In Britain we rarely give a second thought to these fruits. It is just a tasty treat on holiday in the tropics for most people. For millions of people though coconuts provide a life. The name comes from 16th century Portuguese and Spanish. The coconut tree can be found throughout the tropic and subtropical areas.
It is a very important fruit but the tree and leaves are also used a great deal especially in southern India and Sri Lanka. The Tamil name for coconut tree is “Karpaga” where karpagam means one which gives what we need.
So let us look at the basic needs of a person and how the coconut tree can meet all of these. The first requirement is food and this is provided by the hard white and sweet inside of the coconut. It is a widely used ingredient in Indian and Sri Lankan cuisine. It is primarily used in the making of sweets due to its inherently sweet taste. It has many of the essential nutrients we need. The water can also be consumed and provides hydration when water is hard to come by.
Coconut water is a very popular drink in the tropics especially for tourists visiting!
So once food has been provided then the next requirement is shelter. The leaves (branches) of the tree are long and once dried become stiff enough to be used for building simple shelters. Many people who cannot afford traditional building materials use these leaved to build small huts. These are easy and quick to construct and even easier to repair and extend. People even build fences with the leaves as if a house is not enough!
Food and shelter have been taken care of so what is the next requirement? Energy, even this is covered. The leaves and trunk once dried out are often burnt for cooking. The shells of the coconut can also be burnt as fuel.
As well as living using coconut trees it can also give you a living. Coconut oil is a very important product which is used both for cooking and cosmetics. There are plantations of coconut trees just to extract this oil. This is a large scale business but there are smaller projects people can take up. Fibres which are found within the long leaves are knitted together to form very strong ropes. These can also be made into mats to welcome people into your house! Many small toys and decorative items can also be made. Whole cottage industries have sprung up to make these for tourists.
There are also medicinal uses; the oil is usually applied to small wounds which should help prevent infection from external bacteria. The oil can also be mixed with camphor and used to treat headaches and colds.
Coconuts also have a religious significance and are used in many Hindu ceremonies. This fruit which has been used for thousands of years also appears to have hidden uses which are only now being understood. The fibres of the shell are immensely strong and research is being conducted which will use these in bullet proof armour.