Coconut trees don't really warrant a description - they are probably the most familiar of all palm trees. In fact, their image is so archetypal that they represent this plant family per se. The tall, unbranched, smooth and slender stems terminate in a crown of long feathery fronds. Coconuts palms are often found on tropical white-sand beaches, though they can be grown up to 100m altitude and a short distance in land. However, their natural habitat is the beach. They prefer sandy, well draining soil, and their seeds have adapted to endure long sea journeys. Coconuts can float in the ocean for more than 3 months and still be viable. Thus, their position along the seashore ensures their far flung distribution. In turn, Coconuts help the shore by preventing erosion.
Coconut trees take 5-7 years to mature before they start to produce flowers. The branched flower stalks arise in the leaf axils, bearing many male and some female flowers, which however, do not flower at the same time. The male flowers are already withered by the time the female ones open, thus preventing self-fertilization.
The nuts, which technically speaking are not 'nuts', but drupes, are roughly football sized green fruit with a smooth skin. The cortex between the shell of the seed and the outer green skin is of a densely fibrous nature. This fibrous part is universally known as 'coir' and serves as a valued raw material for a wide variety of items, from rope to brushes. This part is usually removed before coconuts are shipped to stores around the world. What is commonly referred to as 'coconut' is in fact the seed with its hard brown fuzzy shell and the moist white flesh inside. Fresh coconuts are filled with a watery liquid, which turns into a jelly like substance as the seed matures, and finally becomes the familiar white fruit flesh.
Coconuts are highly valued as a source of food, medicine and various materials. They grow well in plantations, but only grow between approximately 23 degrees north and south of the equator. As the trees continually produce flowers and fruit, coconuts in all stages of development can be found on the same tree. One of the greatest hazards that coconuts present is the fact that they fall when mature, which can be fatal to anything or anybody who happens to walk beneath them. The best way to prevent accidental damage is to continuously harvest ripe coconuts. But as the trees are very tall, this can be difficult. In Indonesia monkeys have been trained to pick ripe nuts. Elsewhere the task often falls to young children, who climb the trees with the help of a foot sling. In tropical countries the nuts are cut with a machete, for immediate consumption. Cutting the top off a coconut is a skill that requires a lot of practice, yet native children usually have mastered it by the age of 5.
It is not known where coconuts originally evolved, but there is some evidence that suggests its home is to be found in the South Pacific, as this is the only place where wild relatives have been found. Coconut's ability to travel by letting the seeds float to shores far away ensured a widespread distribution, probably long before man gave a helping hand.
The island nations of the South Pacific have a deep reverence for the coconut tree and they often refer to it as a tree of life. It supplies them with almost all they need for daily life - raw materials for building and thatching shelters, for making ropes and mats, brushes and containers and even clothes. The fruit flesh provides nourishment and is a valued source of oil, which is used for cooking, in cosmetics and as lamp oil. The watery liquid of immature seeds often provides the only source of pure, sterile 'water' that not only quenches the thirst, but also provides nutrients and can be used as a restorative medicine.
Coconut seeds are marked by three round indentations at one end, which, with a little imagination can be regarded as a monkey face. In Hinduism, the eyes of the coconut represent the three eyes of Lord Shiva. Coconuts are offered as a ritual sacrifice in many kinds of ceremonies. The hard shell of the coconut is ceremonially split, representing the breaking of the ego. The liquid (potential) and fruit meat (divine consciousness) is released and offered to the gods.
Coconut water is not the same as coconut milk. Coconut milk is produced by pouring hot water over freshly ground coconut meat, which is then squeezed out. This essentially is also the process by which the oil is extracted. As the milk is left to stand, the oil will rise to the top and can be separated.
Young coconuts, also known as 'tender coconuts' contain the most coconut water, and little meat. But as they mature the liquid diminishes and the meat increases. Old, mature coconuts contain almost no coconut water.
Coconut water, Coconut oil
potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphate, magnesium, copper and iron, Vitamin B (Nicotinic acid, Pantothenic acid, Biotin, Riboflavin, Folic acid) amino acids (Alanine, Arginine, Aspartic acid, Cystine, Glutamic acid, Histidine, Leucine, Lysine, Proline, Phenylalanine Serine, Tyrosine)(source: http://www.coconutboard.nic.in/tendnutr.htm
Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs) 65 %, Total Saturated Fat 94%
For medicinal purposes the water and oil are used. Ayurvedic medicine differentiates between these products depending on the age of the nut from which they were derived.
Coconut water (usually referred to as 'tender coconut water') is a very special liquid, containing the same electrolyte balance as blood. In extreme cases it can be given intravenously to restore the fluid balance. It makes a very good restorative and cooling drink for convalescence, especially in cases of intestinal inflammation or stomach upsets and is said to be useful as an anthelmintic (expels worms). It is also used to treat urinary infections and to dissolve kidney stones. Coconut water has a unique ability to rehydrate the body, which has a marked effect on conditions such as dry eye syndrome. For this purpose it is taken internally. In Asian countries tender coconut water has a reputation as an aphrodisiac; it is said to increase libido and virility.
When tender coconut water is taken in large quantities it can act as a laxative. Externally it can be applied to itchy skin rashes and eruption and makes a good cooling lotion to soothe the irritation of measles and chickenpox.
Coconut oil is a very special fat. Although highly saturated, its component fatty acids are mostly of the medium chain variety, which is rare among standard cooking fats. Coconut fat breaks down easily in the body, thus making energy available almost immediately, yet it is one of the most stable fats, resisting oxidation and rancidity.
Coconut oil has a cleansing effect on the body and can help eliminate toxins. In fact, both the fat and the water are considered cleansing. The oil is particularly useful for expelling fat-soluble endotoxins by binding them and expelling them through the intestines. It is said to support kidney and liver function, to stimulate the thyroid and increases the metabolic rate.
Coconut oil is free of cholesterol and, contrary to popular belief, protects against coronary heart disease and atherosclerosis.
Perhaps the most important component of coconut fat is its Lauric acid content, which the human body converts into Monolaurin, a substance that has anti-viral and anti-bacterial properties. It is extremely potent for combating certain pathogens, such as lipid-coated viruses (e.g. herpes, HIV, cytomegalovirus, influenza), various bacteria (e.g. isteria monocytogenes and heliobacter pylori) and protozoa such as giardia lamblia, according to Dr. Mary Enig, a Ph.D. One study even asserts that coconut oil is effective against Mycobacterium tuberculosis even against one strain that is resistant to isoniazid.
The only other substance that contains large amounts of this special fatty acid is human breast milk.
Coconut oil is recommended for weight loss, which seems highly improbable for fat. However, coconut oil is metabolised differently in the body compared to other oils. The medium chain fatty acids of coconut oil stimulate the metabolism and fat oxidation rate, resulting in increased energy levels and weight loss. Coconut oil if used as a regular part of the diet improves the HDL: LDL ratio, increasing HDL and lowering LDL thus reducing the risk of atherosclerosis and heart disease. Furthermore, there is a link between low level infections, particularly those caused by Chlamydia pneumoniae, Cytomegalovirus, and Helicobacter pylori and the risk of heart disease. These pathogens are effectively killed by the antimicrobial action of coconut oil. Animal experiments also show an inhibitory effect on tumor development in the presence of medium chain trigycerides.
Due to its prevalence of medium chain fatty acids and the way these are metabolized differently to other saturated fats Coconut oil does not appear to impair glucose tolerance in the same way as long chain fatty acids do. Coconut oil as cooking oil is a very good choice for diabetics.
Coconut oil is often added to infant formulas and high nutrient diets for the convalescent, especially those suffering from digestive problems that interfere with nutrient absorption. In a diet that is rich in medium chain fatty acids calcium and magnesium appear to be better absorbed than in the presence of other types of fat. Coconut oil has a marked regulating effect on body temperature, which is particularly important for the very young and very old.
There have also been some studies concerning the effects of ketogenic diets on neurological disorders such as Alzheimers and Epilepsy. The conditions appear to respond positively to mildly ketogenic diets, but the long term effects of low carbohydrate diets remain controversial. Medium chain fatty acids as a source of fat energy offer the advantage that MCFs can easily cross the blood brain barrier, so can serve as a source of energy for the brain, whereas long chain fatty acids are bound to albumin and thus cannot cross the barrier.
Last but not least, coconut oil has a protective effect on the liver and gastro-intestinal system. It has shown positive results when used as part of a treatment plan for alcoholism and to reduce pain and irritability in cases pancreatitis. It detoxifies the system and can help heal the intestines (e.g. IBS)
Coconut is a thoroughly health-promoting food, and some consider it a 'functional' food, which can help prevent a whole range of serious health conditions.
For external use, coconut fat is one of the best soothing and moisturizing oils available for making massage oils, bath-oils or skin-friendly soaps. It can also be utilized in nourishing creams and lotions.
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