Also known as the cheese fruit or the great morinda, noni (Morinda citrifolia) is a medicinal fruit traditionally used for treating arthritis, rheumatism, menstrual and abdominal pain, hypertension and various skin problems such as abscesses or infected open wounds. The fruit has come to the the attention of the scientific community only recently and has sparked great interest due to its incredibly wide variety of medicinal uses as well as supposed health benefits.
Noni is native to Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and the Pacific Islands, but its sun-loving nature has made it possible for it to become naturalized in virtually every region with a tropical climate. What does a noni tree (plant) look like? Noni trees are evergreen, tropical trees reaching about 3-6 meters in height. Some specimens may grow up to 9 meters. Although it is part of the coffee family, it is smaller in size than regular trees, almost shrub-like.
Other common names aside from noni include cheese fruit, great morinda, Indian mulberry, beach mulberry, vomit fruit or starvation fruit. Some of the names speak plenty about noni taste and smell, the truth being it is not the most palatable or pleasantly fragrant fruit. The species has large, dark green leaves with deep veins. It bears fruit throughout the year and it is estimated that one tree can yield up to 7-8 kg of fruit per month. Noni fruits are highly appreciated for their immune system boosting and tonic properties.
What does the noni fruit look like? The noni fruit is 10-18 cm long, somewhat oval in shape and has a bumpy, green-yellow, then finally white skin when ripe. Each individual bump you see on the skin of the fruit is actually an indicator of a former flower, meaning that the noni fruit as we know it is actually made up of several fruit that have merged together to form one big mass. Overall, you can say that the noni fruit looks a lot like an over-sized mulberry (also see benefits of mulberries). The fruit has a whitish pulp and numerous brownish-purplish seeds. Roasted noni seeds are edible.
What does the noni fruit smell and taste like? There is a very good reason why noni is called the starvation fruit or the vomit fruit: because people only ate it out of necessity and when they did, it made them want to vomit. Joke on the side, both the smell and the taste of noni fruit are almost as repulsive as they are made to be. Truth be told, the noni fruit has a strong smell and quite a bitter taste, reminiscent of that of an overripe, stinky cheese. Noni juice has a similar unpleasant taste and scent.
What are the health benefits? Noni fruit were virtually unknown to most of the world, except for the people living in the areas where the species occurs naturally. However, marketers took advantage of the relative obscurity of the species and took it to the people as a cure-all remedy. While it has not yet been proven that noni fruit, bark, seeds and leaves do not possess the properties and health benefits they are credited with, the scientific community is skeptic with regards to it being a super food or functional food. Being a non-believer however is never the answer, so it is up to you to decide whether or not noni is as good for you as it is claimed to be.
What is noni good for?
As such, here are the top 5 nutrition facts and health benefits of noni fruit:
1) Potent analgesic. Various scientific studies suggest that eating noni on a regular basis can help reduce joint and muscle pain. Apparently, the fruit’s analgesic effect lasts quite some time which would explain why traditional medical practices recommend it for treating or alleviating rheumatism and arthritis pain.
2) Stronger immune system. According to research, special constituents in noni fruit activate macrophages (a type of white blood cells) that are dormant, thus enhancing our body’s natural defense system. More macrophages means more cells to eat cellular debris, viruses, bacteria or cancer cells and, consequently, a stronger immune system. It was shown that the noni fruit is especially efficient against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli.
3) Anticancer properties. Studies have shown that noni stimulates nitric oxide production. Nitric oxide is both a free radical and a beneficial chemical compound which promotes vasodilation, lowering blood pressure and reducing angina pain. Nitric oxide has also proved efficient as a cancer therapy, stopping tumor progression, although some studies record it aids tumor progression towards metastasis. At the same time, noni contains phytochemicals such as flavonoids, plant sterols and alkaloids which contribute to a healthy body.
4) Helps lower high blood pressure. In addition to stimulating the production of nitric oxide, a chemical compound that helps lower blood pressure by widening the blood vessels to allow for a smoother blood flow, noni and noni juice also contain good amounts of potassium for lowering high blood pressure. The fruit and juice also provide small amounts of vitamin C and selenium, tryptophan and dietary fiber, all of which contribute to maintaining healthy blood vessels and lowering high blood pressure.
5) Good tonic. Noni fruit are a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Eating the fruit or drinking (organic) noni juice can give your body a good energy boost, cleanse it and even help speed recovery following an illness. These health benefits are a result of the fruit’s good vitamin C, vitamins A and B3, potassium, iron and calcium content.
Other proclaimed health benefits of noni include: calming colic, lowering fever and high blood cholesterol levels, reducing inflammation causing swelling and pain, improving digestion, blood circulation and energy levels, treating kidney problems, PMS, sores, skin infections and open wounds, improving skin aspect and balancing hormonal disorders. Overall, noni is quite the promising fruit, full of antioxidant phytochemicals with several wonderful health benefits. While its taste may not be so appealing, it may be worth eating after all.
Noni seed oil benefits
Noni seed oil stands out as an important source of linoleic acid, a polyunsaturated Omega-6 essential fatty acid with proven anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits. The oil is used topically for skin conditions ranging from acne to dermatitis and eczema. Small scale experiments appear to suggest the oil is non-comedogenic, meaning it does not produce or aggravate acne. Benefits of noni seed oil for hair include damage repair, improved shine and overall healthier hair. However, the benefits are a result of consistent use. Traditionally, noni seed oil was used as an insecticide and for head lice. Although noni seed oil smells bad, it has good moisturizing properties and does not leave a greasy finish.
It should be stressed that research on the properties of noni oil is scarce which warrants caution as to its use. There have been cases of allergic reactions to noni seeds which means the oil holds the same risks and can be a source of allergic reactions too. Before using it extensively, check for allergies on a small portion of skin. Wait 24-48 hours to see if redness, itching, blisters or burning sensation occur before applying the oil on larger surfaces. And remember the oil is for topical use only and should not be ingested.
How to make noni seed oil
Cold pressing is a preferred method of extraction of oil from noni seeds. Wash the seeds to clean off any remaining pulp, then leave them to dry. Ground the dried noni seeds into smaller pieces and press them with a pressing machine to extract the oil. The resulting oil is will be a healthy, cold pressed, first press oil, also called crude noni oil or unrefined noni oil.
Because the seeds typically yield little oil, which is also why it’s quite expensive, it is common for the remaining seed cake to be used to extract a second round of oil. But this is usually done by solvent extraction because the seed cake has very little oil left. Noni seed cake is mixed with a solvent, then heated until the solvent evaporates and only the oil remains. Both the cold pressed and second round of extracted oil can be combined. The oil may have to go through a purification process before it is ready for topical use.