Ah, the majestic coconut palm! See it swaying in the balmy trade-winds, silhouetted against a golden sunset in paradise.
Not only has the coconut palm been incredibly beautiful and vital for many tropical cultures worldwide, but they also produce one of the most popular and versatile nuts: the coconut!
Grab a Piña Colada and learn a little about the luscious and sacred coconut. Let’s explore how it can cool you down and do wonders for balancing your doshas this summer.
Coconuts and the palms they come from give us so much. These plants are incredibly prolific, as you can see by walking into any health food store these days. It’s coconut for everything—haircare, skincare, electrolytes, cream, cooking oil, even dental care! It’s becoming common to hear that if something is wrong, coconut oil can probably fix it. And how lovely to experiment for oneself and see if that’s true!
The Tree of Abundance
These nutritious nuts are a staple in many tropical cultures, especially Polynesia, Thailand, and India. When fully utilized, the coconut palm can produce brooms, roof thatch, mats, and other household items from the palm fronds, and the coconut nut itself is an absolutely vital part of the food chain.
Botanically speaking, the coconut fruit is something called a “drupe,”1 but for our purposes we will call the green or brown pod a “nut.” This ball of goodness can float happily thousands of miles and still germinate! It has been said to populate entire neighboring islands after floating to them.
There are three stages of coconut life: baby green coconuts, half mature coconuts, and fully mature coconuts.
To start with, the fibers on the outside, or husk, can be used for ropes, fabric, and clothes. The soft white meat, when it’s young, is tender and jelly-like and can be eaten alone or used in a variety of dishes. The plentiful water inside this baby green coconut is very high in electrolytes and potassium, and it is very pitta-pacifying: cooling and nourishing. If the young coconut falls and a palm sprouts from the nut, the inside fills with an amazing white fluff to nourish the process of growth. It turns out this sprouted center is delicious, and I find this to be my personal favorite form of this beloved plant.
Later in the lifecycle, as the coconut ages, the amount of water inside lessens and the meat becomes firmer. We can use the harder white meat in these middle-aged and older coconuts to eat alone, dry and make into flour, or to grate, mix, and press with water for coconut cream and coconut milk. This is what cooking extracts are made from, and this is the coconut used in the beauty care and hair care products. There is also coconut oil of course, made from mature coconuts, which has a rich coconut smell and taste in its unrefined state.
Finally, there is the hard outer shell which can be utilized for bowls, utensils, and drinking ware; so almost every part of the plant is used in some way!
Ayurveda considers coconut a natural stress-buster. It is said to improve the luster of the hair, support the digestive system, clean the teeth, support the urinary tract, calm the mind, cool the emotions, ramp up agni, and regulate the body’s metabolism. Who wouldn’t want these things?!2
Incorporating Coconut into Your Diet
Well then, how to best use this wonderful nut?
For eating, fresh tender coconut is always best. Sometimes these can be found at your local market in the summer if you don’t happen to live on a tropical island. There are also a lot of good packaged coconut waters available. Some are pink and raw, some are from Thailand and seem sweeter. It is a taste preference, and organic coconut waters are readily available.
The water of the coconut will balance all doshas, though may aggravate kapha in excess, especially if taken at night.
Coconut oil can be added into everything from coffee to popcorn to kitchari. It is solid when cool, and will liquefy at about 76 degrees, so keep that in mind when you store it!
Coconut milk and cream are super versatile ingredients in the kitchen as well. It is very easy to make your own coconut milk if you find good coconuts and are open to learning how. The result is delectably tropical and your pitta will love you.
Simple Coconut Milk
This can be made in two batches.
- 4 cups water
- 1 ½–2 cups unsweetened, shredded coconut
Heat water, but don't boil—water should be hot but not scalding.
Put coconut in blender, add water, and blend on high for several minutes until thick and creamy.
Strain by pouring the mixture through a mesh colander to remove most of the coconut, and then squeeze through a kitchen towel or cheesecloth to get rid of anything remaining.
Drink immediately or store in the fridge. Consume within 3–4 days and shake or stir before using.
You can flavor your milk by using ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, berries, or 2 ½ teaspoons cocoa powder. Enjoy!
Whether it is in a curry, a chutney, or a cream pie, you can’t go wrong by enjoying the healthy saturated fat of the coconut in your diet.
Coconuts are yummy but they are also a wonderful gift to the divine. They are used in Vedic ceremonies such as homa (fire ceremony) and are traditionally used as a symbol of selflessness. They are known in Ayurveda as the kalpavriksha, or the tree that gives everything.3 It is said the coconut enjoys the hallowed status of a select few herbs and fruits—like tulsi (holy basil) and amalaki—in the Vedic tradition.2 Breaking of the coconut in ceremony is akin to breaking the human ego, as the nut happens to look like a human with three eyes. Tasty and sacred!
One of my favorite ways to incorporate coconut oil into my daily routine is oil pulling! It’s as simple as swishing Daily Swish in the mouth for about ten minutes every morning and you can enjoy the many dental benefits of coconut oil including fresh breath and healthy gums. So much nicer than alcohol based mouth rinses!
This summer I don’t have to go to India or Hawaii to find a good coconut, and for this I am grateful. To calm your pitta and maybe even enjoy shiny hair in the process, all you need to do is check out your local market and of course the Banyan website where you can find coconut in Healthy Hair Oil, Brahmi Oil (Coconut), and Daily Swish.