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The History of Noni’s “Discovery”

By: Lola Frailey Tuesday October 27, 2015 comments Tags: noni history, canoe plants, raw food noni, polynesians

We talk a lot about the ancient Polynesians and how they used raw noni fruit, internally and externally, to maintain good health and energy. But how did they learn how to use it?

Of course, it’s hard to be sure exactly—after all, this was thousands of years ago! But we talked to some University of Hawaii ethnobotanists who visited the farm a few years back, and they gave us their take on how noni might have been discovered. We also did our own research, to try to bring you the most complete picture of how Noni was discovered, and what today’s noni-lovers can learn from the fruit’s history.

The Context of Noni’s Discovery

Ancient Polynesians used a variety of plants for natural remedies, based on trial and error, with knowledge passed down orally through the generations as kapu, laws for how life ought to be lived for greatest harmony and health within the tribes. This collective knowledge was cultivated and protected by the kahuna, a spiritual leader.

They attributed illness to a combination of naturalistic and personalistic causes, as anthropologists Nina Etkin and Heather McMillen of the University of Hawaii at Manoa point out in this paper.

  • Naturalistic Causes: cold, damp, trauma, dirt
  • Personalistic Causes: spirits, breaking kapu, or other immoral behavior

Treatment for illness often included ceremony, sweating, massage, and of course, plants recognized to be beneficial for health. Most botanical medicines were used externally, and ethnobotanists believe that was how noni got its start.

Using Noni Fruit Topically

We can’t say for certain how noni’s painkilling properties were discovered, but we know that the leaves in particular were used topically very early on in Polynesian history. According to this article, they were often used in poultices to treat rheumatic pain, inflammation, ringworm, and other ailments, internal and external, from the outside.

Noni fruit was also used externally for similar purposes. They quickly discovered how powerful noni was at relieving pain and soothing the skin.

Noni was undoubtedly powerful medicine for Polynesians, which is why they brought the plant with them in canoes when they colonized new islands throughout the Pacific. You can learn more about canoe plants in this blog post.

The Power of Animal Intuition

At some point, we know that Polynesians began to take noni internally, but we aren’t sure exactly when. The pungent smell of the ripe fruit probably deterred them for some time. It certainly surprises people on the farm tour!

But animals are, in some ways, a lot smarter than we are—or at least more intuitive about their health. You’ve surely seen a dog eating grass when it needs to throw up. Animals have tons of these health habits to help them get what they need to stay in balance. And let me tell you, animals love noni!

The ethnobotanists at the University of Hawaii believe that Polynesians originally saw animals eating the raw fruit that had fallen from trees. They most likely noticed the good health of the animals, and decided to try eating the fruit.

To see some of our farm animals who can’t get enough noni, check out this blog post.

Noni: Health from the Inside Out

It quickly became apparent that raw noni fruit has an amazing ability to increase energy levels, support a healthy response to inflammation, and maintain a healthy immune system, plus countless other benefits. Quickly, noni became one of the most important medicinal plants for ancient Polynesians.

In time, they even most likely prized noni for its strong smell and flavor. The anthropologists from the University of Hawaii I mentioned earlier believe that plant medicines were often selected for their unpalatable taste and smell. Ancient Polynesians thought the taste and smell would drive away spirits that might be causing the illness!

Noni was brought in canoes to islands all across the pacific, from Tahiti and the Marquesas to Hawaii. Today, it can be found in the Caribbean, South America, India, the Philippines, and more.

Noni in the Modern World

Today, we know that it’s the 165+ beneficial compounds in raw noni pulp that promote overall good health. Noni packs a powerful punch as the raw fruit contains vital micronutrients, including natural antioxidants, soluble and insoluble fiber, essential fatty acids, and countless other vitamins and minerals. More and more research is constantly coming in, demonstrating the benefits of noni.

Unfortunately, noni is hard to integrate into the modern world. The reason is simple: shipping unprocessed noni fruit is impossible, because it ferments and decomposes too quickly. So it’s difficult to give people access to noni around the world.

Many have tried to solve this problem by speeding up the fermentation process and making noni juice. The problem with noni juice is the pulp is discarded and the fermentation destroys and alters many of the beneficial compounds in noni. Making noni juice destroys at least 50% of the beneficial compounds and digestive enzymes in the pulp. Then noni juice is usually pasteurized at high heat, damaging even more of these delicate compounds, diluted, and sweetened.

The Hawaiian Organic Noni Difference

We were determined to find a way to bring the power of noni to the world, without losing those beneficial compounds. After a lot of experimentation, we discovered that removing the water from fresh, ripe noni pulp stops the fermentation process.

The trick was finding a process that removed the water without heat that would damage the compounds and enzymes in the raw fruit. We developed a low-heat dehydration method that never gets hotter than 115 degrees F, removing the water slowly over multiple days. Our Noni Fruit Leather is a raw food and maintains the potency of noni. 

We’ve had our products tested by an independent lab, and they found that our Noni Fruit Leather is 14x more potent than noni juice.

At Hawaiian Organic Noni, we follow the wisdom Ancient Polynesians learned from animals all those years ago: eating raw noni every day is a great way to promote long-lasting good health, hold back aging, and support healthy energy levels. Noni Fruit Leather is an easy, convenient way to get your daily dose of noni worldwide, without sacrificing potency.

Lola Frailey

About the Author: Lola Frailey