Noni Fruit (Morinda citrifolia L.)By Evelyn Teo

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Evelyn Teo holding two mature noni fruits (Cheng, L. 2009)

Common names in different countries
Mengkudu (Malaysia), nhau ( other parts of SE Asia), painkiller bush (Caribbean), Cheese fruit (Australia), mulberry, nuna and ach (India).
Plant origin
SE Asia and Australia, cultivated in Polynesia, India, Caribbean, central and NS America.

Average height of the tree
3-10 m

Description of the leaves
wide elliptical leaves 5-17 cm length, 10-40 cm width

Description of the flowers
small tubular white flowers grouped in a bundle on the peduncle

Colour of the fruit
The young fruits are green and and this fades to pale yellow when ripe. The fruits can be harvested at any time throughout the year.

Personal comment about the taste of noni fruit

As the fruits gradually ripen on the tree, It is possible to smell the pungent odour about 5 metres away from the tree. It is not the kind of tropical fruit that has welcoming aromas, that would quench your thirst like pineapple, watermelon, mangosteen, wax apple, tangerine. In Malaysia, noni leaves are commonly used for wrapping raw fish to cook in a similar way that roast meat is cooked in an oven bag or in aluminium foil. The fruit juices have a long history of medicinal uses. Local people in Malaysia would crush the fruit with mortar and pestle (before the existence of blenders) and drink only the juice. In old times, noni juice was commonly used for the treatment of nausea, headache, period pain and almost any discomforts from inside to outside of the body. Even though people in Malaysia cannot demonstrate the specific use of noni juice they would not hesitate to take noni juice in the first place.
Noni juice does not smell pleasant but it is tasteless. Normally, syrup is added into the freshly crushed juice to make it easier to drink especially for children. Due to high humidity in the country, the elderly often suffer from joint pains. The traditional therapists believe that joint pain is related to wind being trapped around the joint and dampness could accelerate the pain around the joint. According to traditional treatment, the dampness and wind require to be extracted from the joint in order to heal the pain, to do this a medium is needed. Noni leaves (the medium) are heated over a fire, without burning the leaves, just placing the leaves over the flame then applying them directly to the sore joint. This method is believed to be effective and is inexpensive.

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fruit colour changing from green to pale yellow (Teo, E.S.M. 2009)










Background

Noni is the Tahitian name for the fruit of Morinda citrifolia, it has, however, many different names. In Malaysia for example, the fruit is known as mengkudu while in India it is known as Indian mulberry, nuna and ach. In the Caribbean it is called it the painkiller bush because the fruit was traditionally crushed and applied on wounds (McClatchey, 2002). The fruit has strong butyric acid odour when mature so Australians call M. Citrifolia as cheese fruit (McClatchey, 2002; Chan-Blanco et al., 2006).
Whether M. citrifolia comes originally from Polynesia or South East Asia is still not known. According to Johansson (1994), M. citrifolia was an endemic species of the Pacific. Herbal medicines like the seeds, fruit, roots and leaves of M. citrifolia have been used for a long time to treat both internal and external ailments by the pacific islanders. Therefore it is believed that M. citrifolia seeds were being distributed to Southeast Asia, India and Caribbean by fellow voyagers (Abbott, 1992; Whistler, 1992). M. citrifolia have been used therapeutically for at least two thousand years in the Eastern pacific (i.e. in Hawaii and Tahiti). It is still used as a herbal medicine in many Pacific islands (Abbott, 1992; Whistler, 1992; Hirazumi et al, 1996; Wang et al., 1999). Some papers indicate that M. citrifolia is native to Southeast Asia (e.g. Malaysia) and is cultivated in India, Caribbean, Polynesia and the States but there are limited documentations to identify the origin of the plant (Dixon et al., 1999; Ross, 2001; Nelson, 2006) thou herbal medicines are still common in the proposed countries. M. citrifolia has been exploited by American food scientists, Story and Wadsworth in 1993 as soon as they gathered all required information to introduce M. citrifolia juice as nutritional supplement. A recent M. citrifolia market report shows an exponential increase in M. citrifolia juice production during the 2000s where the USA alone, 19 patents and trademark applications for production of both domestic and international market (USPTO, 2005) have occured. Folk tales among the islanders have aroused the interest of food scientists in the States during their visit to Tahiti searching for food related research projects (Story and Wadsworth, 1993). Some evidence collected from the domestic residents through verbal communication and some research findings on the effectiveness of M. citrifolia fruit to treat various internal complications, fruit juice and powder supplement were widely produced for commercial purposes (SCF, 2002). Processed M. citrifolia products, especially juice has been marketed in the States in 1996, other countries/continents that were targeted recently include Canada, Japan, Australia, Mexico, Norway, Hong Kong (SCF, 2002), Africa, Pacific and Asia (Elkins, 1998; Solomon, 1999). Other Noni products apart from juice are being commercialised, see https://www.tahitiannoni.com/canada/canada_english/retail/store/category/22664.html

Plant varieties


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Morinda citrifolia var. bracteata (Chin, C.K.F (Jun 2009))
There are more than 80 Morinda species that have been discovered in the tropics (Morton, 1992; Cardon, 2003). The commonly grown commercial varieties are: M. citrifolia var. citrifolia, M. citrifolia var. bracteata and M. citrifolia var. potteri. These varieties have different morphological aspects but the chemical properties are similar (i.e. phenolic compounds, organic acids and **alkaloids**) (Wang and Su, 2001; Nelson, 2005).

Morinda citrifolia var. citrifolia

Also known as Hawaiian noni and there are two subtypes of M. citrifolia var. citrifolia. In general, the large-fruited type have ovate leaves while the small-fruited type have narrower but more elliptical-elongated leaves.
M. citrifolia var. bracteata
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growing fruit (Chin, C.K.F (Jun 2009))

Is indigenous to Malaysia, Indonesia and other regions between the Indian and Pacific oceans. the fruit is small-fruited type decorated with conspicuous bracts below at the tip end of the fruit. The leaves are wide-elliptical in shape and relatively bigger than the Hawaiian noni.

M. citrifolia var. potteri
It is distributed across the Pacific regions and has an overall look of a shrub. This variety is commonly seen as decorative plantation for landscaping due to its beautiful shiny green foliage and green and white variegated leaves.
Plant description


M. citrifolia is a woody fruit bearing plant. The leaves and fruit are evergreen when young and the surface of both leaves and fruits are waxy and glossy (Nelson, 2006). The woody trunk of M. citrifolia can grow as tall as 10 m, depending on cultivar. Cultivars that grow in the pacific islands are described as a shrub rather than tree as they grow to a height of about 3 to 6 m. Taller cultivars like M. citrifolia var. bracteata are found in Southeast Asia have a conical shape where the branches become much narrower at the tip of the tree. Other plant varieties have an overall “mushroom” branching with a higher leaf density. Flowers are white in colour, with 75-90 ovoid to globose heads. The fruit is technically known as syncarp, where the flesh is milky white, soft and slimy when ripe. M. citrifolia has an extensive lateral rooting system and a strong deep tap root.

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Back view of noni leaf (Chin, C.K.F.2009)

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Front view of noni leaf (Chin, C.K.F. 2009)

Fruit composition


There are 160 phytochemical compounds that have been identified by Wang and Su (2001) and the main micronutrients are listed as follows:
1. phenolic compounds
2. organic acids
3. alkaloids
Amongst the phenolic compounds, anthraquinones were reported to be the most important compound responsible for the health benefits (Wang and Su, 2001). Damnacanthal, morindone, morindin, aucubin, asperuloside and scopoletin are anthraquinones (Wang and Su, 2001). Other phenolic compounds reported by Morton et al. (1992); Dittmar (1993) and Dixon et al. (1999) include: alizarin, nordam-nacanthal, rubiadin, rubiadin-1-methyl ether and other anthraquinone glycosides. Two major organic acids were as identified caproic and caprylic acids by Dittmar (1993) while xeronine is the principal alkaloid in M. citrifolia fruit (Heinicke, 1985). The fruit contains 90% of water and the dry matter consists of soluble solids, dietary fibers and proteins (Chunchieng, 2003). About 11.3% of the dry matter is protein and main amino acids are aspartic, glutamic and isoleucine (Chunchieng, 2003). Minerals such as potassium, sulphur, calcium, phosphorus and trace element such as selenium were reported to be present in the juice (8.4%) (Chunchieng, 2003). Ascorbic acid was measured in the fruit by Morton (1992) and Shovic and Whistler (2001) in the range of 24 to 158 mg/100 g DM. The strong odour of M. citrifolia fruit is possibly caused by the organic acids, mainly octanoic and hexanoic acids. An approximate of 51 volatile compounds was identified in the fruit, alcohols (3-methyl-3-buten-1-ol), esters (methyl octanoate, methyl decanoate), ketones (2-heptanone), and lactones (E-6-dodeceno-γ-lactone). Farine et al. (1996).

Table 1. Nutritional panel of Hawaiian M. citrifolia fruit juice


http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/noni/nutritional_analysis_juice.asp
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halved and whole noni (Chin, C.K.F. 2009)
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fresh noni seeds (Chin, C.K.F. 2009)





Therapeutic properties of



M. citrifolia juice is believed to be beneficial for the treatment of high blood pressure, menstrual cramps, arthritis, gastric ulcers, sprains, injuries, mental depression, senility, poor digestion, atherosclerosis, blood vessel problems, drug addiction, relief of pains (McClatchey, 2002), diabetes, gout, cancer, boils, skin and internal ailments (Wang et al., 2001; Palu et al., 2008a), help to strengthen and restore vigor to the body after intensive physical training (Thaman, 1990, 1992). Current scientific evident is limited to state the effectiveness of the fruit juice to treat complications as proposed and many of the above claims were evident through communicating with the herbal therapists in Polynesia. Scientific research indicated that xeronine (alkaloid family) is physiologically active compound that is responsible for clinical activities in many botanical drugs (Heinicke, 1985; Heinicke 1998; Wadsworth, 1998). Proxeronine, a precursor to xeronine and proxeronine is physiologically inactive thus it needs to be converted in order to exert its effectiveness to treat physiological complications (McClatchey, 2002). M. citrifolia juice is recommended to be taken in an empty stomach because the proenzyme in the stomach is required for the conversion of proxeronine to xeronine. Xeronine is then absorbed into the body’s tissues through protein receptors that are naturally present throughout the body, these receptors are responsible for the absorption of bioactive components found mostly in plant sources (McClatchey, 2002) In another report, the result was contradicting with the proposed publication because the screening of alkaloid in M. citrifolia juice was undetected, further confirmation test using HPLC was performed, as a result, alkaloids are either not detected or only 1 mg alkaloids/L of juice is present (Palu et al., 2008b).
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Noni fruit at different stages of ripeness (Chin, C.K.F.2009)


M. citrifolia is rich in polysaccharides and an important substance known as noni-ppt, was reported to have anti-tumour activity (Hirazumi et al.,1994). In addition, noni-ppt also stimulates the release of TNF-α3, IL-1β, IL-10, IL-12 p70 and IFN-γ from the immune system. This statement is also supported by Hirazumi et al. (1996) in a later research done in the Lewis Lung Carcinoma mice where the administration of M. citrifolia juice was proven to play an important role in modulating immune cells to come about in times of immunosuppression in both in vivo and in vitro experiments.

The liver in an important organ to detoxify toxins from the digestive system therefore the analysis of possible antinutritives or toxins present in the juice of M. citrifolia is required. In a hepatological study, carbon tetrachloride a common environmental pollutant and carcinogen to the liver was fed to two groups experimental mice, pre-treated with water and M. citrifolia juice separately showed two very distinct results. These mice were sacrificed; the livers were sliced for histopathological examinations while blood was collected for serum aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase determinaqtions as they are indicators of liver function. As a result Wang et al. (2008) showed that the group pre-treated with M. citrifolia juice prior to acute carbon tetrachloride exposure showed normal liver function and did not induce adverse effects in the liver. Animal studies were conducted to test for the toxicity and allergenicity of the juice of M. citrifolia, as a result, no signs of gross toxicity in the dissected internal organs, allergic reaction and symptoms of allergic response were observed (Eurofins Scientific Inc. 1999; Eurofins Scientific inc. 2000; Kaaber, 2000; Glerup, 2001).


Other benefits that had been reported through scientific findings include the use of M. citrifolia roots to lower blood pressure of anesthetised dog (Davison, 1927; Moorthy and Reddy, 1970; Youngken, 1958; Youngken et al., 1960). Gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) ligands are present in the fruit juice of M. citrifolia when an in vitro trial was carried out. The binding of these ligands to the GABA receptors in the neurotransmitter of mammals will produce a sedative and anxiolytic effect (Deng et al., 2007). During ancient times in Polynesia, M. citrifolia juice was used as an important pain-relieving drink which acted like morphine in today’s surgical use (Deng et al., 2007). It possesses analgesic and tranquilizing effects but the compound responsible for such effects were not stated in the report. However, Younos and colleagues reported that the analgesic efficacy of the fruit juice extract is 75% as strong as morphine, yet no side effects or addiction was observed (Younos et al., 1990). Commercialisation of M. citrifolia juice has become more and more popular among sportsmen and celebrities due to its effect of increasing energy, recovery time and endurance after a full day’s works or intensive workouts (Palu et al., 2008a; Wang and Su (2001). These authors believe that major attribution of the therapeutic properties was due to the multiple antioxidants present in the fruit extracts.


Conclusions

Scientific research into the composition and use of M. citrifolia var. have become more frequent and popular in the last decade. The usage of M. citrifolia is very wide, from treating external to internal ailments. Most experimental trials were carried out using mice and the variety of feed given to mice is very limited; mice eat only what is given to them while humans eat and drink a wide variety of foods and beverages on a daily basis. Although it is almost impossible to analyse the outcome of all food combinations with the juice of M. citrifolia at least the interactions between the fruit juice and bioactive/biochemical compounds found in beverages like tea, coffee and alcoholic drinks (e.g. wine) need to be taken into account. Regular coffee or tea drinkers could simply take 5-6 cups of these hot drinks per day. According to Wang and Su (2001) there are 160 phytochemical compounds that have been discovered so far but detailed information about these compounds is very limited and further elucidation will be useful for the development of a new use or functional food from noni fruit. If M. citrifolia extract is shown to be safe for medical purposes then many internal ailments could be treated with lower cost especially in the tropics where M. citrifolia grows easily. It is a fruit that can be enjoyed as a food and as a medicine.

Acknowledgments

Special thanks to my family members, cousins; Chin, C.K.F and Jee, Jee, J.B.J for helping to take photos of M. citrifolia var. bracteata. My expression of gratitude goes to my mother for bringing whole noni fruits all the way from Malaysia.

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