Morinda citrifolia, the scientific name for the noni plant, used to grow only in Southeast Asia and Australia, but is now cultivated in other tropical countries. The botanical name Morinda citrifolia comes from morus (Mulberry) and indicus (Indian) because the noni fruit resembles the mulberry fruit (Morus Alba). It also looks similar to the foliage of some citrus plants, thus the Latin name citrifolia.
Morinda citrifolia or noni is a shrub that belongs to the Rubiaceae (coffee family) and is popularly known by many names like canary wood (Australia); fromager, murier indien (French); Indian mulberry, cheese fruit (English); nunaakai (Tamil Nadu, India); lada (Guam, N. Mariana Islands); kesengel, lel, ngel (Palau); kikiri (Solomon Islands); kura (Fiji); mangal‘wag (Yap); dog dumpling (Barbados); mora de la India (Spanish); nen, nin (Marshall Islands, Chuuk); non (Kiribati); mengkudu (Indonesia and Malaysia); noni (Hawaii); pace (Javanese); nonu, nonu atoni, gogu atoni (Niue, Samoa, Tonga, Wallace, Futuna); weipwul (Pohnpei, Micronesia); Kumudu (Balinese) and nono (Cook Islands, Tahiti).
Morinda citrifolia, an evergreen tree or shrub, can grow from 3 to 10 meters high as a mature plant. Varieties of the noni may differ in size and color of the fruits, leaves, taste, odor and seed contents in each noni fruit. The noni plant bears fruit throughout the year; the noni fruit is spherical and can be 3 to 10 centimeters wide and over 20 centimeters long. The fruits are green when matured but change to light yellow, then whitish when ripe. The leaves are usually rounded, elliptical or long and strap-like. Most varieties of noni have fetid taste and smell but others are odorless. Each noni fruit contains many seeds that are reddish brown and triangular; the seeds are buoyant and easily dispersed by water and the birds. This explains the wide distribution of Morinda citrifolia in the tropical regions.
Noni plant grows well on sandy and rocky shores but it can survive any kind of environment. It can thrive in coral atolls or lava-strewn coasts, saline coasts, in limestone soils or outcroppings including the forests. It can also endure drought as well as grow on secondary soils.
The noni plants are used in various ways. The bark and roots of Morinda citrifolia are used for dying clothes. The tree itself acts as support and shade to vines and bushes as well as windbreaker. Ancient Polynesians though have used noni as a cure to various illnesses. In addition, traditional medicine in Asia Pacific found the noni plant to be effective cure to common disorders.
- China, Japan and Hawaii uses parts of the noni to cure fever and as tonic drink.
- Pacific Islanders use the noni leaves, flowers, fruit, and bark for eye problems, wounds and abscesses, gum and throat disorders, respiratory diseases and constipation.
- People in the Marshall Islands use noni to relieve stomach pains and given to women after delivery.
- In Malaysia, the leaves are heated and placed over the chest to ease coughing, nausea and colic discomfort.
- In the Philippines, the leaves are made into tea by old people to treat arthritis.
- Indochinese eat the noni fruits to cure backpain (lumbago), asthma and dysentery.
- Malaysian women regulate their menstrual flow by drinking noni juice from over-ripe fruits; this also helps treat urinary problems.
- Fruits are made into shampoo and to eliminate head lice in Hawaii.
- Pounded unripe fruits are applied to cuts and broken bones by the Polynesians.
Studies about the health benefits of Morinda citrifolia reveal that the plant contain a vast amount of nutrients from plants (phytonutrients) such as scopoletin, octoanoic acid, potassium, vitamin C, terpenoids, anthraquinones and many other antioxidants. The most important component in the plant that Ralph Heinicke, a retired biochemist, discovered is the alkaloid. The alkaloid in the noni produces xeronine which helps in the cell regeneration of the body. Therefore, the noni plant is now considered a wonder herb that can help treat cancer and other disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, AIDS, gastric ulcers, mental depression, senility, atherosclerosis, vascular diseases and drug addiction.
With the growing concern for natural and herbal remedies, the Morinda citrifolia (noni) has been commercially distributed worldwide as noni fruit juice, noni capsules, noni powder, and noni soap and even including noni shampoo, lotion and spray.