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Coconut palms are one of the most abundant tropical plants, and its fruits are a staple of the diets for those that live with coconut in the tropics around the world. The latin name for coconut is Cocos nucifera. Coconut is a member of the Arecaceae or Palmaceae family, along with dates, saw palmetto, and palms. All members of the Arecaceae family are monocots, a term that refers to the first sprout having a single leaf, as opposed to two. Monocot trees are unique in that they do not technically have wood, nor do they create growth rings in the cross section of the trunk. Coconut’s name is said to originate from the early Spanish explorers who called it ‘coco’, their word for ‘monkey face’, as they found a resemblance between the two. It is unknown where coconuts may have originated from, though some researchers believe that coconuts were first cultivated in India and Southeast Asia, and may have either been transported or have floated world-wide. It was an extremely important resource for the early people and civilizations, as coconut provides multiple necessities in one package: potable water, a high-calorie food rich in saturated fats, and fiber that can be made into rope.


Coconut’s versatility is widely enjoyed. The potable water is now packaged in cans for those far from the tropics to enjoy its electrolyte rich juice. The nut can be found fresh in most grocery stores, and the dried nut meat can be found in various forms for snacking or baking. Coconut oil itself is versatile, and is used as a topical moisturizer, in body and hair care products, as a medium heat cooking oil, in oil pulling for oral health, and in medicine, as it is rich in lauric acid, and medium chain triglycerides (MCTs). MCTs are a special type of saturated fat, which have a shorter molecular chain. Unlike most dietary fats, which are long chain triglycerides, MCTs do not require additional metabolism steps, such as the intestinal lymphatic system or bile salt emulsion to be absorbed, and can directly enter the circulation of blood from the intestine to the liver. This allows MCTs to be more quickly absorbed and utilized for energy. MCTs alternate chemical structure makes them less likely to become stored in adipose (fat) cells, and thus they are less likely to contribute to obesity. MCTs have also been studied for their neuroprotective properties and positive effects on cognition, when used as supplementation to a ketogenic diet.*

Uses of Coconut


This information in our Herbal Reference Guide is intended only as a general reference for further exploration, and is not a replacement for professional health advice. This content does not provide dosage information, format recommendations, toxicity levels, or possible interactions with prescription drugs. Accordingly, this information should be used only under the direct supervision of a qualified health practitioner such as a naturopathic physician.

Active Constituents

Water-soluble dietary fiber, Lauric acid, caproic acid, caprylic acid, capric acid, and medium chain triglycerides

Parts Used

  • Fruit

Important precautions

Coconut is a tree nut and can be allergenic in some people. If you have a medical condition or take pharmaceutical drugs, please consult your doctor prior to use.

Additional Resources

Grimwood BE. Coconut Palm Products: Their Processing in Developing Countries. Rome, Italy: Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 1975.

Murray DB. Chapter 14: Coconut Palm. Ecophysiology of Tropical Crops. Ed. Alvim P de T, Kozlowski TT. New York, NY: Academic Press, 1977.

Ng SP, Tan CP, Lai OM, Long K, Mirhosseini H. Extraction and characterization of dietary fiber from coconut residue. J Food Agric Environ 2010;8(2):172-177.

Wanten, GJ; Naber, AH (2004). “Cellular and physiological effects of medium-chain triglycerides”. Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. 4 (8): 847–57. doi:10.2174/1389557043403503

M.A. Reger, S.T. Henderson, C. Hale, B. Cholerton, L.D. Baker, G.S. Watson, K. Hyde, D. Chapman, S. Craft Effects of beta-hydroxybutyrate on cognition in memory-impaired adults Neurobiol. Aging, 25 (2004), pp. 311-314

Babayan VK. Medium chain triglycerides and structured lipids. Lipids 1987;22:417-20.

Clegg ME. Medium-chain triglycerides are advantageous in promoting weight loss although not beneficial to exercise performance. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2010 Nov;61(7):653-79.

McCarty MF, DiNicolantonio JJ. Lauric acid-rich medium-chain triglycerides can substitute for other oils in cooking applications and may have limited pathogenicity. Open Heart. 2016 Jul 27;3(2):e000467.

Mumme K, Stonehouse W. Effects of medium-chain triglycerides on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2015 Feb;115(2):249-63.

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