Morinda citrifolia, commonly known as great morinda, Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, Tahitian noni, cheese fruit or noni (from Hawaiian) is a tree in the family Rubiaceae. Morinda citrifolia is native to Southeast Asia but has been extensively spread throughout the Indian subcontinent, Pacific islands, French Polynesia, and recently the Dominican Republic. Tahiti remains the most prominent growing location.
Noni grows in shady forests as well as on open rocky or sandy shores. It reaches maturity in about 18 months and then yields between 4-8 kg of fruit every month throughout the year. It is tolerant of saline soils, drought conditions, and secondary soils. It is therefore found in a wide variety of habitats: volcanic terrains, lava-strewn coasts, and clearings or limestone outcrops. It can grow up to 9 m tall, and has large, simple, dark green, shiny and deeply veined leaves.
The plant flowers and fruits all year round and produces a small white flower. The fruit is a multiple fruit that has a pungent odor when ripening, and is hence also known as cheese fruit or even vomit fruit. It is oval and reaches 4-7 cm in size. At first green, the fruit turns yellow then almost white as it ripens. It contains many seeds. It is sometimes called starvation fruit. Despite its strong smell and bitter taste, the fruit is nevertheless eaten as a famine food and, in some Pacific islands, even a staple food, either raw or cooked. Southeast Asians and Australian Aborigines consume the fruit raw with salt or cook it with curry. The seeds are edible when roasted.
The noni is especially attractive to weaver ants, which make nests out of the leaves of the tree. These ants protect the plant from some plant-parasitic insects. The smell of the fruit also attracts fruit bats, which aid in dispersing the seeds.
Analyzed as a whole fruit powder, noni fruit has excellent levels of carbohydrates and dietary fiber, providing 55% and 100% of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI), respectively, in a 100 g serving. A good source of protein (12% DRI), noni pulp is low in total fats (4% DRI).
These macronutrients evidently reside in the fruit pulp, as noni juice has sparse amounts of macronutrients.
When noni juice alone is analyzed and compared to pulp powder, only vitamin C is retained at a high level, 42% of DRI.
Nutrient analyses for a major brand of noni juice (Tahitian Noni Juice, TNJ) were published in 2002 by the Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission on Health and Consumer Protection during a test for public safety of TNJ. TNJ ingredients include noni purée and juice concentrates from grapes and blueberries.
For antimicrobial purposes, TNJ must be subjected to the high temperatures of pasteurization which essentially nullifies most of the nutrient content of the natural purée.
Excepting vitamin C content at 31% of DRI in each 100g, TNJ has limited nutritional content. 100g of juice provides 8% of the DRI for carbohydrates, only traces of other macronutrients and low or trace levels of 10 essential vitamins, 7 essential dietary minerals and 18 amino acids.
Although the most significant nutrient feature of noni pulp powder or juice is its high vitamin C content, this level in TNJ provides only about half the vitamin C of a raw navel orange. Sodium levels in TNJ (about 3% of DRI) are multiples of those in an orange. Although the potassium content appears relatively high for noni, this total is only about 3% of the Recommended Dietary Allowance and so would not be considered excessive. TNJ is otherwise similar in micronutrient content to a raw orange.
The history of published medical research on noni phytochemicals numbers only around a total of 110 reports which began appearing in the 1950s (searched in September 2008). Just since 2000, over 100 publications on noni have been published in medical literature, defining a relatively young research field. Noni research is at a preliminary stage, as it is mainly still in the laboratory as in vitro or basic animal experiments.
Noni fruit contains phytochemicals for which there are no established DRI values. Examples:
Although there is evidence from in vitro studies and laboratory models for bioactivity of each of the above phytochemicals, the research remains at best preliminary and too early to conclude anything about human health benefits provided by noni or its juice. Furthermore, these phytochemicals are not unique to noni, as nearly all exist in various plant foods.
Laboratory experiments demonstrated that dietary noni juice increased physical endurance in mice. A pilot study in distance runners showed increased endurance capacity following daily intake of noni juice over three weeks, an effect the authors attributed to increased antioxidant status.
Although noni's reputation for uses in folk medicine extends over centuries, no medical applications as those discussed below have been verified by modern science.
In China, Samoa, Japan, and Tahiti, various parts of the tree (leaves, flowers, fruits, bark, roots) serve as tonics and to contain fever, to treat eye and skin problems, gum and throat problems as well as constipation, stomach pain, or respiratory difficulties. In Malaysia, heated noni leaves applied to the chest are believed to relieve coughs, nausea, or colic.
The noni fruit is taken, in Indochina especially, for asthma, lumbago, and dysentery. As for external uses, unripe fruits can be pounded, then mixed with salt and applied to cut or broken bones. In Hawaii, ripe fruits are applied to draw out pus from an infected boil. The green fruit, leaves and the root/rhizome have traditionally been used to treat menstrual cramps and irregularities, among other symptoms, while the root has also been used to treat urinary difficulties.
The bark of the great morinda produces a brownish-purplish dye for batik making; on the Indonesian island of Java, the trees are cultivated for this purpose. In Hawaii, yellowish dye is extracted from its root in order to dye cloth. The fruit is used as a shampoo in Malaysia, where it is said to be helpful against head lice.
There have been recent applications also for the use of oil from noni seeds. Noni seed oil is abundant in linoleic acid that may have useful properties when applied topically on skin, e.g., anti-inflammation, acne reduction, moisture retention.