Collecting the folklore and uses of plants


1.  [Bangalore, India, c. 2000]  The coconut is considered auspicious and the symbol of fertility.  In South India they are given to married women visitors to your home along with betel leaves, areca nut and tumeric tubers ‘tambulam’ to represent a wish for health and progeny.    It is a very versatile fruit and every part of it is used.  The shell is used to fashion utensils and adornments, the husk as a dish scrubber, the pulp is a culinary delicacy, and the water is very refreshing on a hot day [Harrow, Middlesex, May 2015].

512px-Holi_bonfire2. 26 March 1994: Visited the Holi bonfire on Streatham Common, south London, arriving at c. 7 p.m. and leaving at c. 8.15 p.m. Several hundred people present. Polythene bags containing food, and many coconuts, were being thrown on to the fire. On being questioned about the significance of the coconuts, bystanders said:
‘Coconuts are given as prasad – that’s an offering – because they are so fruitful and so useful, because you can use all parts of them – they are sort of a fertility symbol – so we use them at all of our festivals, including marriages.’
‘Coconuts are considered to be a good offering at all festivals, even weddings, because they are a sort of holy fruit, and the water inside them is so pure.’
Although posters advertising the event stated that coconuts must not be removed from the fire, many, if not most, of the coconuts were removed by men using long-handled scoops. The smouldering nuts were:
‘Taken home and eaten’, or ‘taken home and placed beside the temple’.
Some nuts were broken open and eaten on the site.
It was said that that Holi fires had been held on the Common for the last three or four years. The 1994 fire attracted extremely little interest from non-Indian people.

3. Several months ago when passing a small newsagents shop in Mitcham Lane, Streatham, I saw a group of Indians cracking a coconut on the doorstep. When the coconut was opened they all appeared delighted and grinned widely while shaking hands.
Yesterday I asked one of them about this. Apparently throughout India the custom of cracking a coconut on the steps of a new business is considered to be very lucky [Streatham, London, December 1989].

Images:  main, Brixton Village, London Borough of Lambeth, August 2014; upper inset, Holi bonfire, Hyderabad, India, 14 March 2006: Ronaldo Lazzari, Wiki Commons; lower inset, coconut shy, a traditional attraction at fairs and fetes, Aston on Clun, Shropshire, village fete, May 2023.