It is believed that Noni (Morinda citrifolia) originated in Southeast Asia and was used throughout the Pacific Islands for food and medicine as far back as 2000 years ago. In the 1700’s, during his travels to Tahiti, Captain James Cook wrote about the use of noni fruit as food and noted that the roots and bark were used to produce a yellow or red dye. But, most importantly, noni has been traditionally used as a medicine to treat a variety of ailments.
Included in the traditional South Pacific and Asian pharmacopoeias, noni was recorded as a key ingredient in many medicinal formulas. Virtually every part of the plant was used. Leaves were used as a bandage or poultice for healing wounds, as well as for treating coughs, TB, high blood pressure, stomach problems, diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, and to stimulate appetite. The fruit was used to alleviate lower back pain, and to treat everything from asthma, to head lice, and including broken bones, sore throat, and toothaches.
Other maladies traditionally treated with noni were fevers, skin diseases, abscesses, constipation, eye conditions, respiratory problems, gastrointestinal, menstrual and urinary problems, as well as venereal diseases, and the extracted juice from the unripe crushed green fruit was used as a remedy for sores in the mouth.
In the last several years noni has become popular around the world. It is sold and often touted as one of the most versatile alternative herbal medicines. Though many are “put off” by the smell and taste of noni, it has been successfully used to treat hyperactivity, addictions, allergies, arthritis, asthma, brain disorders, burns, and cardiovascular disease and is currently being researched as a treatment for some cancers. Noni continues to be valued as a medicine for those suffering from diabetes, digestive problems, hypertension, immune deficiencies, infections and inflammations, and is also being used in veterinary medicine.
Noni trees can be started from seed, or they can be propagated by means of stem cuttings. Growing noni from seed is the preferred way because a seed builds a stronger tree. However, propagating from seed can take from 6-12 months or more before any leaves appear on the plant, while it takes only1-2 months for noni to be sprouting new leaves through the stem cutting method. On average, one fruit of the noni tree contains approximately one hundred seeds.
To plant from seed, it is best to take a very ripe fruit and separate the seed by thoroughly washing away the soft flesh of the fruit. Though the seed can be planted with the flesh attached, it takes longer for the seed to germinate. Nicking or scarifying the seed speeds up germination time.
Noni seeds can be planted directly into the soil, or in tall growing bags or deep pots, where they will have room to develop a longer taproot over 9 -12 months, before being transplanted into the soil. Noni seeds grow best in hot wet conditions, so they need to be watered regularly, or planted during the rainy season.
To avoid root rot disease, caused by parasitic worms, some nurseries prefer to start seeds in a sterile medium, but treating the soil and the plant with neem should go far in avoiding any parasitic problems.
If the stem cutting method is used for propagation, choose a healthy plant and remove a branch. If a good amount of sap is evident where the cutting was removed, there is a better chance that the cutting will be successful. Plant the stem into a clean growth medium and give partial shade, watering regularly. Once rooted, noni is best planted in a sunny spot 10-12 feet apart. Reaching maturity in about 18 months, it can yield up to 18 pounds of fruit per month throughout the year and can grow up to 30 feet in height.
Though the smell is rather unappetizing and the taste is bitter, it has been used as food in times of famine and in some places as a staple where it is salted and eaten raw or cooked and prepared with curry. The seeds are also edible when roasted. Many animal feeds are now enhanced with noni and we have found that our chickens savor very ripe softened noni fruit.
Noni juice can be easily prepared by allowing the ripened fruit to simply sit in a clean glass jar, preferably in the sun, where the juice will seep out of the fruit over several weeks. A video on how to make noni juice can be viewed on the internet at http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1288432/how_to_make_noni_juice/