I’m Living in a Coconut World!

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

                                                                         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.

Two kinds of coconuts

Two kinds of coconuts

 

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).

Mangos among Coconuts

Mangos among Coconuts

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.

 

Always a Coconut Tree!

Always a Coconut Tree!

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.

So much from so little.

So much from so little.

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.

Coconut Tree Sunset

Coconut Tree Sunset

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.