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Countless uses of coconut

Updated on August 20, 2017
House made of coconut lumber
House made of coconut lumber
Coconut lumber flooring
Coconut lumber flooring

Tree of life

Scientifically known as Cocos nucifera L., the coconut tree is a tropical palm and member of the Arecaceae family that grows in over 80 countries in the world, specifically thriving in areas with an average temperature of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Coconut trees may come in dwarf and tall varieties, the tallest of which may reach up to a hundred feet. Each tree is topped with about 30 pinnate leaves that extend up to 20 feet long.

Considered one of the most important food and cash crops in the Asia-Pacific region, each part of the coconut tree – from the roots to the tip of its leaves - offers significant benefits to humankind. In fact, nothing goes to waste in a coconut. That’s why it’s no wonder that it is often called the “tree of life”.

Here are some of the several - or, is it fitting to say countless? - uses of coconut:

The root of it all

The roots of a coconut palm tree grow just below the surface in a fibrous mass and extend out at length depending on the height of the tree.

If you find yourself stranded on an island, like those featured in the movies and television, and needed a toothbrush and mouthwash, just look for a coconut tree. Pull out some of its roots – choose the softer ones, though - and break it down a bit to form some kind of bristles, then, rub it gently on your teeth. Coconut root will surely do the job! But if you are not yet content with brushing, you can boil some of the roots or extract the juice out of it, and you get a medicinal mouthwash!

In addition, coconut roots make natural dyestuff and tooth powders. It is also ground into medicines to provide an effective cure for diarrhea and dysentery.

Towering trunks

In reality though, personal hygiene may not be your top priority when you found yourself stranded on an island; it may even be your last. Instincts would rather tell you to find a way out of the place and get back home soonest. One thing you should bear in mind when it comes to survival: COCONUT! Look for a coconut tree. No island, especially in the tropics, that does not grow a coconut tree. Cut up a coconut trunk lengthwise in two and tie them together with strips from coconut branches to make a raft. Coconut strips are strong and will not break apart even when immersed in saltwater.

Of course, when you have a raft, you would need something to make it move forward. Again, cut a piece of the trunk and design it into a paddle. Then, make a sail out of a coconut frond to keep you from direct sun exposure. And oh, don’t forget to bring along a coconut fruit or two to quench your thirst and hunger should your journey back home takes long.

But aside from survival purposes, don’t you know that a coconut trunk makes a very good material for housing or building construction? The long, straight, and branch-less trunk is preferred by craftsmen and carpenters because of its durability and strength. Typically, each trunk has a diameter of around 30 to 40 centimeters, and sometimes reaching up to a meter at its base. Its timber is suitable for housing components, such as purlins, trusses, walls, doors, joists, jalousies, and window frames. From the middle part of the trunk is called low-density wood, and is suitable for non-load structures, like panels and walls. While the portion from the perimeter of the trunk is called high density wood, and is best for posts, trusses, floor tiles or parquet, door jambs, purlins, railings, girts, floor joists, balustrades, and other load-bearing structures.

Coconut trunks even make a suitable power and telecommunication poles, scaffolding and as form lumber in the construction of big buildings. Coconut wood also makes quality fishing boats.

Likewise, its unique grain and natural look makes coconut wood a very good material for different furniture items, parquet floors, decorative interior walls, handicrafts, kitchen utensils, ax handles, and novelties. Treated and polished coconut wood is even exported to other countries and made into cabinets.

Moreover, paper and pulp can be produced out of coconut wood. In fact, trials have been conducted in the Philippines and New Zealand and showed that there is a good potential of this raw material for making pulp and paper with qualities comparable to those made from hard woods.

The sap of a coconut trunk also makes a soothing eye balm. In Hawaii, people use the base of coconut trunks as material in making food containers. They also make hula drums out of it; while in the Cook Islands, they hollowed-out a coconut trunk and use it to ferment "bush beer".

Fronds and leaves

Not only does a frond of coconut make a good sail. Its leaves can be woven into straw hat to protect you from the scorching sun, or intertwined to make a cool sleeping mat. In rural areas in the tropics, coconut leaves or fronds are plaited to make thatch roof or shelter, walls, privacy fences, food cover, fruit trays, wraps, place mats, plates, fans, lamp shades, baskets, bags, among so many items. While the midrib, or the central vein that holds the leaves together, make good tooth picks, toothbrushes, cooking skewers, as well as home decors. Midribs can even be made into an artful Christmas tree. A handful of midribs, when tied together, make an efficient broomstick, better known in the Philippines as walis tingting. Dried fronds and empty bunch stalks are used for fuel. Dried leaves are also used as torches in the rural areas.

Moreover, in central and southern Philippines, vendors and local travelers weave a few leaves of the coconut into a heart-shaped pouch, half-fill it with rice and then steam it to make a ready-to-go rice meal, called “pusô” (heart), or “hanging rice” in colloquial language.

With their little ingenuity, children in rural areas in the Philippines make balls out of coconut leaves.

Guinit hat
Guinit hat
Coir rope
Coir rope
Coir mulch
Coir mulch
Tuba without tungog
Tuba without tungog
Tuba with tungog
Tuba with tungog
Coconut shell is used to contain kalamay, a special delicacy of Bohol, Philippines
Coconut shell is used to contain kalamay, a special delicacy of Bohol, Philippines
This is what kalamay looks like.  It's sweet and delicious.
This is what kalamay looks like. It's sweet and delicious.

Fiber from "guinit" and coir

The brown fiber - called ginit or guinit in the Visayan (Philippine) language - that wraps around the coconut palm frond can be an effective sun shield, like helmet and caps. It also makes good slipper straps, handbags, fans, home decors (like lamp shade, artificial flowers, handicraft items), and many more.

Meanwhile, the short and tough coir, from the inner husk of coconuts are woven and pressed together to create a hundred and one environmentally friendly products.

Coir has two types: the brown fiber, which is generated from matured coconuts, and; the white fiber, which comes from the immature or unripe ones. Both types of fibers have low thermal conductivity, outstanding insulation against temperature and sound, flame-retardant, fungi- and rot-resistant, can withstand moisture and dampness, resilient even under constant use, static-free, and easy to clean.

The brown coir is a suitable material for rugs, doormats, and mattress fabric. It can even be combined with latex to make durable and flexible car upholstery. The white coir, on the other hand, is usually spun and used in the fabrication of fishing nets and ropes. It is also used on boats because it can withstand salt water.

Coir door mats effectively remove dirt, mud, and grime from shoes because of its stubby bristles.

When your coir door mats break down, you need not throw them away for they can still serve another purpose. You can utilize them as mulch in your garden; it is an eco-friendly alternative to the non-renewable peat moss. Or, you may put them to a compost pile.

You can also make an effective bristled cleaning brush for your kitchen and bathroom out of the more rugged brown coir by simply cutting them short and spiky and fasten it onto the end of a wooden handle.

Not only that!

Coir makes a natural, environmentally friendly alternative to asbestos in the fabrication of cement fiberboard. It is not only kind to the environment; it is also significantly cheaper than the conventional reinforcement materials.

Furthermore, you may weave the coir together into a big open-mesh net to prevent the soil from eroding during heavy rains and windstorms. It is effective at absorbing water, keeping the top layer soil intact. Likewise, it keeps the soil from being arid, promoting new vegetative growth.

Coconut inflorescence

From the bud of coconut’s inflorescence, you can generate coconut juice, coconut toddy or “tubâ”, a Visayan term for a local wine. Tubâ is extracted by lopping off the tip a developing stalk of coconut flower, from which the sap drips. The sap is then collected in a sugong, a hand-made bamboo-stem container, and harvested after a few hours. A freshly harvested sap is milky in color and tastes sweet. It can either be made into vinegar, sugar, or organic sweetener. Oftentimes, the sap is flavoured with tungog, a local food coloring, that gives tuba its red-orange color and bitter taste. Tubâ is a very common beverage in the rural areas of the Philippines, particularly in the Visayas and Mindanao regions. For a stronger taste, tubâ is fermented to produce a potent gin called lambanog.

Tubâ also makes a good source of yeast for making bread – delicious bread products, at that! Meanwhile, coconut flowers can be cut, dried, and varnished to create ingenious decorative items or candy tray.

Coconut husk

The humble coconut husk offers several environmental uses. In the rural areas of the Philippines, people use it to scrub their floors, leaving a shiny finish. It can even be shredded to fill pillows and mattresses.

Coconut shell

Have you seen a coconut shell button or bag? Yes, coconut shell can be transformed into beautiful novelty items. It can also be used as fuel and charcoal. In the central province of Bohol, Philippines, vendors use the coconut shell to store its sweet delicacy called “kalamay”.

Coconut water

The water of a young coconut is pure clear, proven to be among the highest sources of electrolytes known to man. It is also a very effective blood purifier. Coconut water is best consumed right after the fruit is opened to maintain its organoleptic and nutritional characteristics; otherwise, it loses its essence when it begins to ferment.

Coconut milk or cream

Coconut milk or cream is produced by squeezing grated mature coconuts either by using cheesecloth or with bare hands. Aside from making food tastier and creamier, coconut milk is full of nutritional values and offers several health benefits, such as:

  • It is a rich source of manganese, a trace mineral that helps the body form connective tissue, bones, and other functions;
  • Coconut milk is an abundant source of phosphorus, an essential nutrient in building strong bones;
  • It helps maintain the elasticity of the skin and blood vessels;
  • A cup of coconut milk contains a significant amount of iron, essential in protecting the body from getting anemic;
  • It contains potassium, which helps lower blood pressure;
  • Coconut milk helps in relaxing muscles and nerves because it contains magnesium;
  • Because of its high concentration of dietary fiber, coconut milk can aid you in controlling your body weight;
  • It contains selenium, an important antioxidant that controls free radicals;
  • Coconut milk is rich with vitamin C to help keep your immune system healthy, preventing you from contracting colds and coughs easily.
  • Its zinc content makes coconut milk potent in slowing down cancer cells from developing in the body.

Coconut oil

Coconut oil offers more than a hundred, or even thousands, of health benefits and uses to mankind. For one, it is an effective hair fall prevention.

Don’t you know that you can even shave or remove your makeup with it? Also, I mentioned earlier that you can make a toothbrush out of the coconut root. Now, make toothpaste by mixing some coconut oil with baking soda… then brush away to healthier and whiter teeth!

The list of coconut uses is endless. In the Philippines, there's a saying that goes:

"He who plants a coconut tree, plants vessels and clothing, food and drink, a habitation for himself and a heritage for his children."

The coconut is not a NUT!

In botanical sense, coconut fruit is not a true nut. Rather, it is called a drupe, an indehiscent fruit having an outer fleshy skin that surrounds a shell of hardened endocarp. Enclosed in the endocarp is a seed, or kernel.

A young, or green, coconut has soft gelatinous flesh, or meat, inside, which makes good fruit salad, pastries, sweets, or it can be eaten plain. It is soft enough to be easily scooped out with a spoon. The mature coconut flesh, on the other hand, are firmer and clings onto the inner side of the shell. It makes a good ingredient of several special dishes, and may even be dried and sold as copra. Usually, a full-sized coconut drupe weighs more or less 1.44 kilograms.


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