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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Achiote, Lipstick tree, Urucu
(Bixa orellana)
(Also: B. o. Orleana)

This plant has an ancient history of use by South American peoples of the Amazonia regions. It is found in tropical America, the East and West Indies and is widely cultivated in Asia and Africa. Commercial supplies in the past have been known to be adulterated with ochre sand gypsum.
There are two commercial forms:
1) Spanish Annatto, which is made in is hard, brittle, odorless and shaped into rolls.
2) French or Flag Annatto, which comes from Cayenne and is bright yellow, firm-soft, and bad smelling due to the fermenting process which employed urine. The French is considered a better dye.
It is not now used medicinally but is still used to color salves and ointments and sometimes substituted for saffron. Not recommended for the home garden.

CONTAINS: Bixin (a red resinous substance; ethyl ester gives rich gold/yellow color), various carotenoids (manifest Vitamin A activity and similar to those found in carrots)

PROPAGATION: By fresh seed sown in sand in autumn (is slow to reach flowering size by seed); by cuttings of ripe wood (will flower when still small).
NEEDS: A tender perennial which requires well-draining moisture retentive soil with high humidity. Can be grown as a hedge if clipped hard.
HARVEST: The leaves are taken as needed and dried for use; the seeds are taken as the fruit splits open.

PART USED: Leaves, fruits (pulp around seeds and dried pulp) and seeds. The seeds are soaked in hot water, allowed to ferment and the sediment resulting is pressed into cakes and used in medicines and dyes. OR ELSE: the seeds are pulped and allowed to dry then pressed into cakes.
SOLVENT: Insoluble in water but does color yellow.


Bitter, astringent, purgative, some expectorant effect.
Historically used to kill intestinal worms (equal parts powdered tobacco leaves [NOT recommended - poison!] were once mixed with Annatto and taken as a tea); used externally for vermin and chiggers.
Has been used to lower fever, and to improve digestion.
Has been used as a liver tonic/stimulant combined with raw vegetable juices specific for maintenance of liver.
Has been used for infection; said to increase resistance of young children to viruses (it is mixed with liquid drinks such as eggnog and carrot juice).
Has been used for wounds and sores it is applied as a powder (1 part Annatto to 3 parts goldenseal root).
The seed pulp has been used in Mexico for mouth cancer.
In the West Indies the leaves have been used for worms in children, colic and fevers.
In Indo-China an infusion of the leaves has been used for fevers in children and after childbirthing.
In the Philippines the ground seeds have been used externally on burns to prevent blistering and scarring.
Has been used for night blindness: it is added to dandelion blossoms in a blender and a little water or liquid cholorophyll added and a sweet spice included for taste.
The dye produced from the plant is a possible antidote to prussic acid poisoning which is caused by eating manioc (Manihot esculenta) from which the toxin is not completely removed.

Used for leprosy, eczema, and elephantiasis.

Used extensively as a food coloring (has very little taste of its own).
The fruit pulp yields a food dye which is used in margarine, cheese, soups, and smoked fish.
The seeds are eaten cooked in butter.
Used to flavor rice, soups, meats, chocolate.

Used to dye maggots which are used as fish bait.
Used as a red/orange body dye by native peoples of South America, the Caribbean and other Indian tribes.
Possible insect repelling properties.

©2000 by Ernestina Parziale, CH