In Fiji, coconut trees are often known as the tree of life. They provide shelter, food, water, oil, protection against cyclones, and help establish order among families.
For example, when Kokoda, a dish made with coconut and fish, is made in a household, climbing a coconut tree to get the coconut, husking it, and cracking it open are tasks reserved for older children. The youngest child grates the coconut meat into small flakes. The adults create coconut cream and cook with the coconut. Most Fijian homes have some part of the coconut tree involved in its structure.
These tropical palm trees are so essential to everyday life, they’ve even permeated the country’s favorite sport. The national rugby team wears an emblem of a tall coconut tree on their jerseys to represent Fiji.
The next time you see a coconut tree, think of it as much more than just a picture prop. There are ten specific ways to use and love a coconut tree.
1. Palm leaves create shelter
The palm leaves from a coconut tree can be woven together to create thatched roofing. This roofing protects against the near-daily rains on the most populated end of Fiji’s main island, storms, and critters intruding into the home in search of a place to stay.
2. Coconut water hydrates and replaces electrolytes
Coconut water is a clear liquid that comes from a young coconut (when the outside is still green or orange on the outside). If you snoop around the coconut-fanatic scene long enough, it won’t be long until you hear stories of coconut water being used in lieu of blood during a blood transfusion. Some claims go as far to say that coconut water is nearly identical to human blood plasma and can be fed directly into our veins.
While coconut water isn’t the same as blood plasma, there have been hundreds of documented cases where coconut water was injected into the bloodstream with few negative consequences during the mid-1940s to the late 1950s. It’s also been used in other Pacific Islands during times when medical supplies run low.
If you’re ever stranded on a deserted island and looking for water, look up. The inside of a young coconut has fresh water high in electrolytes and vitamins that are often impossible for the body to retain in hot, humid environments.
3. Use coconut meat for food, cream, and milk
The coconut is used during every stage of its life. The older coconuts (brown on the outside with white flesh on the inside) are used to make coconut cream and milk.
One of the freshest and most popular dishes in Fiji is Kokoda – a meal that’s very similar to ceviche. Raw fish is marinated in lemon for about thirty minutes, tossed with chopped cucumbers, onions, tomatoes, and chilis. Then, coconut milk — made from pressed coconut meat and water — is poured onto the mixture for refreshing and healthy meal.
4. Coconut husks make great kindling
When the brown outer husk of the coconut is dry, Fijians use it to light and sustain fires as a slow-burning tinder and kindling.
If tropical mosquitoes are extra hungry, the smoke from a burning coconut husk will help keep them away.
5. Coconut roots are medicinal
Fijians use coconut root to treat ailments ranging from skin problems to kidney, urinary, stomach, and gall bladder diseases. The root is typically cut into small pieces, boiled, and strained. Apparently, the tea has healing properties that can cure all types of illnesses within a few days and is a go-to remedy whenever a health problem strikes – though I’ve yet to try this method myself.
6. Coconut wood builds stunning furniture
The wood of a coconut tree (taken from its trunk and roots) is flexible, sturdy, and beautiful. Craftsmen in the Pacific Islands create stunning tables, chairs, and floors with coconut wood. Tourists who visit Fiji often take a small piece of furniture home with them.
If you can’t sit under a coconut tree anymore, maybe you can sit on one?
7. Coconut shells create ceremonial kava bowls
It won’t be long until you’re invited for a kava ceremony in Fiji – an event where the community shares a narcotic drink that leaves you feeling relaxed, numb, and like you could nap for days.
Kava, the powdered root of a pepper plant, is pounded and mixed with water in a large communal bowl (often crafted with coconut wood). Then, a coconut shell scoops kava from the communal bowl and passed in turn around the group. Kava ceremonies take place everywhere from hotels to the villages to city office buildings (sometimes during work hours). You’ll rarely, if ever, see kava sipped from anything but a small coconut shell.
8. Coconut trees offer makeshift cleaning supplies
Coconut trees can help clean everything from your teeth to your floor. Fibers act as toothbrush bristles, palm leaves sweep the floor, and a patch of dried husk can be used as an abrasive pad to scrub away dirt and grime.
9. Coconut trees make coconut oil
Coconut oil is one of those all-around superfoods that has been gracing the covers of every health magazine for years – and for good reason. You can cook with coconut oil, use it as a skin and hair moisturizer, and swallowing a spoonful helps with indigestion.
10. Whatever you can weave, you can create with palm leaves
Palm leaves can be woven into rugs, hats, baskets, clothing, decorations, and more. Palm leaves cut into strips are typically braided into sturdy rope and offer an environmentally friendly alternative to plastic.
Bonus fact: A coconut is not a nut
The next time you’re out drinking with your friends, you can impress them by mentioning that a coconut is a fruit (specifically a drupe), not a nut.