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.