Palm trees are very useful plants. Some species, like the coconut palm, has been named one of the 10 most useful plants in the world, according to Purdue University. All parts can be used for something. An amazing array of foods and products that we use every day have elements derived from palm tree parts. Palms are one of the most important agricultural crops in tropical areas that provide food year round.
Several different palm fruits are used as food. Coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) seeds are one of the most useful palm fruits. The white flesh can be eaten raw or used in cooking. The liquid inside the coconut is used in mixed drinks and is also good fresh from the coconut. The flesh is also used to extract coconut oil which is in many processed foods. The husk of the coconut is used in garden potting mixes, for rope, as insulation and as padding. Dates palms (Phoenix dactylifera) produce the sweet dates that are eaten all over the world, and the oil palm is the source of palm oil used in all sorts of products, from soap and lotions to food.
Many people in tropical areas of the developing world use palm fronds to thatch the roofs of their houses. In Catholic tradition date palm fronds are used in religious ceremonies on Palm Sunday. Leaves can also be woven into mats, rugs and baskets.
The trunk of date and peach palms (Bactris gasipaes) can be tapped and a rich syrup extracted. Trunks from many different types of palms are useful as supports for temporary structures. The starchy pith inside the trunk of coconut palm can be ground up and used like flour. Peach palm trunks are strong and are used for tool handles and veneers. Palmyra palm tree trunks are hollow and make good water pipes and gutters.
The terminal bud or heart of most palms is edible, although removing it will cause the tree to die. In some palms, like the date palm, the cavity where the heart is removed fills with a sweet nectar that ferments quickly and is highly intoxicating when drunk.
Roots of coconut palms are medicinal and can be used to treat dysentery. They can also be used as a dye or a mouthwash. Shredded roots also make a crude toothbrush.
The flower sheath of the coconut can be used to make shoes and hats. The unopened flowers can be tied to produce drops of sweet nectar that will ferment into alcohol. The open flowers of palms provide food for pollinators like honey bees.