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here's how we use coconuts in Hawaii--and all through the tropics!

Updated on October 6, 2012

How well do you really know Coconuts?

For sure, coconuts grow on a certain kind of palm tree. Ancient islanders were so resourceful, they used every bit of the tree and its fruit. Learn some of the ways we use coconuts today in the tropics!

A good friend brought me a dozen or so coconuts the other day, from deep in the sacred valley of Waipio where he lives and farms taro and other ono (delicious) fruits and vegetables.. These coconuts he brought me are young, so they are filled each with a cup or so of the most delicious, nutritious clear coconut water. No chemicals ever came near these babies: they are wonderful.

So every day I open one with my trusty machete. I like to leave today's coconut out in the sun for a couple hours before I open it. That way, the warmth of the sun gets absorbed right into the heart of the liquid, and when I drink it , it is especially ono..

You may have heard how every bit of the coconut tree gets used b tropical island cultures worldwide, in soooo many ways. True.

Here's the short list,of ways I personally use them here in rural Hawaii., and then I'll give you a partial list of all the ways I can remember that people of tropical cultures use this plant.

First,, I love to drink the water. And with the young coconut, I eat the spoonmeat. (that is the soft, tender, absolutely delicious white lining inside the shell when the coconut is =still young. People scrape it out with a spoon. I eat it the local way, with a bit of the coconut shell itself as the scraper/spoon. As the fruit matures, there is the coconut "meat" you probably know from commercial coconut, and when you press the moisture out of it , that's the coconut milk. Pina coladas, baking--hey, it is all good. Good eaten out-of-hand as chunks too. That's my favorite, maybe with a ripe mango from a backyard tree.

The hard brown shell is fun to make bowls and cups and stuff.:not exactly an everyday activity for me , but fun to show kids visiting our islands. They carve up pretty well too, so they are easy to decorate.

The sort of fluffy layer that is outside the brown inner coconut, is great for kindling in a campfire. I kind of strip it with my hands to create plenty surface area, so it catches the flame easily. It is dry, makes great kindling.]

The palm fronds have so many uses too. Beautiful in flower arrangements (and there are so many different kinds of palm treees,you can make different kind of arrangements with different kinds of fronds. ) You can wrap the leaves around a bowl and make a lovely natural-looking vase that way. We all make great hats, all kinds of shapes and sizes. Good to protect from the sun, cooling if you soak them awhile. I like making little toy-like fish by weaving a few leaves together, and making a 'string: from a single filament so you have a bouncy toy to dangle for a kitten. So;called grass skirts are often made from palm fronds. Measure a string the length of the waist (or use the center spine of the frond) and tie it between two nearby trees to work on it. Loop/tie a series of palm leaves around the waistband, so they stay firm, and then kinda strip each one from the tip up to the waistband. Peel them upwards like this, so you create the effect of grass, Easy, quiet work. When my daughter was little, we did mother/daughter skirts like that.

And of course, the tree itself offers great shade. Just look out ! Falling coconuts can badly injure. And the fronds too. If you get a chance and see a palm branch on the ground, lift it up. VERY heavy ! In fact, one local joke is you can always tell who the tourists are, because they park their rental cars under the palm trees, thinking it makes great shade...

I probably use the plant in other ways too...but here's some of the creative ways tropical cultures have used. The dry stuff I use as kindling, people have long used to make mattress and pillow stuffing to go inside casings made by weaving the leaves.. The tree trunks get used for housing timber, and the fronds for roofing material. Weaving the leaves makes floor mats, table runners, on and on. Mulch, fertilizer. Rafts too..

Here's one I get a kick out of. In the USA, you can actually mail a whole coconut, (not just the brown inner nut you see in mainland grocery stores....the whole coconut.! There's even a small postoffice on the island of Molokai that makes a specialty out of this. They keep a pile of coconuts outside on their lanai (Porch), and a big bowl of Sharpies you can use to decorate and address yours. Then they weigh it for you, you buy the postage and off it goes ! I hope the mailman who delivers packages at the final destination, enjoys this kind of package for a change .

So, it is late at night and time for me to sleep. As you now know if you didn't before, don't sleep under a coconut tree. !

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