The Morinda genus contains 80 species of vine-like shrubs to small trees, some of which are commonly referred to as noni. These plants thrive at lower elevations in tropical climates, such as Borneo, where it is native, and Hawaii, where it is grown commercially for its reputed health-promoting properties. Two species are grown in Hawaii and others grow from Southeastern Asian to Australia.
Morinda citrifolia is the plant that produces the noni fruit, which is processed into a juice that health enthusiasts claim benefits their well-being. The noni is also called the Indian mulberry because of its resemblance to the actual mulberry. This small tree can grow up to about 18 feet tall, but it remains compact. The seeds of this species were one of the so-called “canoe plants” that ancient Polynesian explorers brought with them in their voyages to Hawaii and other Pacific islands because they considered the plant essential to their lives. It is touted as a cure-all in the herbal world--claims exist that it can help to heal many different diseases, including cancer. However, substantial laboratory studies have not confirmed these claims.
Morinda trimeria is a larger tree than citrifolia--it can grow as tall as 50 feet. It is called noni kuahiwi in Hawaii and it is found mainly on the islands of Oahu, Maui and Lanai. The University of Hawaii reports that the exact origin of this species is not known, but speculation exists that it comes from Malaysia or parts of the South Pacific. Botanists refer to the flowers of this Morinda and others as “perfect,” meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs, which enables them to pollinate themselves. Separate male and female trees do not exist.
Called the narrow-leaved Indian mulberry, Morinda angustifolia is a small tree found in Myanmar and other Southeast Asian countries. Common names for this Morinda include latloot, nibase-gyi, nlung and yeyo. In 2008, the December issue of "Fitoterapia" published a research study from the University of Illinois at Chicago with findings that this species contains antimicrobial anthraquinones, or yellow crystalline powder that will not dissolve in water, and is primarily used in making dyes.
Ray Sahelian, M.D. writes on his website that the root of Morinda officinalis has been used medicinally in China for many centuries. It is called ba ji tan or bajitan in traditional Chinese medicine, which believes it can help disorders such as depression, back pain, high levels of stress, low sperm count and that it contains antioxidants that help the body to ward off disease.