Morinda citrifolia (Indian Mulberry)

Morinda citrifolia
(Noni, Indian Mulberry)
Other Names: Morinda (incorrectly regarding common Chinese medicine),

Related To: [Rubiaceae] Coffee, Guarana

Main Uses: Ornamental, Fruit, Medicinal

Growth Rate: Fast

Noni fruits can be picked green and brought somewhere to be ripened away from insects.

Mature Height/Spread: Generally a small tree, to 25.’

Flowering/Pollination: Self-fertile flowers bloom by the dozens on tightly packed panicles, combining to form the aggregate fruit.

Tolerance: It is fairly drought tolerant but will drop leaves if stressed by a lack of water. It is very salt tolerant.

Soil/Nutrition: Rich, sandy soils suit this species well. It is often found near beaches. This tree is capable of being a heavy feeder when given fertilizers.

Light: Part shade to full sun.

Wind: Sturdy.

Temperature: Will withstand brief frosts, often with damage to leaves and immature shoots. A hard freeze (27-28 F) will kill it to the ground, but this does not really limit it’s range, as it regrows vigorously from healthy roots, with the arrival of warm weather.

The young noni fruit.

Dangers: None.

Diseases Prone: None, though various species of caterpillars and grasshoppers do enjoy the foliage.

Bearing Age: Precocious; 1 year or less from large cuttings, 2 years or sooner from seed.

Fruit: Edible; but only just. Fresh white fruits have a dull waxy surface skin, and a strong, acrid odor and taste, aptly described by many as “vomit.” The taste is an unpleasant combination of bitter, soapy, fermented pineapple-cheese, with a numbing aftereffect on the tongue and throat.

History/Origin:Morinda Citrifolia is a native of India, the East Indies, and Northern Australia. Over many centuries it has been distributed and naturalized throughout the Pacific, extreme southern Florida & the Keys, and the Caribbean.

Noni leaves have an interesting history of being used as a pain reliever, and as a food.

Traditionally Noni was considered a famine food, or was employed primarily for medicinal purposes. The fruits are primarily medicinal, rarely eaten unless out of necessity.

Species Observations: This species is a common volunteer on seashores, and in many fertile areas of the tropics it grows so quickly and readily that it is considered a weed species. Noni fruits prolifically and continuously once at bearing age, providing it’s odd fruits nearly year-round.

Often this species is mistaken for being in the mulberry family [moraceae], as it bears the common name “mulberry” out of a superficial resemblance to a large mulberry. It is in fact a member of the coffee family.

It is important to not confuse the root of Noni (morinda citrifolia) species for “morinda root” common in chinese medicine, which is an entirely different species. “Morinda” is a genus name, referring to the 8 or so species within that genus, most from Southeast Asia. The “morinda root” used in Chinese medicine is of the vine species morinda officinalis, which has altogether different medicinal properties.

Propogation: Cuttings root very easily, one can literally just trim a branch and stick it in the ground to get a new tree. Seeds will germinate readily when removed from fresh fruits, and remain viable for years. The seeds have a tiny air bubble, and due to this adaptation have been widely dispersed by floating.

This is an attractive tree, with large, quilted, deep green leaves. The rare, variegated type is especially attractive, and is gaining popularity among collectors of interesting tropical plants.

Container Culture: Possible if kept pruned.

Medicinal Uses: The roots and leaves of Indian Mulberry have a history of traditional use, though use of the fruits specifically is not to the cure-all extent claimed in recent Noni “superfruit” product marketing. The roots and leaves are used more often than the fruits in traditional herbal medicine of the regions in which it grows. The fruits nonetheless are considered a healing medicine throughout the Pacific islands.

The medicinally active components of Noni fruit (and leaves) are volatile, diminishing in short order after harvesting the fruit. These volatile compounds, being easily destroyed by heat, air, light and time are difficult to sustain into effective products. Bottled products, often claiming the efficacy of fresh noni, inevitably do not contain anywhere near as much of the active compounds as freshly crushed/fermented fruits. One can tell merely by the pungency of the product. Fresh noni, full of active compounds, is pungent, and overpowering. Many noni products are simply an unpleasant juice, but not conspicuously as offensive to the olfactory senses as fresh noni. Freeze drying is one process which can guarantee the preservation of some quantity of these unique and fragile medicinal components.

The leaves, when crushed or wilted with heat, are applied to aches and pains, as a topical painkiller. The root is considered a painkiller and digestive aid. The young stems are boiled in salted water and drunk for sore throats.

The plant and fruits contain unusual volatile oils, consisting of 90% n-caproic and n-caprylic acids. It is these volatile oils (destroyed by light, heat, time) which are thought to account for the pungent acrid smell of fresh noni.

The fruits contain octanoic acid, which has insecticidal properties, and explains the use of the fruit in some regions of the Pacific as an insecticidal shampoo.

In Hawaii, a digestive soother and assist is made using fresh fruit mixed with sugar cane juice.

For fruit and ornamental purposes, the variegated noni is an excellent specimen

Nutritional Information:

Preparation / Food: Immature green fruits are used as a vegetable, sometimes cooked in curries. In Malaya, the young leaves are eaten of the tree, or are cooked as a pot herb.

Noni fruits ferment naturally. To prepare noni fruit medicinally, crush/puree several fruits and put in a slightly vented jar to ferment for 2-3 days, at a temperature between 75-80 degrees. Strain / squeeze out the juice of this ferment (cloth bags or cheesecloth work well), and drink immediately, or refrigerate and use within a few days. Most accounts of traditional use indicate that the juice be ingested on an empty stomach. This is for one of two reasons: 1. This smell and taste of this ferment is nauseating. 2. The active compounds are likely to be more effective on an empty stomach.

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