“He who plants a coconut tree plants food and drink, vessels and clothing, a home for himself and a heritage for his children”
To the modern day traveller, the exotic coconut palm signifies warm seas and sunny beaches. To people living in the tropics, the coconut palm is the “Tree of Life,” with the Sanskrit word for coconut being roughly translated as “the food that sustains all life.” This is because every part of the tree is utilised in a multitude of ways to support the health and survival of the indigenous people in the countries where it grows.
Coconut trees can grow up to 30 metres and continue to yield coconuts for up to a century, bearing around 60 coconuts every 45 days. The hardy and durable wood is an excellent source of building and furniture materials, as well as paper pulp. The trunks can be used to make canoes and boats, posts, beams and small bridges, which are prized for their straightness, strength and salt resistance. The roots of this versatile tree can be made into a beverage, dye, mouthwash, and a medicine for dysentery, while a frayed-out piece of root can also be used as a toothbrush. For clothing and household needs, the husk of the coconut is spun into a saltwater-resistant fibre called ‘coir’, used to make ropes, nets, mats, brushes and sewing thread. Dried half coconut shells, with their husks, are used to buff wooden floors to make them clean and shiny, and the fresh inner coconut husk can be rubbed on the lens of snorkelling goggles to prevent fogging. The husks can also be used to make flotation devices.
The leaves can be woven to create effective roofing materials, reed mats, hats, baskets, fans and brooms. The stiff midribs of the fronds can be used to make cooking skewers, for kindling, or bound into bundles to make brooms and brushes. Other household items such as bowls, ladles, spoons and buttons are carved from the hard shell of the coconut, which also generates saleable handicrafts, musical instruments, fashion accessories, jewellery and even high-end furniture. The most important use of coconut shell is activated carbon produced from its charcoal, which is considered superior to that obtained from other sources as it is highly effective at absorbing gas, vapours and impurities. It is utilised in air purification systems such as cooker hoods, air-conditioning units, industrial gas purification systems, and gas masks. Young leaves of the coconut palm are applied by some cultures to treat bone fractures, and dried leaves can be burned to ash, which can be harvested for lime. All parts of the tree, especially the husk, can be composted into fertiliser, and the leaves used as animal feed. The leaves, husks and shells are burned for fuel.
Rich in natural sugar, fibre, proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, the coconut provides a highly nutritious source of meat, juice, milk and oil. It is classified as a ‘functional food’ because it has many health benefits. In traditional medicine, it is used to treat a huge variety of health problems. Coconut water provides an isotonic electrolyte balance while coconut oil is of special interest because it possesses healing properties far beyond that of any other dietary oil, and is the most readily digested of all the fats used in the world. It can be rapidly processed and extracted as a fully-organic product from fresh coconut flesh, and used in many ways in medicines and cosmetics, or as a direct replacement for diesel fuel.
Indeed, the people of the tropics enjoy and appreciate every part of the bounteous coconut palm in every stage of its life. It’s not surprising, therefore, that the Balinese say, “There are as many uses for the coconut palm as there are days of the year.” This is why the Garden of Life Foundation has made a commitment to plant a coconut palm in the name of each donor who gives 50 USD or more. To make sure that this happens in a sustainable and professional manner, we have partnered with the Coconut Knowledge Centre Bali, a not-for-profit social enterprise focused on coconut farmer development (supported by the Centre for Sustainable Development, Udayana University Bali) and sister partner to the Coconut Technical Centre Solomon Islands. In supporting extension services, nursery development and field planting activities, the Garden of Life Foundation assists small scale farmers in the recovery of the coconut plantation to help preserve this valuable natural resource for their future needs.