The Medicinal Properties of the Cocoa-Nut.
By JOHN R. JACKSON, A.L.S.,
Curator of the Museums, Royal Gardens, Kew.
The cocoa-nut (Cocos nucifera, L.) is a well-known economic plant, and is extensively cultivated in tropical countries. It is estimated that in Travancore alone there are ten millions of these trees growing. The fruits are a most important article of food in the countries where they grow, while the oil and the fibre of the husk—known as coir—are valuable articles in British commerce.
The cocoa-nut is not a recognized medicinal plant in European practice, though the oleine obtained by pressure from the crude oil and refined, has been used as a substitute for cod-liver oil, experiments having shown that its effect in increasing the weight of the body is almost equal to that of the latter, but that its continued use is apt to disturb the digestive organs and produce diarrhoea. The crude oil, as brought into England, is obtained by boiling and pressing the white kernel or albumen. While in a fresh state, and in a liquid form, this oil is of a pale yellow color, and almost without smell; it is much used in cookery by the natives, but becomes partially solid and turns rancid before it arrives in this country, where, for the purposes of the candle-maker, the stearine or solid fat is separated from the fluid. Cocoa-nut oil is said to be useful in strengthening the growth of the hair.
The milk of the cocoa-nut is more important to the natives in a medicinal point of view than the oil; in India they use it as a purifier of the blood, and we have heard from many an English resident in our eastern possessions, that it is not only an excellent medicine for the purpose, but that nothing can possibly be more refreshing to a thirsty traveler under a tropical sun than a good draught of fresh cocoa-nut milk. As we obtain it in this country, it has not only lost its freshness and fine favor, but has also lost its medicinal properties. When quite fresh it has been employed successfully by English doctors in India in cases of debility and incipient phthisis, and it also forms an excellent substitute for, if indeed it is not preferable to, cow's milk for tea and coffee. In large doses, however, if is said to act as a purgative, and on this account has been recommended in lieu of castor oil for those who cannot overcome the nausea arising from the latter. In the Fiji islands the milk is very extensively used, but it has been supposed, with how much truth we are not able to say, that the continued use of it predisposes to the dropsical complaints which are said to prevail in those islands.
The toddy or wine which is obtained from the flower-spikes is described as being very refreshing and delicious, taken before sunrise; it is given by the native doctors in cases of consumption, and if taken regularly is said to be an excellent medicine for delicate persons suffering from habitual constipation.—Pharm Journ. and Trans., July 8th, 1871.