Noni: an Ancient Polynesian Miracle Fruit

Around 350 A.D., Polynesians from the Marquesas Islands set sail on voyaging canoes and settled in the Hawaiian Islands. Each canoe accommodated 12 to 15 people. Animals and plants were brought for the long voyage as well as a new agricultural beginning.

Four stages of noni growth. Daniel Lane photo

Medicinal plants included the noni tree, which bears about 50 flowers per bud, and grows into a creamy white fruit. At the time, all parts of the plant were used in homesteading and to cure ailments and disease.

The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, lists traditional ways in which noni was used. Meat was wrapped in the wide, glossy leaves and cooked, or the leaves were made into a tea to treat malaria, reduce fever, or act as a pain reliever. A poultice was applied for tuberculosis, sprains, deep bruising, rheumatism, fever, stings from stonefish, bone fractures, and dislocations. The stem was used in canoe parts, paddles, axe and adze handles. Stems were also used as digging sticks, firewood, and made into a red pigment used to dye clothing. Seeds were used as a scalp insecticide and insect repellent; flowers for sties, and roots were used for carving or made into a yellow pigment.

Although the ancient Hawaiians didn’t know it then, research indicates that the ripe fruit contains 165 beneficial compounds. They did know it was effective, and used to cure sores or scabs around or in the mouth, as a sore throat gargle (mashed), for peeling or cracking of the toes and feet (crushed), body or intestinal worms, cuts, wounds, abscesses, mouth and gum infections, toothaches, and as an appetite and brain stimulant.

Noni Orchard at Hawaiian Health Ohana. Daniel Lane photo

Today, proponents of natural medicine and many residents of Hawaii, consume whole noni fruit or juice to relieve ADD/ADHD, addictions, allergies, arthritis, asthma, brain problems, burns, cancer, cardiovascular disease, chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue, diabetes, digestive problems, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, gout, hypertension, immune deficiency, infection, inflammation, jet lag, multiple sclerosis, muscle and joint pain,
polio, rheumatism, severed fingers, sinus, and in veterinary medicine.

With noni’s ability to treat so many things, you would think it would be widely used. But Western medicine has not embraced the wisdom of Hawaii’s venerable healers. The American Cancer Society‘s website says, “There is no reliable clinical evidence that
noni juice is effective in preventing or treating cancer or any other disease in humans.”

Yet the website Noni Research lists clinical studies dating back to 1990. These reports conclude that noni has no adverse health effects, even at very high doses. It has been proven to calm and relax, relieve stress and anxiety, and improve mood and sense of well-being. Noni also lowers blood pressure, is anti-inflammatory, improves overall energy, shortens exercise recovery time, lowers total cholesterol and triglyceride levels, protects the liver, and helps to maintain appropriate blood glucose levels.

Ripe noni is soft and translucent. Daniel Lane photo

A study published in Acta Pharmacologica Sinica found that noni is 75 percent as strong as morphine, with no toxic side effects.

A major downside of noni is its taste and smell. The first time I tried it, I bit into it like an apple. It wasn’t horrible, but tasting blue cheese from a fruit just didn’t seem right, and the gym-sock smell didn’t help. But noni leather is used in vegan “Blue Cheese”

Most people drink pre-made noni juice which is made by taking the whole, ripe fruit and fermenting it in large, glass jars. Liquid seeps from the eyes of the fruit, and a daily shot is all you need. Sometimes it’s blended with grape or blueberry juice to make it taste better.

“Fermentation changes the chemical profile,” says Steve Frailey. “It destroys all the digestive enzymes and 50 percent of the compounds.”

Steve Frailey of Hawaiian Health Ohana. Daniel Lane photo

Steve is a certified organic farmer on Kauai, and owner of Hawaiian Health Ohana. He has been growing thousands of noni trees on his 20-acre property since 1981. The sustainable property generates 75 percent of its energy through windmills and solar panels. Water for food-processing comes from a well, Frailey makes and uses compost, fertilizes with foliar spray, and uses no-till methods to preserve biological activity in the soil.

There is a processing plant on the farm which produces unfermented, raw fruit leather and lotion made from 100 percent pure noni pulp and juice. A low-heat drying process below 115 degrees preserves medicinal properties. Steve says this unique process preserves, “The powerful phytonutrients, brain and pain- relieving chemicals, and enzymes in it remain highly biologically active.”

As we walk among the neatly planted rows of noni trees on Steve’s farm, he stops and picks a ripe fruit. It’s soft white flesh is somewhat translucent. He breaks it open, and shows it to me. Black seeds are buried in the flesh. “They’ve identified six different varieties of noni,” he says. “In Hawaii, we only have one variety, and it’s the medicinal variety. It was a canoe plant—they’re not going to bring a junk one across the ocean—so they brought the one that they valued the most.”

Spreading the seeds of aloha,
Marta Lane
Summer 2012 Hawaii Food Warrior

This post is from one of the interns in the Real Time Farms Food Warrior Internship Program. These interns are collecting data, pictures, and video on the growing practices of our nation’s farms, gathering food artisans’ stories, and documenting farmers markets. We all deserve to know where our food comes from! Boring legalese we feel we must include: this was written by a real live person who has their own opinions, which we value, but that do not necessary reflect, though they may (or may not), reflect the values and opinions of Real Time Farms. That is for you to guess and us to know.

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2 Responses to Noni: an Ancient Polynesian Miracle Fruit

  1. ybertaud9 says:

    Love & appreciate your blog that I had nominated you for “One Lovely Blog Award”

  2. Merriel Sanders says:

    We make pure unfermented noni juice by freezing the ripe noni and filtering the juice from the thawed seeds/pulp. We bottle it and keep it refrigerated until consumed. We have a native small noni growing wild here on the island of Cebu, Philippines. We have been able to get seeds of the large fruited Hawaii noni and are growing it here also. The local noni does not produce as much juice by weight as the large noni. We are growing other medicinal fruit here on the islands of Cebu and Panglao.

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