Words by Natalia Taylor
Nothing sums up a tropical vacation quite like coconuts do. They are the very essence of palm fringed beaches and afternoons spent gently swaying in hammocks; they are the fragrance of suntan lotion and the flavour of exotic cuisine. For visitors from cooler climes, coconuts symbolise sunshine and sea breezes, lazy days and sultry nights. But for the people who are native to the lands where coconuts thrive, they are much more than romantic scenery – they are part of the fabric of life.
Over the centuries people in those regions have learned to use every part of the tree and its fruit productively, turning trunks into posts and columns in the construction of simple homes; weaving the fronds into roofing, mats and baskets; spinning the fibre from the husks into rope; and carving and polishing the shells into utensils and decorative pieces.
Today the graceful silhouette of the coconut palm is synonymous with the Caribbean, and every island boasts its share of restaurants, hotels and resorts named after the tree or its fruit.
In the past indigenous people of the Caribbean planted palm trees to mark the boundaries of their property, and to this day, in an effort to keep development in check, on many islands no building may be taller than a coconut palm.
But it is the coconuts themselves – which are technically seeds, not fruits – that are the real wonder.
Although throughout the Tropics the water, milk, oil and meat from the coconut is a staple food, as well as a beauty aid, in the West it has long been maligned for its high saturated fat content.
New research has turned this attitude on its head, however, with the finding that the medium chain triglycerides in coconut oil may aid in weight loss and help lower blood pressure as well as having anti-fungal, anti-bacterial and a host of other healing properties.
Moreover, coconut water – the clear liquid found inside young green coconuts – is not only completely sterile but also has the same pH as the human body, making it so bio-compatible that it has been used intravenously in the place of plasma to rehydrate casualties in remote regions. Those who have lived their lives among coconut palms do not need scientific studies to prove to them the value of this tree – they already know it to be true. Bit by bit, the rest of the world is catching on and going nuts for coconuts.
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