LOCAL USES – The wood of the coconut palm trunk is the main construction material in all the regions where the palm grows. It is also used to make charcoal for cigarette filters and to purify the air. During the 1st World War, gas-mask filters were made with granules of this charcoal. Freeing the trunk from the inner pith, irrigation channels or gutters are made. The pith of the trunk contains starch, which can be used to make flour. The enormous leaves are used for thatching and in the manufacture of screens, baskets, mats, clothing, sails, brooms, hats and torches for night lighting. The endocarp of the fruit provides a hard material used to make bowls and other containers. The leaves also provide ink and a parchment, which in the past was used for public documents. The bud at the top of the tree provides the highly esteemed delicacy “palm cabbage”. Removing these cabbage-like leaves, however, causes the plant to die therefore they are only taken from examples destined for felling. The shoots of the seeds are similar to celery. Livestock receive a daily ration, and it is prepared in various ways for human consumption. The roots produce dyes, mouthwashes, medicines and a product, which is similar to coffee. Moreover, the palm is cultivated as a garden plant due its elegant aspect. The only disadvantage is that the heavy fruit, falling from the trees, can cause serious injury to humans and animals.
COPRA – One of the most important products of the coconut is copra, which consists of dried endosperm. Copra can be used to make oil, butter and soap. The nut is separated from the ligneous coating, then split and dried either artificially or by leaving it out in the sun for 7-10 days. These pieces are ground and a panel is obtained. The residue is used to feed livestock.
OIL – The main and the most important commercial product obtained from the coconut is the oil extracted from the copra, which has an oil content of 65%. 6 000 nuts are required to produce a ton of copra. World production of coconut oil exceeds 2 million tons per year. It has a particular composition as it is mainly composed of short chain fatty acids (mainly lauric and myristic) while unsaturated acid content is exceptionally low. It is used to produce margarine, detergents (such as marine soap, suitable for washing with sea water) and cosmetics (shampoo, shaving cream, toothpaste).
COIR – Coir is obtained from the very lignified raw fibres of the mesocarp. It is used to make slightly elasticated ropes, which can be stretched to 20-25% over their original length. It is light in weight, resistant to humidity, wear and tear and salt water, and ideal for the production of cords, yarns, nets, mats, carpets, cloth, brushes, baskets, wrapping and insulating panels. The long and robust fibre is obtained by macerating the mesocarp of the coconut fruit in water. The residual material, reduced to powder, is an excellent peat for flower-growing. Dry fibre is also an excellent fuel: the fires made to dry the coconuts are exclusively fed with the shells of the fruit and dead trunks. It was the first hard fibre to be imported in Europe.
TODDY – When an incision is made in the young flower stalks, a white sap seeps out. If this sweetish substance is left to evaporate, palm sugar is obtained. The sap can be drunk fresh as a sweet beverage or it can be left to ferment in the open to produce toddy or palm wine with an alcohol content of 8%. It can then be distilled to obtain palm alcohol or arrack, with an alcohol content of 50%. Arrack is imported in many tropical countries, especially in Srï Lanka which annually produces around 5 million litres, distilled under government control. From palm wine is also obtained palm vinegar.
COCONUT MILK – Coconut milk contains water, glucose, minerals and vitamins and is so pure and sterile that during the 2st World War it was used in emergencies instead of sterile glucose solution, administered intravenously. In some islands, coconut milk is used as a drink for new-born. About 7 months after fertilisation, a coconut is ready to drink. When it ripens the milk becomes a semi-solid mass, which increases the thickness of the pulp. At the same time pure air is released inside the nut, free of mould and bacteria, and when the fruit is shaken, the liquid can be heard gurgling inside. Coconut milk is a nuclear endosperm, that is, its nuclei are dispersed in a fundamental cytoplasmic matrix. It cellulises at the moment of germination. Its normal function is to provide nutritional material for the development of the coconut embryo.
FOLK MEDICINE – According to HARTWELL (1967-77) coconuts are used in folk remedies for tumours. Reported to be anthelmintic, antidotal, antiseptic, aperient, aphrodisiac, astringent, bactericidal, depurative, diuretic, haemostat, pediculicide, purgative, refrigerant, stomachic, styptic, suppurative, and vermifuge, coconut, somewhere or other, is a folk remedy for abscessed, alopecia, amenorrhoea, asthma, blenorrhagia, bronchitis, bruises, burns, cachexia, calculus, colds, constipation, cough, debility, dropsy, dysentery, dysmenorrhoea, earache, erysipelas, fever, flu, gingivitis, gonorrhoea, hematemesis, haemoptysis, jaundice, menorrhagia, nausea, phthisis, pregnancy, rash, scabies, scurvy, sore throat, stomach, swelling, syphilis, toothache, tuberculosis, typhoid, venereal, diseased, and wounds (DUKE and WAIN, 1981).