Why is the coconut tree called Tree of Life?


When you live long enough anywhere in the Asia-Pacific region, you will realize why the coconut is called “the tree of life”. From housing materials to novelty items, to oil and food production… name it! You’ll be amazed at the versatility of the coconut. Every part of the palm tree has its own shares of uses.

The Asia-Pacific region peoples have every reason to call the coconut “the tree of life”. They know so well that they can find something useful from any of its parts. Most of which have commercial value. Here are some of the tree’s thousand uses.

Uses of the tree of life

Roots. The fibrous root system of the coconut palm does not only support the tree. Through their experiential knowledge, the peoples of the region prove the efficacy of the coconut roots in these applications:

tree of life
The fibrous root system of the coconut
  • Medicine and tonic. The Chinese use it as a home remedy for some common ailments. They would boil a few small pieces of the roots in water and drink its brew. The brew is said to relieve certain skin diseases and itching on toes. Indonesians, meanwhile, drink a boiled coconut roots to relieve fever, diarrhea, dysentery, and other digestive problem.
  • Toothbrush. In the ancient times, people used a frayed piece of coconut roots to clean their teeth. And not only did it clean teeth! The humble roots are even said to strengthen the gums. Talk about ingenuity!
  • Mouthwash. Try boiling a few pieces of the roots. Once it has cooled down, wash your mouth with it and see for yourself how it works!
  • Dye. Yes, some rural folks use it as a natural dye.
  • Beverage ingredient. Coconut roots can also be used as an ingredient in making certain types of beer.
  • Furniture. In some areas, it’s not uncommon to see furniture made out of coconut palm roots.

From the scholastic point of view, coconut roots are said to contain lipids, lauric acid, carbohydrates, caprylic, and myristic acid. These findings were published in the Journal of Agricultural Food Science (1987).

Trunk. The coconut trunk has increasingly gained popularity as an alternative to hardwood. At a cheaper price, at that! Coco lumber is proved to be a reliable material for a house and other building construction. In India, a mature coconut wood is seen as the cheaper alternative material for fishing a boat.

Countless other coco wood products are also available in the market now. And they are mostly preferred by the environmentalists.

Fronds. Talk about ingenuity! Yes, The local folks in Asia-Pacific found the coconut fronds useful in many different applications. Fishermen weave the leaves together for at least two purposes – a shield from the sun and a sail. Yes, the woven fronds can protect them from direct exposure to the sun. At the same time, it helps propel their boat while at sea.

tree of life
The handy puso. Vendors typically hang this stuff in their stalls. Hence, puso is colloquially called the “hanging rice”.

In the Philippines, coconut leaves are a very useful wrap for the ready-to-go staple, called pusô. Pusô is a steamed rice that is handy enough to carry when you go on picnics. It’s a perfect pair for lechon, or roasted pig, and barbecue.

Many other Filipino delicacies are also wrapped in coconut leaves.

On Palm Sunday, Filipinos bring coconut fronds, called palaspas, to the Church to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. In the rural areas, dried fronds make good fuel for cooking and torch (sulô).

Not only these!

If you happen to wander off the beaten path of the Asia-Pacific region, you’ll notice how the locals make use of the coconut fronds. You might see them woven and transformed into:

  • Hats
  • Sleeping mat
  • Thatched roof
  • Walls
  • Privacy fences
  • Food cover
  • Fruit trays
  • Placemats
  • Disposable plates especially in picnics
  • Fans
  • Lampshades
  • Baskets
  • Children’s toy balls
  • Fish trap

Midribs. The central vein that holds the leaves together is by no means useless. By tying the slim sticks together, you produce a broomstick. In Southeast Asia, broomsticks keep the houses and lawns clean. Filipinos call the broomstick walis tingting or silhig. While Indonesians refer to it as sapu lidi.

‘Guinit’ or ‘ginit’. The brown fiber that wraps around the fronds is called ‘ginit’ in Central Philippines. With a bit of ingenuity, some locals make beautiful novelty items from this humble part of the coconut tree.

Didn’t you know that ginit makes good material for fans, handbags, and a strap for wooden slippers? You can also make some (organic) beautiful Christmas decors out of it.

tree of life
tuba, the coconut wine

Inflorescence. Didn’t you know you can get a tasty drink from the coconut inflorescence? Yes, by lopping off its bud. The sap that comes out of it makes a healthy drink – or, even a localized condiment. Depending on the place, this drink is called by different names.

  • Karewe – a fresh drink in Kiribati
  • Tubâ (in the Philippines), tuak (in Indonesia and Malaysia) – coconut wine
  • Lambanog – Philippine version of the vodka
  • Sukâ – a local vinegar in the Philippines

In some areas in the Philippines, the locals use tubâ an ingredient for certain types of bread.

Aside from these aforementioned applications, you can also get some sweet syrup or candy from the sap. In Kiribati, the sweet treat is called te kamamai. While, in the Maldives, they refer to it as dhiyaa hakuru and addli bondi.

The inflorescence is not only good while it’s young. When it’s mature and dried, it can be utilized as a decorative item or a candy tray.

Literally, nothing is wasted from an inflorescence.

Heart. Ubod, as what Filipinos call it, has several uses in food preparation. In fact, it already commands a significant price in the market. Foodies include ubod in making delicious pickles, salads, and other recipes.

tree of life
coconut drupe

Drupe. Perhaps, this is the part of the coconut that gives you the most benefits. From ropes to mats, to fuel and oil – name it! You’ll be amazed at how useful the coconut drupe is. Check out my separate article, The Coconut drupe: what benefits can you get from it? for details. I decided to discuss the coconut drupe separately because the list of benefits it offers is quite long.

Now you know why the coconut is called “tree of life”. And God rightly chose the soils of the Asia-Pacific region to propagate this species on.

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