52. Cocos nucifera, Linn.—The Cocoa-Nut Tree.
Sex. Syst. Monoecia, Hexandria.
Tenga, Rheede, Hort Malab. i. t. 1, 2, 3, 4; Calappa, Rumph., Herb. Amb. i. t. 1, 2.
—A native of tropical countries, but does not thrive except near the coast. It is one of the most important and valuable palms. Five varieties of it are indigenous to Ceylon. [The Coco-Nut Palm, its Uses and Cultivation, by J. W. Bennett, 2d edit. Lond. 1836.] Its stem yields porcupine wood. A powerful oil is extracted from the bark, which is used by the Cingalese in the form of ointment in cutaneous diseases. By incision into the spathe at the top of the leaves, sweet toddy is obtained, which, by fermentation, yields palm wine, from which arrack is procured by distillation. The fruit, the cocoa-nut in the shell of the shops, is a drupe, the fibrous portion of which yields coir, which is used for making ropes, mats, &c.; and is also employed, as a substitute for horse-hair, for stuffing mattresses. Within the cocoa-nut is the nucleus or kernel (in the dried state called copra in commerce), consisting of the albumen (the edible portion), within which is the unsolidified liquor amnii (called cocoa-nut milk) and the embryo, which is lodged in a small cavity at the base of the albumen.
The albumen and cocoa-nut milk have been analyzed by Brandes, [Quoted by L. Gmelin, Handb. d. Chemie, Bd. ii. S. 1338.] Buchner, [Repert. für die Pharm. Bd. xxvi. S. 337,1827.] and Bizio [Journ. de Pharm, t. xix. p. 455, 1833.]. According to the latter authority, 100 parts of cocoa-nut milk contain—water, 95; crystallizable glycine (identical with orcine and granatine), 3.825; zymome, 0.75; and mucilage, 0.25 [loss, 0.175]. In 100 parts of the albumen, he found—71.488 of oil; 7.665 of zymome; 3.588 of mucilage; 1.595 of crystallizable glycine; 0.325 of yellow colouring matter; and 14.950 of woody fibre [loss, 0.392].
There are two modes, practised at Malabar and Ceylon, of obtaining cocoa-nut oil or oleum cocoa-nut butter: the one is by pressure, the other by boiling the bruised nut and skimming off the oil as it forms on the surface. It is a white solid, having a peculiar odour, like that of the flowers of furze (Ulex europaus), and a mild taste. It fuses at a little above 70° F., readily becomes rancid, and dissolves easily in alcohol. It consists of a solid fat called cocin or cocinine (a combination of glycerine and cocinic or coco-stearic acid, C27H26O3+2HO), and of a liquid fat or oleine, which has not been much examined. Cocoa-nut oil is used in the manufacture of candles and soap. [ Knapp's Chemical Technology, vol. 1. p. 468, 1848.] It serves particularly for the manufacture of marine soap, which forms a lather with sea-water. Cocoa-nut oil has been used for medicinal purposes. Loureiro considered it, when fresh, not inferior to olive oil. On the continent of India, as well as in Ceylon, it is used as a pomatum, for promoting, preserving, and softening the hair. Mr. Bennett thinks that if it were perfumed, and used for this purpose by Europeans, it would soon display its virtues to such advantage as to ensure its general use. But the great drawback to its medicinal employment in pomatums and unguents is its odour, and the facility with which it becomes rancid.