(By Penelope Harris)
Botanically known as cocosnucifera, the coconut has been cultivated for centuries in tropical settings from as far north as Hawaii to as far south as Madagascar.
This fibrous one-seeded drupe has been described as a nut, a seed and sometimes a fruit. In Guyana, it is widely grown on the coastland. The dry flesh has been used to make coconut oil, soaps, creams, and confectionary. The shell has been used to make clothing accessories, jewellery. The husk has been used to make pot scrubbers, as fibre filling for cushions and mattresses, to “build up” yards and to make fuel.
The branches are stripped to make pointer brooms, which Guyanese take all over the world with them.
The trunk has been dug out and used as a feeding trough for animals. It has even been used to make small bridges. The thrush and dried nuts have often been used for decorative purposes.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no cholesterol in coconut, coconut milk or coconut water and scientists are confirming a lot of what our grandmothers knew for quite a while. That coconut oil is good for many things. Recently Dr. Oz on his programme highlighted the fact that coconut oil is useful in soothing and healing skin, particularly eczemas and psoriasis, treating ulcers and also to control weight gain, because of the medium chain fatty acids, rather than long chain fatty acids present in coconut.
Less known to us here in Guyana is the heart of palm , which is harvested from the core of the young coconut palm, and some other palms. It is used as a delicacy in salads and other dishes. It is also nutritious and a good source of potassium, protein, dietary fibre, vitamin C, zinc, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese and calcium.
The popular belief of the recent years that coconuts is bad for health and full of cholesterol is now being debunked. Coconuts contain saturated fats, but no cholesterol. The fatty acids present are medium chain fatty acids, rather than long chain fatty acids, which makes digestion and metabolism more efficient.
Eating coconuts are excellent for one’s immunity. They are antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-parasitic, meaning they kill harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Because of that, if you consume coconut in any of its various forms (whether it be raw coconut, coconut oil, coconut milk, coconut butter, etc.), it can help treat some of mankind’s worst and most resilient of illnesses such as influenza, giardia, lice, throat infections, urinary tract infections, tapeworms, herpes, gonorrhea, bronchitis, and numerous other ailments caused by microbials.
Coconuts are a delicious and nutritious source of fiber, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids. It has tons of calcium, potassium, and magnesium, as well as plenty of electrolytes. In fact, coconut water is known to have the same electrolyte levels as human plasma, and has even been used for plasma transfusions!
The oil is good for keeping one’s skin youthful. Its antioxidant properties slow down the aging process by protecting the body from harmful free radicals. It also helps hair to become more healthy and lustrous. It’s a great alternative if you don’t want to use a leave-in conditioner.
Eating coconuts also supports the development of strong, healthy bones and teeth. It does this by improving the body’s ability to absorb calcium and magnesium. It also prevents osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become thin and fragile and lose their density. This makes coconuts a good, healthy alternative for those who are lactose intolerant, but still want to have strong bones and teeth. Those who prefer a vegan diet can benefit from it as a good source of protein and fatty acids. Try the milk in cornmeal or oats porridge.