Shrub or small tree, growing to 26 ft (8 m), with 4-angled stems, and elliptical to oval leaves to 14 in (35 cm) long. Large creamy-white flowers produce a fruit resembling a breadfruit, about 43/4 in (12 cm) long, green turning yellow to white, with a pungent, very unpleasant odor.
Habitat & Cultivation
Originally native only to Southeast Asia, noni has spread to India in the west and across the Pacific to eastern Polynesia and Hawaii. It prefers volcanic soils in coastal areas and lowland forests up to about 1,300 ft (400 m) above sea level, and until recently was infrequently cultivated. The fruit is gathered when ripe; other parts of the tree are picked as required.
Fruit and juice, leaves, bark.
Noni fruit contains polysaccharides, coumarins, iridoids, flavonoids and alkaloids. No active compounds unique to noni have been identified.
History & Folklore
Different parts of the plant have been used in Polynesia for at least 2,000 years, chiefly to counter infection and to treat chronic disease. For example, noni leaves are used to treat boils and stomach ulcers and, chewed, are applied as a poultice to relieve inflammation. In Hawaii, traditional healers have long used noni in order to promote recovery from bouts of serious illness.
Medicinal Actions & Uses
Since the late 1990s, word of noni’s reputed medicinal benefits has spread and noni is being presented as a medicinal food with an astonishing variety of potential uses. These include treating obesity, diabetes, cancer, pain, lowered immunity, high blood pressure, heart disease, and depression. With lists like this, many people are justifiably skeptical about noni’s value as a medicinal food.
Nonetheless, noni fruit and juice is highly unlikely to do harm and may well prove useful in treating chronic illness, including pain, inflammatory disorders, heart and circulatory problems, and cancer. Traditionally, juice from the fruit is used as a mouthwash and gargle for infections in the mouth and throat. Noni juice is probably best drunk on an empty stomach.
The limited research into noni suggests that it may support immune function and be useful in treating chronic inflammation. A 2012 review of noni research concluded that the fruit “may have a small degree of anticancer activity.” One theory advanced is that noni contains appreciable levels of proxeronine, which the body needs to produce xeronine.
This alkaloid appears to enable cells throughout the body to counter inflammation, promote healing, and support cellular regulation. In times of stress or infection, the body’s need for xeronine increases, and many people are thought to lack sufficient proxeronine to maintain adequate xeronine levels.