subsequently, the ensuing nuts are cracked open and the endosperm (meat) is extracted. The meat is dehydrated to form the 'copra', which encloses roughly 65 per cent of the oil that is inundated with large amounts of lauric acid. When the oil has been extracted, the remains, known as 'poonac' in the East, are used in the form of a fodder for animals. The poonac contains as much as 20 per cent of protein. On the other hand, the coconut oil has several uses, for instance, it is used to make soap, margarine, cosmetics as well as confectionery items. Coconut oil is also an extremely valuable alternative for cocoa butter. In addition, this oil can also be directly used in the form of a fuel for the basic diesel engines. Desiccated coconut, which encloses 70 per cent oil and six per cent protein, is made from the fresh endosperm or meat after it is shredded and dried out. However, at first you need to remove the seed coat. Many baked foods and confectionery items include desiccated coconut. People in the East as well as the Pacific region also consume fresh endosperm of coconut fruit.
This fruit also yields a substance called 'coconut milk', which is obtained by pressing the freshly shredded endosperm by means of a sieve. In many cultures, coconut milk forms an important ingredient in curries as well as sweet preparations. However, it is important that one should not mistake coconut milk for coconut water, which is found in the cavity inside the unripe coconut fruits and contains 5 per cent sugar, minerals, amino acid and vitamin C. In fact, coconut water is a very popular and calming drink in the tropical regions. The tender coconut endosperm is similar to jelly and can also be consumed raw. A particular cultivar called 'makapuno' retains this immature endosperm permanently. A part of the germinating seed, coconut 'apple' is also eaten by people in some regions. In addition, you may also find coconut pollen being commercially sold in a number of health food stores.
Besides the fruit, the trees of coconut palm are tapped at the closed bracts (spathe) to obtain toddy, arrack as well as sugar. Toddy and arrack are local fermented natural drinks that enclose some amount of ascorbic acid, which their yeast content supplies vitamin B. Occasionally, toddy is also used to prepare vinegar. On the other hand, the palm cabbage is a subtle terminal bud of the coconut palm tree, which is consumed raw, cooked or even used to make pickles. On some occasions, the pickle prepared with coconut cabbage is also canned. However, it is very normal that when the bud is removed from the tree, the palm is destroyed.
Besides being a healthy food, the coconut palm also has several other utilities. The fibrous or gristly region (mesocarp), also known as 'coir' is used to make different products, for instance, ropes, mats, brooms and brushes. Currently, the coir forms a part of a number of soil composts in the United Kingdom. In effect, coir is a very handy alternative for peat that requires conservation. The wood of the coconut palm tree is utilized for building as well as carvings while the leaves are useful for making baskets as well as thatching. The hard shell of the coconut fruit too has several different uses like being used as a fuel, drink holders and, when the shells are pulverized into fine particles, they are used in the form of filler in plastics.
Before concluding this part of the article, it may be reiterated that the coconut palm is cultivated in all places having tropical climatic conditions. The countries which produce maximum amount of coconuts include India, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Pacific region as well as Mexico.
People from several dissimilar societies, religions, races and languages spread across the world have admired coconut as a precious resource of food as well as medicine. In fact, in all places where the coconut palm grows, people have become familiar about the fruits value in the form of a helpful natural remedy. For several thousand years, medications prepared with coconut have been esteemed and it has been given an important position in local traditional medicine.
In folk medicine across the globe, people have employed coconut to cure a broad assortment of health problems, counting asthma, abscesses, bronchitis, baldness, burns, bruises, constipation, colds, cough, dysentery, dropsy, earache, flu, fever, gonorrhea, gingivitis (inflammation of the gums), irregular or painful menstruation, jaundice, lice, kidney stones, tumours, malnutrition, ulcers, typhoid, skin contagions, scabies, sore throat, syphilis, rash, toothache, tuberculosis, nausea, scurvy, debility, stomach disorder as well as wounds.
While folk medicine has always revered coconut as a valuable source of natural remedy for numerous health conditions, contemporary medical science is now gradually corroborating the use of coconut to cure many of the health conditions mentioned above. Findings of several studies that have been reported in different medical journals from time to time have revealed that coconut, in one or other form, has the aptitude to offer a wide assortment of health benefits. A number of health specific benefits provided by coconut are briefly discussed below.
It has been proved that use of coconut helps to eliminate viruses that are responsible for measles, influenza, hepatitis C, herpes, SARS, AIDS as well as many other different ailments. In addition, coconut also eliminates bacteria that are responsible for ulcers, infections of the urinary tract, gum and cavity diseases, gonorrhea, pneumonia as well as a number of other illnesses. Coconut also kills fungi and yeasts that are responsible for ringworm, candidiasis, thrush, athlete's foot, diaper rash and several other contagious diseases.
Coconut also facilitates in putting off obesity by accelerating metabolism, and by supplying an instant source of energy having lesser calories compared to other fats. Individuals who use coconut products on a regular basis claim to possess a stronger aptitude to do without meals for many hours at a stretch and without having any affect of hypoglycemia (low level of blood glucose).
Consumption of coconut in any form augments the health of the heart by means of supplying it with short chain as well as medium chain fatty acids (MCFA), which are necessary for our wellbeing. It may be noted that nearly 88 per cent of the entire fatty acids consumed by us comprises long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), which are extremely dissimilar to MCFA that do not have any negative effect on the ratios of cholesterol and, at the same time, facilitate in lessening the perils of developing atherosclerosis. In addition, it also puts off the possibilities of developing any heart ailment. Findings of several researches have revealed that people in Polynesia as well as Sri Lanka, where coconuts form a staple diet, generally do not endure elevated serum cholesterol levels or heart ailments. Different from other types of fats, coconut possesses exceptional therapeutic attributes, as this fruit encloses large quantities of lauric acid - primarily a fatty acid present in breast milk.
Low Glycemic Index (GI) actually gauges the manner in which the quickly available carbohydrates present in our food increase the blood sugar levels. It has been found that fiber present in coconut fruit inhibits the discharge of glucose and, thereby makes the body require less insulin to make use of the glucose and carry it to the cell where it is transformed into energy. In addition, coconut also helps to ease the pressure on the pancreas as well as the enzyme systems of the body. This, in turn, lowers the risks related to diabetes. It has been found that Coconut Nectar and Coconut Crystals possess extremely small GI of just 35 in comparison to honey, which has a GI of 55 to 83, and also sugar having a GI of anything between 65 and 100.
Coconut also enhances the level as well as the pace of calcium and magnesium assimilation by the body. Simultaneously, coconut endorses the development of tough bones and strong teeth. In addition, coconut also facilitates in protecting us from developing osteoporosis.
Coconut assists in providing relief to indications related to gallbladder ailments as well as the symptoms associated with ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease and stomach ulcers. Consumption of coconuts, in one or other form, also enhances digestion. In effect, coconut encourages the assimilation of other nourishments, counting vitamins, amino acids and minerals by our body. At the same time, it also provides the body with helpful nutritional fiber. Among several other health benefits derived from coconut consumption, it also provides relief from pain and irritation owing to hemorrhoids.
Coconut is also a valuable remedy that promotes as well as supports the functioning of the immune system. This fruit also facilitates in shielding the body from developing breast, colon as well as other different forms of cancer.
Coconut also assists in easing the symptoms related to the chronic fatigue syndrome. This fruit provides relief from symptoms linked with benign prostatic hyperplasia (also known as prostate enlargement). It also lessens epileptic seizures and promotes the functioning of the thyroid glands.
Coconut encloses a very high level of dietary fiber in comparison to other natural sources of fiber like wheat bran, psyllium, rice barn and oat barn. Consumption of coconut provides our body with a remarkable 61 per cent of dietary fiber. It may be mentioned here that the food we ingest enclose two kinds of carbohydrates - digestible (soluble) and non-digestible (insoluble) carbohydrates. Digestible carbohydrates or soluble fiber comprises sugar and starch and advance calories. On the other hand, non-digestible carbohydrates (also called insoluble fiber) do not contain any calorie. As our body is unable to digest or assimilate the dietary fiber present in coconut, it is not possible to obtain any calorie from it and neither does it has any adverse effect on the blood sugar levels.
When coconut or its oil is applied externally it assists in forming a chemical barricade on the skin to keep away from getting any infectious ailment. Topical application of coconut or coconut oil helps to cure skin conditions, such as dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis. In addition, it also supports in maintaining the normal chemical balance of the skin. Coconut makes the skin softer and facilitates in getting rid of dryness as well as flaking. External application of coconut and coconut oil also puts off sagging skin, wrinkles and spots related to ageing. When applied to the hair, coconut oil makes the hair healthy as well as improves its complexion. Last, but not the least, topical application of coconut and its products provides us with fortification from harmful effects of ultraviolet (UV) radiation from the sun. In addition, coconut also aids in controlling dandruffs.
Consumption of coconuts in any form lessens the yearning for sweets and enhances the secretion of insulin. At the same time, coconut helps in proper utilization of blood glucose. As mentioned earlier, coconut contains healthy fat that inhibits any increase in blood sugar and facilitates in lowering the hypoglycaemic cravings.
Coconut is a quick energy boosting food that supplies the body with a tremendous nutrient source of energy. Actually, our body makes use of the ingested coconut to produce energy, instead of storing it in the body in the form of fat. Consumption of coconut promotes augmented stamina throughout physical as well as athletic activities. At the same time, it encourages healthy functioning of the thyroid glands and facilitates in easing the symptoms of incessant exhaustion.