PLANT FAMILY: Coffee
BOTANICAL NAME: Morinda Citrifolia
HAWAIIAN NAME: Noni
OTHER COMMON NAMES: Bois Douleur, Cheese Fruit, Indian Mulberry, Kura, Lada, Mengkudu, Nano, Nhaut, Nono, Nuna, Yaeyamaaoki, and hundreds of names throughout Polynesia.
PLANT RELATIVES: Bedstraw, Rose Madder
EDIBLE PARTS: Leaves, Flowers, Flower Petals, Fruit, Seeds
Noni is a beautiful large shrub or tree native to South East Asia and Northern Australia. Ancient Polynesians spread this revered plant with its glossy oval leaves extensively. Considered one of Hawaii’s most valued canoe crops, it has become naturalized in tropical areas spanning a wide swath from South America to India.
The small, tubular flowers of morinda citrifolia are classified as perfect, having both male and female parts together. Overall, noni trees are lovely to look at and easy to harvest. Fruit is available year-round and has a fascinating bumpy appearance. It starts out hard and deep green, maturing to yellow and finally nearly white, with a fragile thin skin covering it’s soft interior. Even more wondrous than its fruit’s segmented design is its aroma.
If you are a mischievous type with a devilish streak, you have a great opportunity. You can lure an uninitiated innocent to take a deep whiff of very ripe noni fruit. There is sure to be plenty of laughter, although it may be one-sided. That’s because the oft-used description of noni as stinky cheese is probably an enormous understatement.
These days much emphasis is placed on the fruit and juice of noni for its medicinal qualities. Indeed more than 150 compounds having nutraceutical properties have been identified. However, it’s interesting to note that the leaves, flowers, fruit, bark, and roots have been used by indigenous people for everything from food and medicine to dyes and shampoo. The more I learn about noni, the more my reverence grows.