Native to Southeast Asia, noni (Morinda citrifolia) was domesticated and cultivated by Polynesians, first in Tahiti and the Marquesas, and eventually in the farthest outpost of their culture, Hawaii. Today noni ranges from Tahiti to India, and grows in the Caribbean, South America and the West Indies. The name "noni" is Polynesian. Over the past several years, noni fruit and its juice have become popular in the natural heath sector.
Morinda citrifolia is a small tree which grows up to 10 meters in height, with an irregular, open crown and shiny, dark green leaves. The tree fruits several times annually, producing oblong fruits with circular scars, which are green when unripe and yellowish-white when fully ripe. The fruits have a soft, watery flesh, and a cheesy aroma which becomes increasingly pungent during ripening.
In traditional medicine, noni fruit was used relatively little compared with other parts of the plant, notably the leaves and roots. In Hawaii, a digestive was made combining crushed noni fruit with cane juice. The fruit was also part of formulas for cleansing, which also included taro, cane juice and other plants. By the 1930's noni fruit was used more widely for internal purposes, including intestinal worms, weakness and respiratory disorders. Since that time the juice of the ripe fruit has become increasingly popular as a folk remedy for digestive complaints and arthritis.
Noni fruit has gained popularity in today's herbal market. Either dried and crushed, juiced and bottled, or freeze-dried, noni fruit is being touted as a veritable cure-all, useful in mitigating diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, headaches, arthritis, and a host of degenerative diseases. The World Wide Web is chock full of sites that make false and misleading claims for noni, including that noni fruit has been used internally as a cure-all for thousands of years. While the fruit is beneficial to health, many claims made for noni are baseless.
What's in noni fruit?
According to investigations of noni fruit conducted over the past fifty years, constituents found in ripe noni fruit demonstrate a plethora of biological activities. The following information focuses on primary constituents in ripe noni fruit, and some of their known biological activities. These primary constituents and their uses concern cleansing, antiinflammatory activity, immune enhancement and tumor-inhibition.
Antiinflammatory activity - Anecdotal accounts of anti-inflammatory effects resulting from noni fruit consumption are too numerous to dismiss. The anti-inflammatory effects of asperuloside, eugenol and scopoletin present in ripe noni fruit would support such a claim. Other agents in noni fruit may possess additional anti-inflammatory activity.
Immunomodulatory and Antitumor activity - Japanese researchers have described the activity of a polysaccharide-rich substance from the fruit juice of noni, noni-ppt. In studies, noni-ppt demonstrated immunomodulatory and antitumor activity. The authors suggested that noni-ppt may be a valuable supplementary agent in cancer treatment. Okadaic acid in noni fruit has been determined to increase the synthesis of tumor necrosis factor.
Studies conducted on noni fruit demonstrate antimicrobial activity, and inhibition of both the Candida albicans virus, and Cryptococcus, a cause of fungal pneumonia. Sedative and analgesic effects have also been noted. Noni fruit appears to stimulate the production of T-cells, macrophages and thymocytes, thereby enhancing immune function. And in animal studies, noni fruit extended the lives of mice with cancer. However, it is important to point out that at this time there is no reason to believe that noni fruit contributes in any way to the mitigation of diabetes, a disease for which it is increasingly widely employed. Nor should the anti-cancer activity of various noni constituents lead people to believe that the fruit or its extracts constitute a successful treatment for cancer. Which form of noni?
In Polynesia, ripe noni fruit is put into a container, where it quickly decomposes and ferments. The pungent amber juice which remains at the top of the fermented fruit is consumed daily as a prophylactic, to enhance overall vitality and well being. Most people cannot obtain fresh fermented ripe noni juice. So how can noni be translated effectively into shelf-stable dietary supplements that work far away from the islands?
The five enemies of all natural products are heat, light, air, moisture and time. While drying noni fruit yields a material that can be powdered and put into dietary supplements, this process subjects the fruit to all five destructive factors. Bottled noni juices undergo pasteurization to eliminate the problem of microbial contamination. During pasteurization, volatile constituents are inevitably reduced. At present the processing method most likely to yield a beneficial noni fruit product is lyophilization (freeze-drying). This process produces a stable material that retains a greater concentration of active, volatile constituents.
Noni's Bright Future
Considering the positive discoveries made with noni fruit thus far, there is excellent reason to anticipate that further studies will prove the fruit and its preparations beneficial to health in numerous ways. Noni is a valuable medicinal plant. And it is likely to become an increasingly sought-after dietary supplement. Further investigations into noni will likely lead to the discovery of other compounds. Additional biological activity studies will provide better information about how these agents work in living organisms. At some point human clinical studies will shed additional light on the specific activities of noni in the body.
Noni, Morinda citrifolia, is a highly regarded folk remedy which appears to be genuinely beneficial to health in numerous ways. Stripped of hype and mumbo-jumbo, and approached with intelligence and good science, noni may prove to be one of the more diversely valuable agents in nature's medicine chest, and an enduring dietary supplement that serves the health needs of many.
Chris Kilham is a medicine hunter who researches natural remedies all over the world, from the Amazon to Siberia. He teaches ethnobotany courses at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he is Explorer In Residence. Chris advises herbal, cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies and is a regular guest on radio and TV programs worldwide. His field research is largely sponsored by Naturex of Avignon, France. Read more at www.MedicineHunter.com