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Bixa orellana



Bixa orleana Noronha., Bixa tinctora Salisb., Bixa amaricana Poir., Bixa urucurana Willd., Bixa acuminate Bojer, Hortus maurit. Orellana Americana Kuntze, Revis.[3]

Vernacular Names:

Malay Kesumba Keling
Indonesia Gelinggem, Galuga
Filipino Annatto, Atsuete, Achoto, Asuti, Achuete, Asuite
India Induriya, Latkan (Hindi); Kappuimankala, Kuppamanal, Uragumanal
English Lipstick Tree, Arnotta plant, Annatto
German Orlean-Strauch
French Rocouyier
Spanish Achiote
Mexico Kiwi
Peru Ku-xub (Mopan Maya); Shiyau (Kekchi Maya)
Tropical America Achiote, Bixa, Urucu, Anatto
Caribbean Buja, Biche
Polynesia Loa [1][3][4]

General Information


Bixa orellana is a member of the Bixaceae family. It is a shrub or a small tree that reaches up to 3m high. The bark is dark brown, smooth to minutely fissure; branchlets are ringed with nodes. The leaves are ovate to broadly ovate, the apex gradually long-acuminate, the base shallowly cordate, dark green above and paler beneath. The measuring is 1-17.5cm long and 5-12cm wide, persistent; petioles are slender, terete, thickened at base and apex, 15-67mm long. The panicles many-flowered; flowers about 5cm broad; pedicels thick, terete, the apex thickened, 5-12mm long; bracts caduceus; sepals obovate, concave, obtuse, densely rusty-scaley, 9–10mm long, 6-8mm wide; the petals white to pink or purplish, spreading, conspicuously veined, 20–28mm long, 10-13mm wide, ovary ovoid, densely clothed with short red bristles, 5mm high; style thickened upward, 16mm long; stigma terminal. The capsule ovoid to globose, the apex usually acute or essentially so, reddish brown, densely clothed with long filiform, stiff, smooth, reddish brown bristles and both sessile and peltate minute rusty scales, 2-4cm long, 2.0-3.5cm wide, dehiscing to base by 2 persistent valves, the endocarps becoming detached; seeds many, red, papillose, angular, chalazal end disciform, about 5mm long. [1][5]

Plant Part Used

Leaves, root barks, barks, seeds.[1]

Chemical Constituents

Bixin; valencene; ß-elemene; ß-selinene; capaene; δ-cadinene; spathulenol; γ-cadinene, δ-elemene, ledol, α-Muurolene, α-cadinol, Isoscutellarein (aldose reductase inhibitor).[1][9]

The seeds is high in proteins (13–17%) and phosphorous and low in calcium. The proteins have adequate amounts of typtophan and lysine, but is low in methionine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine and threonine.[1][6]

Traditional Used:

The leaves of B. orellana are used for the treatment of snake-bites and jaundice. In Cambodia, the leaves are a popular febrifuge while in Indonesia, water in which the leaves are rubbed is poured over the head of children with fever. In Malaysia, the leaves are used in a postpartum medicine and in the Philippines the leaves are pounded in coconut and heated, then applied to the abdomen to relieve tympanites. The pastes of the fresh leaves are rubefacient and used in dysentery. In Vietnam, lotions or bath of leaves are used during fever. The leaves and seed pods are used as female aphrodisiac.[1] In Trinidad and Tobago, the leaves and roots are used for hypertension, diabetes and jaundice.[2] The leaves are febrifuge; leaf infusion is used to cure dysentery; leaves are used also as diuretic. [2]

The seed of B. orellana is considered a good cure for gonorrhoea. The alcoholic extracts of seed coat are taenifuge and laxative. The infusions of seeds are used to treat asthma and excessive nasopharynx mucus production. Traditionally, it is also used as a gargle for sore throats and oral hygiene.[1] The red resinous substance of the seeds is considered an efficient remedy for certain skin diseases and stomachache. The seeds are said to be an antidote to cassava and Jatropha curcas poisoning. The powdery substance around the seed is anthelmintic. [2]

The bark of the root is used to treat fever and as an aperients. The decoction of barks is used for catarrh.

The unripe fruits are used as emollient in leprosy.

Some of the prescriptions of B. orellena are used in Belize based of the following:

Diarrhoea – three young leaves crushed in a glass of water and taken in half cup doses.
Vomiting – three old leaves boiled in three cups of water for 10 minutes and drunk as remedy for haematemesis.
Sore, rashes and infected insect bites – a handful of leaves crushed in water and exposed to the sun all day, is then strained and the infusion is used as cold wash. [4]

Pre-Clinical Data


Aldose reductase activity
The isoscutellarein extract of B. orellana was isolated from the hot water. This compound was found to be a potent inhibitor of lens aldose reductase. [9]

Antimicrobial activity
Out of 46 plants investigated for antigonococcal activity, 50% alcohol extract (tincture) of the bark of B. orellana were amongst those with the most active activity.[10] The ethanolic extracts of the leaves and seeds showed broad spectrum antimicrobial activity, with the leaf extract being more pronounced especially against Bacillus pumilus. [11][12] Others, the methanol extract of the leaves showed antibacterial activity against selected causative agents of diarrhoea and dysentery, including Shigella dysenteriae. [15]

Ishwarane was isolated from the dichloromethane extract of air dried leaves of B. orellana, showed moderate antifungal activity against Candida albicans, and low activity against Trichophyton mentagrophytes. It also has low antibacterial activity against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa. This compound also demonstrated antitoxic activity and increase gastrointestinal propulsive movements. [13][14] An earlier study showed the seed extracts of B. orellana contains 9’-cis-norbixin and trans-norbixin which are responsible for the antimicrobial activity. [16]

Antioxidant activity
The antioxidant activity was demonstrated in a number of studies. Obor et al. found that both polar (water) and non polar (chloroform) extracts of the seeds of B. orellana was able to prevent oxidative stress induced by cyclophosphamide, with non-polar extract being better.[24] In the case of norbixin, it was able to protect plasmid DNA breakage against single and double strand breakage, however in the case of genomic DNA it was found to increase the extent of damage.[19]

Anti-inflammatory activity
The leaves of B. orellana has anti-inflammatory activities as evidenced in a study where it was found to significantly inhibits inflammation induced by bradykinin and suppresses the production of nitrogen oxide (NO). [25]

Antidiabetic activity
The methanol extracts of the leaves of B. orellana was found to have inhibitory effects on human pancreatic amylase, qualifying it to be a potential in providing post-prandial glycaemic control.[26] The crude seed extracts also exhibit antidiabetic activities in dogs where it lowered blood glucose levels by increasing plasma insulin concentration as well as increasing insulin binding on the insulin receptor due to elevated affinity of the ligand for the receptor and by stimulating peripheral utilization of glucose.[27][28]

Antivenom activity
A number of studies done in Colombia to determine the effects of leaves and branches of B. orellana against the effects of venom of Bothrops atrox showed partial neutralization of enzymatic effects of the venom (45-80%) and 100% neutralization of the haemorrhagic effects after preincubation with the extracts.[30][31] The ethanol extracts was found to be able to reduce oedema-forming activity, neutralize defibrinating and coagulant effects of the venom.[32]


Toxic to dogs dosed with 60mg/kg trans-bixin.

Bixin is the compound that imparts the red colour of the dye extracted from the seeds of B. orellana. There has been concern on the possible long term toxic effects of this compound in particular and the extract as a whole.

Various studies done on the toxic effects of the red dye extracted from seeds of B. orellana showed that it is safe for use both in adults and young rats and mice, and also in pregnancy. It was found that the no-observed-adverse-effects level (NOAEL) for annatto-induced maternal and developmental toxicity was 500mg/kg body weight/day or greater by oral route.[17] The dye did not show any mutagenicity nor antimutagenicity.[18] Norbixin (the red dye) was found to be able to protect DNA against oxidative damages.[19] It did not show any hepatotoxicity and nephrotoxicity in rats and mice.[20] In a 13 week oral toxicity study of norbixin it was found that at concentrations of 0.3-0.9 % there were significant changes in the biochemistry of blood of Sprague-Dawley rats (alkaline phospatase, phospholipid, total protein, albumin and albumin/globulin ratio) with marked elevation in absolute and relative liver weight.[21] A subacute toxicity assessment on Wistar rats (4 weeks, 20 doses) did not show any toxicity.[22] Norbixin did not show any hepatocarcinogenic activity nor modify DEN-induced DNA damage and preneoplastic foci in Wistar rat liver.[23]

Clinical Data

Clinical Trials

A double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study of B. orellana patients with lower urinary tract symptoms associated to benign prostatic hyperplasia was done. The study did not show any difference in the effects between those receiving B.orellana and placebo.[29]

Adverse Effects in Human:

Urticaria and angio-oedema are possible adverse reaction to annatto dye. A patient developed these symptoms and hypotension within 20 min of ingestion of annatto containing fibres.[1]

Used in Certain Conditions

Pregnancy / Breastfeeding

No documentation

Age Limitations

Neonates / Adolescents

No documentation


No documentation

Chronic Disease Conditions

No documentation


Interactions with drugs

No documentation

Interactions with Other Herbs / Herbal Constituents

No documentation



Trans-bixin was found in the red powdery extract from the seeds of B. orellana in oil suspension used as a folk remedy (bush tea) in the West Indies for diabetes mellitus. It was found that trans-bixin caused hyperglycaemia in anaesthesized mongrel dogs. The electron microscopy of the tissues showed damage to mitochondria and endoplasmic reticulum mainly in the liver and pancreas. However, the researchers found that dogs fed with diet fortified with riboflavin were spared of this effect. Diabetics should be wary of the use of annotto dyed food especially those who are undernourished.[1][8] A safe level of 0.1% was noted in rats where at 0.3 % and 0.9 % induced hyperglycaemia.[20]

Case Reports

It was reported in Wilford Hall USAF Medical Center in Texas USA, that a patient developed urticharia, angioedema and severe hypertension within 20 minutes following ingestion of milk and Fiber One cereal, which contained annotto (B.orellana) dye. Skin tests done for this patient demonstrated strong positive to annotto dye. The non-dialyzable fractions of the dye contained two protein staining bands in the range of 50 kD of which the patient was found to be sensitive to one. Annotto dye may be contaminated with residual seed protein causing the IgE hypersensitivity in this patient. Annotto dye is a potential rare cause of anaphylaxis.[1][7]

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  1) Botanical Info


  1. Koh HL, Kian CT, Tan CH. A Guide to Medicinal Plants: An Illustrated, Scientific and Medical Approach. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing.Co.;2009. p. 30-31
  2. Alberto Et Al. Handbook of Trees Red Book Store, Inc. Quezon City; 2004. p.26.
  3. Peter Henalt. Manfeld’s Encyclopedia of Agricultural and Horticultural Crops. Springer-Verlag Berlin; 2001. p. 1399.
  4. Rosita Arvigo, Michael J. Ballick Rainforest Remedies: One Hundred Healing Herbs of Belize. Lotus Press Twin Lakes; 1998. p. 40.
  5. Ira Loren Wiggins, Duncan M. Porter, Edward F. Anderson Flora of the Galapagos Islands Stanford University Press; 1971. p. 524.
  6. Bressani R, Porta-España de Barneón F, Braham JE, Elías LG, Gómez-Brenes R. [Chemical composition, amino acid content and nutritive value of the protein of the annatto seed (Bixa orellana, L.)]. Arch Latinoam Nutr. 1983 Jun; 33(2): 356-76.
  7. Nish WA, Whisman BA, Goetz DW, Ramirez DA. Anaphylaxis to annatto dye: a case report. Ann Allergy. 1991 Feb; 66(2):129-31.
  8. Morrison EY, Thompson H, Pascoe K, West M, Fletcher C. Extraction of an hyperglycaemic principle from the annatto (Bixa orellana), a medicinal plant in the West Indies. Trop Geogr Med. 1991 Jan-Apr; 43(1-2):184-8.
  9. Terashima S, Shimizu M, Horie S, Morita N. Studies on aldose reductase inhibitors from natural products. IV. Constituents and aldose reductase inhibitory effect of Chrysanthemum morifolium, Bixa orellana and Ipomoea batatas. Chem Pharm Bull (Tokyo). 1991 Dec; 39(12): 3346-7.
  10. Caceres A, Menendez H, Mendez E, Cohobon E, Samayoa BE, Jauregui E, Peralta E, Carrillo G. Antigonorrhoeal activity of plants used in Guatemala for the treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. J Ethnopharmacol. 1995 Oct; 48(2):85-8.
  11. Fleischer TC, Ameade EP, Mensah ML, Sawer IK. Antimicrobial activity of the leaves and seeds of Bixa orellana. Fitoterapia. 2003 Feb; 74(1-2): 136-8.
  12. Castello MC, Phatak A, Chandra N, Sharon M. Antimicrobial activity of crude extracts from plant parts and corresponding calli of Bixa orellana L. Indian J Exp Biol. 2002 Dec; 40(12): 1378-81.
  13. Raga DD, Espiritu RA, Shen CC, Ragasa CY. A bioactive sesquiterpene from Bixa orellana. J Nat Med. 2011 Jan; 65(1):206-11.
  14. Rojas JJ, Ochoa VJ, Ocampo SA, Muñoz JF. Screening for antimicrobial activity of ten medicinal plants used in Colombian folkloric medicine: a possible alternative in the treatment of non-nosocomial infections. BMC Complement Altern Med. 2006 Feb 17; 6: 2.
  15. Shilpi JA, Taufiq-Ur-Rahman M, Uddin SJ, Alam MS, Sadhu SK, Seidel V. Preliminary pharmacological screening of Bixa orellana L. leaves. J Ethnopharmacol. 2006 Nov 24; 108(2): 264-71.
  16. Galindo-Cuspinera V, Rankin SA. Bioautography and chemical characterization of antimicrobial compound(s) in commercial water-soluble annatto extracts. J Agric Food Chem. 2005 Apr 6; 53(7):2524-9.
  17. Paumgartten FJ, De-Carvalho RR, Araujo IB, Pinto FM, Borges OO, Souza CA, Kuriyama SN. Evaluation of the developmental toxicity of annatto in the rat. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002 Nov; 40(11): 1595-601.
  18. Alves de Lima RO, Azevedo L, Ribeiro LR, Salvadori DM. Study on the mutagenicity and antimutagenicity of a natural food colour (annatto) in mouse bone marrow cells. Food Chem Toxicol. 2003 Feb; 41(2):189-92.
  19. Kovary K, Louvain TS, Costa e Silva MC, Albano F, Pires BB, Laranja GA, Lage CL, Felzenszwalb I. Biochemical behaviour of norbixin during in vitro DNA damage induced by reactive oxygen species. Br J Nutr. 2001 Apr; 85(4):431-40.
  20. Fernandes AC, Almeida CA, Albano F, Laranja GA, Felzenszwalb I, Lage CL, de Sa CC, Moura AS, Kovary K. Norbixin ingestion did not induce any detectable DNA breakage in liver and kidney but caused a considerable impairment in plasma glucose levels of rats and mice. J Nutr Biochem. 2002 Jul; 13(7): 411-420.
  21. Hagiwara A, Imai N, Ichihara T, Sano M, Tamano S, Aoki H, Yasuhara K, Koda T,Nakamura M, Shirai T. A thirteen-week oral toxicity study of annatto extract (norbixin), a natural food color extracted from the seed coat of annatto (Bixa orellana L.), in Sprague-Dawley rats. Food Chem Toxicol. 2003 Aug; 41(8):1157-64.
  22. Bautista AR, Moreira EL, Batista MS, Miranda MS, Gomes IC. Subacute toxicity assessment of annatto in rat. Food Chem Toxicol. 2004 Apr; 42(4): 625-9.
  23. Agner AR, Barbisan LF, Scolastici C, Salvadori DM. Absence of carcinogenic and anticarcinogenic effects of annatto in the rat liver medium-term assay. Food Chem Toxicol. 2004 Oct; 42(10): 1687-93.
  24. Oboh G, Akomolafe TL, Adefegha SA, Adetuyi AO. Inhibition of cyclophosphamide-induced oxidative stress in rat brain by polar and non-polar extracts of Annatto (Bixa orellana) seeds. Exp Toxicol Pathol. 2011 Mar; 63(3): 257-62.
  25. Yoke Keong Y, Arifah AK, Sukardi S, Roslida AH, Somchit MN, Zuraini A. Bixa orellana leaves extract inhibits bradykinin-induced inflammation through suppression of nitric oxide production. Med Princ Pract. 2011; 20(2):142-6.
  26. Ponnusamy S, Ravindran R, Zinjarde S, Bhargava S, Ravi Kumar A. Evaluation of traditional Indian antidiabetic medicinal plants for human pancreatic amylase inhibitory effect in vitro. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2011;2011.
  27. Russell KR, Morrison EY, Ragoobirsingh D. The effect of annatto on insulin binding properties in the dog. Phytother Res. 2005 May; 19(5):433-6.
  28. Russell KR, Omoruyi FO, Pascoe KO, Morrison EY. Hypoglycaemic activity of Bixa orellana extract in the dog. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2008 May; 30(4):301-5.
  29. Zegarra L, Vaisberg A, Loza C, Aguirre RL, Campos M, Fernandez I, Talla O, Villegas L. Double-blind randomized placebo-controlled study of Bixa orellana in patients with lower urinary tract symptoms associated to benign prostatic hyperplasia. Int Braz J Urol. 2007 Jul-Aug; 33(4):493-500.
  30. Otero R, Nunez V, Jimenez SL, Fonnegra R, Osorio RG, Garcia ME, Diaz A. Snakebites and ethnobotany in the northwest region of Colombia: Part II: neutralization of lethal and enzymatic effects of Bothrops atrox venom. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Aug; 71(3): 505-11.
  31. Otero R, Nunez V, Barona J, Fonnegra R, Jimenez SL, Osorio RG, Saldarriaga M, Diaz A. Snakebites and ethnobotany in the northwest region of Colombia. Part III: neutralization of the haemorrhagic effect of Bothrops atrox venom. J Ethnopharmacol. 2000 Nov; 73(1-2): 233-41.
  32. Nunez V, Otero R, Barona J, Saldarriaga M, Osorio RG, Fonnegra R, Jimenez SL,Diaz A, Quintana JC. Neutralization of the edema-forming, defibrinating and coagulant effects of Bothrops asper venom by extracts of plants used by healers in Colombia. Braz J Med Biol Res. 2004 Jul; 37(7): 969-77.

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