The many benefits of coconut

April 27, 2024 09:10 pm | Updated 09:10 pm IST

In addition to its food value, coconut has health, medicinal, and cosmetic benefits

In addition to its food value, coconut has health, medicinal, and cosmetic benefits

A paper published in 2014 by Uma Ahuja et al., in the journal Asian Agri-History, points out that the coconut palm is considered as a native of Malesia, a bio-geographical region that includes Southeast Asia (notably India), Indonesia, Australia, New Guinea, and several Pacific Island groups. This paper deals with the history through archaeological, epigraphic, and historical records and its uses and related folklore. Coconut has been recorded in archaeological excavations and epigraphic inscriptions in India — in scriptures of religious, agricultural, and Ayurvedic importance. Its multiplicity of uses has earned it epithets like the Tree of life, Tree of abundance, and Kalpavriksha (a tree that provides all necessities of life). The authors point out that in addition to its food value, it has health, medicinal, and cosmetic benefits. 

In India, coconut is mainly grown in southern States — Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, and Andhra Pradesh. These states produce over 90% of coconuts. This is because these trees need a warm and sandy soil which is well- drained and nutrient-rich, a warm and humid climate, and abundant rainfall. North India, on the other hand, has a predominantly temperate climate, with cold winters and hot summers. The region also experiences distinct seasons with uneven rainfall, which are not conducive to the growth of coconut trees. However, some Northeastern States, with their appropriate temperatures and rainfall, also produce coconuts, but they have a clayey soil, not ideal for the trees to grow.  

Role of coconut

Coconut occupies a special and a higher place among the many articles used in religious offerings to God. It is used in religious and social ceremonies even in areas where it is not grown. Not an inch of the tree goes waste, and all parts are put to some use. Through its innumerable working utilities and direct uses as food, feed, and drink, coconut has penetrated the cultural, social, religious, and lingual matrix of people of various communities. Coconut plays an important role in our daily life in South India. Every temple is decorated with coconut palm trees, its whole nuts are offered to the deity and the devotees are offered a bit of the nut and some coconut water given as ‘prasadam’. No drink matches the coconut water in freshness and health; it is just nectar! And no sweet can match the ‘kozhukkatai’ (or ‘modak’), which is made from the ‘meat’ of the broken coconut! (It is the favourite of Lord Ganesha). Also, as a child grown in Tamil Nadu, I was forced by my grandmother to take an oil-bath every month, using castor oil, or coconut oil (much against my wishes)!

Health benefits

There are many benefits to coconut. The website Healthline.com lists the many nutrients contained in the ‘meat’: high in fat, rich in fibre, and in vitamins A, D, E and K, which control overeating and help regular bowel movement. When we turn from the ‘meat’ to the oil, some groups have suggested that coconut oil appears to benefit the flow of arteries and veins in the body, thus more beneficial for our cardiovascular health. Some groups even suggest that it may delay Alzheimer’s disease, though this may need more evidence. I, as a senior citizen, use coconut oil, hoping to avert these conditions. I often use it instead of butter in my daily breakfast of toast. This would have pleased my grandmother!

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