Coconut is one of the foremost trees in human civilization. The genesis period of human civilization is referred to as ‘Kalpa’ in eastern philosophical teachings (Buddhism and Hinduism). ‘Vruksha’ in Sanskrit means ‘the tree.’ Therefore, in Sri Lankan folklore, it is considered the ‘Kalpa Vruksha’ or the tree that came into being at the beginning of the ‘Kalpa‘ period. It is also defined as the ‘tree of life due to the countless benefits it offers. However, there is a world of difference between these two definitions. Among Sri Lankans, the coconut tree’s predominant place is given, making it a common sight in traditional households. It is believed that the coconut tree can fulfill all primary needs of human beings, from food, clothing to shelter. This is one reason why it is believed to be one of the oldest trees in human civilization, that it was a god-given for fulfilling the basic requirements of early humans.
The fruit of the coconut, the milk obtained from it, coconut water, and Organic coconut products which is extracted from dried coconut meat, are today’s commodities. Coconut Milk Rice and Pol Sambola (a traditional Sri Lankan dish consisting of freshly grated coconut, onions, whole dried chilies, lime juice, salt, and Maldive fish), is a favorite breakfast dish among locals, which is believed to be a simple, yet nutritious and balanced meal. A simpler breakfast alternative made predominantly of the fruit of the coconut is the ‘Rice Porridge’ cooked with coconut milk, heirloom rice, juice of green herbs, and spices. The rest of the coconut plant and its uses are unknown to most Westerners. Starting from its roots, a coconut tree has much more to offer than the ubiquitously used coconut fruit and shells.
The charcoal obtained from coconut root is mixed with coconut oil as an antidote for snake bites. After crushing coconut tree roots, the extract is used along with rock salt as a mouth wash to treat gum disease (Gingivitis) and bad breath. A charcoal mix obtained from coconut roots, coconut sprouts, and the bark of Mimusops elengi (Munamal Pothu) is used as a toothpowder to strengthen the tooth’s roots. Coconut roots are also used as a makeshift toothpick by locals. Due to its therapeutic benefits, the roots are also used in traditional medicine in treating joint inflammations. The young shoots of coconut roots are crushed and made into a porridge to be taken internally in such cases.
The trunk of the coconut tree is used as timber in building and carpentry. The trunks were also used in designing makeshift boats and canoes. Branches of coconut trees are used as a base for roofing traditional Sri Lankan homes, of which the roofs are thatched with coconut palm leaves. The charcoal obtained after burning branches of the coconut tree is mixed with worm castings manure on a 2:1 ratio in manufacturing an organic form of fertilizer, which was then used in local paddy fields. The apex branch of coconut trees is also used as a brace to treat limb fractures. The core of the coconut, which remained after logging a coconut tree, was cooked to be made in to a curry.
Coconut keels are used in making key brooms, which are used in sweeping gardens. The coir obtained from the outside husk of the coconut fruit is used in manufacturing household brooms. Coconut coir is also used in manufacturing coir mats, upholstery, mattresses, rope, and various cleaning utensils. It is also used in agriculture and irrigation due to its water holding capacity. In addition, coconut palm leaf, ekel, and the shell of coconuts are used in a wide array of ornamental products, household products such as bowls, mugs, spoons, and various other handicrafts.