Annatto (Bixa Orellana Linn) Herbal Medicine

Annatto Health Benefits, Dosage, Side effects and Warnings.


Scientific Name: Bixa Orellana Linn

Other names:

Achiote, Annatto, Lipstick plant (English), Yan zhi shu (Chinese), Rocou, Atole (French), Anattosamen (German), Lathwa (Hindi), Achihuite, Pumacua (Spanish), Kham ngo, Kham thai (Thai), Atchuete, Achoete (Tagalog).

Annatto also called Annatto (Bixa orellana) is a small tree native to the tropical region of Southern America. Annatto is widely cultivated for its fruit seeds where a natural colorant is derived. Aside from the commercial value of Annatto as a source of annatto colorant, Annatto has long been used by the natives of Southern America as dye for food and textile, as decorative body paint, in spiritual ceremonies and rituals and as an herbal medicine.

Annatto Nutritional value per 5 tsp
Energy 108 kcal
Carbohydrates 20 g
Dietary fiber 11 g
Fat g 0.0
Protein 4.0 g
Folate (Vit. B9) 87.8g 22%
Vitamin C  21 mg 1%
Calcium  75 mg 5%
Sodium 5 mg
Percentages are relative to US recommendations for adults.

Annatto Traditional Medicinal Uses and Health benefits

Annatto has a long history of medical usage and has a long list of folkloric health benefits for the following conditions.

Wound healing. A concoction of leaves are used to wash burn wounds, cuts and burns..

Digestive problems. The infusion of leaves and bark are used as purgative in dysentery, stomach ache, vomiting and nausea, acid reflux and other stomach problems.

Fever. Boiled leaves (shoots) are applied to the head and body to treat fever.

Mouth problems. Boiled leaves (young shoots) are used as gargle for sore throat

Headache. Pounded leaves mixed with coconut oil are applied to the forehead for headaches.

Gonorrhoea. Poultice of leaves are used to treat gonorrhoea

Snake bites. Annatto leaves are used to treat snake bites,

Poison antidote. Extracts from Annatto leaves, roots and barks are used as antidote for cassava poisoning. Jatropha poisoning and allergy from sandbox tree.

Prevents scar formation. Annatto pulp is used to prevent scars due to blisters.

Blood coagulant. Annatto pulp is used to stop bleeding.

Expectorant. Infusion of flowers used as expectorant for young children

Burn treatment. The seeds, ground and boiled, also used for burns.

Aphrodisiac. Annato seeds are use as libido enhancer in Amazonia.

Hair tonic. Annatto bark and seeds are used to treat thinning hair.

Menstruation. Annatto bark and branches are used to improve mentrual flow and alleviate menstrual pain.

Vaginal wash. In traditional Peruvian medicine, Annatto is used as a vaginal antiseptic and cicatrizant.

Diabetes. The fruit of annatto is taken to improve the sugar level  for diabetes patients.
Respiratory ailments. Decotion made from the pulp of Annatto seeds are used for treatment of coughs as expectorant.

Prostate enlargement. Tea from Annatto leaves is taken 3 times a day for the treatment of prostate enlargement.

Leprosy. A concoction from the leaves of Annatto is taken 3 times a day for the treatment of leprosy.

Heat stroke. A decoction of annatto leaves may also be taken to alleviate the symptoms of heat stroke.

Science Research: Annatto Health Benefits

Anti-inflammatory Activity of Annatto Extract

Annatto or Annatto (Bixa orellana L.) has been traditionally used in Central and South America to treat a number of ailments, including internal inflammation. This medicinal use has been supported by a laboratory study done in the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Universiti Putra Malaysia. Where the anti-inflammatory activity of the aqueous extract of Annatto was tested in a chemically induced inflammation in rats. The study concluded that the aqueous extract of Annatto inhibited the histamine-induced  paw edema as compared to a control group. These results confirmed the validity of the use of Annatto extract in the treatment of inflammatory disorders. Ref:

Antigonorrhoeal activity of Annatto

In a study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology of October 1995, the Faculty of Chemical Sciences and Pharmacy in Guatemala found that the bark of Bixa orella (Annatto,  annatto) has the ability to inhibit the development of five strains of N. gonorrhoea through the process of standard bacteriological procedures. This study supports the traditional herbal use of Annatto in the treatment of gonorrhoea, a sexually transmitted disease.

Annatto extract and β-carotene enhances antioxidant status and regulate gene expression in neutrophils of diabetic rats.

The antioxidant activity of Annatto extract was investigated in Universidade Federal de Ouro Preto, Ouro Preto, Brazil. The study showed that the treatment of Annatto extract and β-carotene has  decreased the reactive oxidative species production and the mRNA levels of p22(phox) and p47(phox) while it increased the mRNA levels of SOD and CAT in neutrophils from diabetic rats. These data suggest that Annatto extract and β-carotene exerts antioxidant effect via inhibition of expression of the NADPH oxidase subunits and increase expression/activity of antioxidant enzymes.

Hypoglycaemic activity of Bixa orellana (Annatto).

West Indian folklore uses Bixa orellana (Annatto) in the treatment of diabetes mellitus. Preliminary studies have shown that a crude annatto seed extract exhibited either glucose lowering or hyperglycaemia-inducing activity depending on how it was further manipulated. A study done in the Department of Basic Medical Sciences, University of West Indies, Jamaica, investigated this further and has found that Annatto extract can indeed decrease blood glucose levels in fasting normoglycaemic and streptozotocin-induced diabetic dogs. Likewise, Annatto seed extract suppressed the postprandial rise in blood glucose after an oral glucose load. Moreover, the aciote extract also caused an increase in insulin-to-glucose ratio in normal dogs. It was concluded that Bixa orellana (Annatto) lowered blood glucose by stimulating peripheral utilization of glucose. This data confirmed that Annatto extract has glucose-lowering activity and might be of pharmacological importance.

Anticancer Activity of Annatto Pigment (Norbixin)

Norbixin, a pigment of Bixa orellana (Annatto) was believed to possess antioxidant potential being a carotenoid. This property has been examined in the Instituto de Biologia Roberto Alcântara Gomes, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro and has identified that Norbixin is an unusual dicarboxylic water-soluble carotenoid present as a component in the pericarp of the seeds of Bixa orellana L. Norbixin on the response of Escherichia coli cells to DNA damage induced by UV radiation, hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) and superoxide anions (O2*-)) has protective activity against these agents.  It was also found that that norbixin has antimutagenic properties, with a maximum inhibition of H2O2-induced mutagenic activity of 87%, based on the Salmonella mutagenicity test. These results suggests that Annatto pigment (norbixin) has effectively quenched free radicals and may be of valuable pharmacological application against cancer.

Antimicrobial Activity of Annatto (Bixa orellana) Extract

A study published in the International Journal of Pharmacognosy (Volume 34, 1996 - Issue 2) investigated the antimicrobial and antifungal activity of Annato (Bixa orellana) extract using agar diffusion and tube dilation methods against standard strains of Gram-positive bacteria including Bacillus subtilis, Staphylococcus aureus, and Streptococcus faecalis. Results obtained indicated that the extract appears to possess a narrow spectrum of antimicrobial activity, being effective against only the Gram-positive bacteria used in our study.

Chemical composition, amino acid content and nutritive value of the protein of the annatto seed (Bixa orellana, L.)

The results of chemical analyses of the seed showed a relatively high amount of protein, which fluctuated between 13 and 17%. Crude fiber levels were also high, about 16%; however, more than 50% of this fiber can be eliminated through sifting of the seed flour. Its protein contains adequate levels of tryptophan and lysine, but is low in methionine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine and threonine. The protein quality of Annatto seed flour was about 65% that of casein,
Archivos Latinoamericanos de Nutricion [1983, 33(2):356-376].

Protective effect of Bixa orellana L. against radiation induced chromosomal aberration in Swiss albino mice

Radioprotective effect of hydroalcoholic extract of seeds of Bixa orellana have been studied by examining chromosome aberration in cells of bone marrow in irradiated mice. Pretreatment with the extract compounds resulted in a significant reduction in the percentage of aberrant metaphases as well as in the different types of aberration scored. The extract was not toxic at 1500 mg kg–1 body weight. Being non toxic and easily available natural source Bixa orellana extract may
be use for as radioprotective for human beings. Source: International Journal of Phytomedicine 1(2009) 18-21.

Effects of Bixa orellana L. Seeds on Hyperlipidemia

A study published in Phytotheraphy Research 26 March 2012 investigated the effects of  Bixa orellana L., urucum, or urucu, a native tropical tree of Central and South American rain forests in mice with hyperlipidemia induced by tyloxapol, fructose and ethanol. The aqueous extract of the seeds of Bixa orellana was capable of reversing the hypertriglyceridemia induced by Triton, fructose and ethanol, demonstrating a hypolipidemic effect. However, further studies are necessary to discover the precise mechanism of action.

How to Get and How to Use

Where can I get or buy Annatto?

Annatto or achiote is commercially used as food coloring and may be found as the yellow coloring for butter, margarine, chorizo, cheese, smoked fish and other food products.

Annatto seeds

Annatto may be bought in different froms such as seeds, grounded powder, as a paste, or infused in cooking oil or lard. Annatto or annatto are usually available in spice isle of bigger grocery stores or ethnic spice stores. Annatto are packed in bottles, vacuum sealed bricks, bags, and in tin cans.

Annatto leaves, shoots and bark can only be acquired from the tree and it is rarely availble elsewhere.

When buying Annatto seeds, look for the bright red or orange red ones since these are newer and fresher. Avoid buying the dull and brown seeds, these are signs of age and may already lost its potency.

Ground or powdered Annatto is often mixed with other herbs, spices, and even cornstarch. Shelf life in air tight container reach up to 3 years. While those mixed with oil may be used within 3 months when properly refrigerated.

Annatto leaves, shoots and bark are usually boiled in water. It may also be pounded and mixed with other natural oils and herbs.

To prepare Annatto leaves decoction:

  1. Ground or cut about 10 leaves of Annatto for every cup of water
  2. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes with the pot cover removed.
  3. Let it steep, then strain.
  4. Store in a glass jar for later consumption.
  5. To be taken 1 cup, two to three times a day (maximum)

Annatto seeds, powder, concoction and infusion may be taken orally depending on preparation, such as in food preparation and medicines or may also be applied topically or externally.

Dosage, Warnings and Side Effects

Annatto may be considered safe for most people when used in food preparation.

Pregnancy and Breast feeding. There is no sufficient studies done to investigate the adverse or side effects of Annatto consumption in medicinal dosage during pregnancy and breast feeding. Stay in the safe side, avoid using Annatto herbal medicines.

Allergy. Annatto has been known to cause allergic reaction to sensitive people.

Featured Articles


Suggested Health Articles