A noni vendor packs fruit into jars for sale.
IT is only 6am, but piles of the small, green noni fruit are already stacked up in
front of a Khmer herbal medicine shop near O'Russey market. Buyers sort through the
knobbly fruits, making sure they get only the very best specimens.
As one leaves, others crowd around, keeping the shop owners busy packing their
Veteran Khmer herbal seller, Yo Roeun, smiles at her clients as they search through
the pile of fruit, assuring them: "My Plai Nhor (noni fruit) is fresh and good
It has been only three months since word spread that noni fruit has powerful medical
benefits. Every day ten tons of the green fruit is trucked in from growers in Battambang,
Pursat, Siem Reap, Kampot and Takeo provinces. The rumor is that the fruit can cure
many kinds of illnesses.
Hang Vuthy, who lives in the Bati district of Takeo province, usually comes to Phnom
Penh to buy it. He says noni cures medical problems he has with his colon and stomach
- and that it works better and is cheaper than modern medicine.
"Now I can sleep well and I can eat rice. Before I could eat only porridge;
if I ate rice or something hard, my stomach would be painful," Vuthy says.
He adds that the fruit is so popular in his village that his neighbors asked him
to bring some back for them.
The evangelical fervor attached to the fruit might strike some as a little strange.
The sudden interest seems to be due to the arrival in Cambodia of US fruit buyers.
They were here to purchase large quantities of the fruit for their home market where
it is sold as juice, and told local people that noni fruit had extraordinary medical
The story goes that an American, Dr Ralph Heinicke, discovered the fruit's amazing
properties. His claim is that the juice can cure all manner of ailments, from stomach
cancer to intestinal diseases, both high and low blood pressure, and even high cholesterol.
The list doesn't end there though: more claims are made for diabetes, blindness,
rheumatism and even strokes.
It may sound implausible, but many users in Phnom Penh swear by it. Son Yen, who
is 54 years old, told the Post that Noni fruit had cured her blood pressure problem
after only two weeks. She was back to buy more.
"My blood pressure is OK now," she says with a smile. "It went down
by 20 percent, but I don't know when I should stop taking it."
Yen said that her neighbor had let her in on the fruit secret after buying a bottle
of the juice made in the USA. One bottle had cost them almost $60.
O'Russey Market in central Phnom Penh is alive and well with noni fruit buyers and sellers busy at work.
Yen's story of amazing cures is not unique and certainly explains the rush to get
hold of the wonder fruit. In fact there is so much demand that sellers are getting
concerned that they might run out.
Roeun reckons she sells as much as 500 kilograms of noni fruit a day. The other 20
shops in the street are shifting similar amounts, never mind the vendors in other
parts of the city. And it's not cheap either - an individual fruit retails for anywhere
between 700 riel (about $0.17) and 3,500 riels (almost one dollar), depending on
But as the popularity of noni fruit continues to climb, some voices are urging caution.
Some say go slow on the stuff; others dismiss it as hype, saying it could kill you.
Pharmacist Cheng Sun Kaing, Director of the National Center for Research on Traditional
Medicine, says there is some merit in the claims made for noni fruit. However, he
says, people should be careful not to overindulge: that could lead to other problems.
Better to eat or drink it in small amounts, he says.
Among those who should take particular care, he adds, are diabetics. He says that
although the fruit can cure diabetes, it can also make it worse if taken in the wrong
way. Diabetics, he says, must first slice the fruit then dry it before boiling it
Cheng expresses some surprise at the length of time it has taken for noni fruit
to catch on. He told the Post that his center published a document on the amazing
benefits of noni fruit three years ago, but that nobody took any notice. They are
certainly listening now.