Another canoe plant, noni is one of the most highly regarded of the traditional Hawaiian medicinal herbs. Also known as Indian Mulberry, this attractive tree grows between ten and twenty feet tall. The dark green, shiny leaves are deeply veined and used externally to treat tumors or skin infections. Healers soften the leaf over an open flame, let it cool, then apply it to the affected area.
Although the noni leaf is an important medicine, the noni fruit is legendary among Hawaiian healers. Equally legendary is its distinctive cheese-like aroma and flavor, which many people find repulsive. For this reason, different elders have their own ways of making noni juice more palatable, such as mixing it with orange juice and ginger. All agree, however, that it is highly effective in treating serious ailments such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease, which tend to affect indigenous peoples who have switched from traditional foods to a conventional American diet. The pulp of the green fruit is also used topically to dispel head lice (uku) and fleas. In research conducted in Hawaii and Japan, extracts of noni have been shown to stimulate the immune system and suppress the growth of cancer cells, although these findings are being debated.
Chinese laborers who came to the islands during the 1800s taught Hawaiians what has evolved into a popular method of preserving noni juice. The ripe fruit is collected, placed in a closed jar, and left sitting in the sun for a few weeks. The potent, fermented dark liquid that collects in the bottom of the jar is then strained and stored in the refrigerator for future use.