Description : Annatto, or Achiote, as it is usually called in Latin American countries, is a relatively tropical shrub that can grow up to about 20 meters. The pinkish white flowers develop into bright red heart shaped, exceedingly bristly fruit, which is inedible. When ripe the fruit capsule breaks open and reveals an abundance of seeds embedded in orange-red pulp. The bush produces copious amounts of fruit: a single tree can yield up to 270kg.
Medicinal uses :
Parts used: Seeds, leaves, bark, roots, shoots
Although commercially only the seed and seed paste are available, in tropical regions where Annatto is grown, other parts of the plant are also used for medicine. In particular the leaves appear to have wide ranging applications. The shoots and young leaves are used for feverish infections including gonorrhoea, dysentery and hepatitis. They are believed to protect the liver and reduce cholesterol. The leaves and seeds are also used to soothe an irritated stomach that is suffering from excessively spicy food. An infusion of the flowers are said to be a useful expectorant for new born babies. In some parts of the Amazon Annatto is used as a treatment for snakebites. Internally it is said to fight parasites and allies the pains derived from intestinal parasites. Externally the extract of the seeds wards off insects and protects the skin against the ultraviolet rays of the sun. It is also used as a general skin tonic and to heal skin conditions.
The leaves have a marked effect on the urinary system and increase the volume of urine in cases of renal insufficiency or cystitis. They are also said to reduce benign prostate hyperplasia and generally reputed to have anti-tumor activity, which are thought to be due to the high anti-oxidant activity of the carotenoid compounds Bixin and Norbixin, which are also the source of the red pigment Annatto is known for. These carotenoides have also been found to lower blood sugar levels and have been used for the treatment of diabetes in traditional medicine systems.
Uses : Seeds yield a red dye that is used in numerous commercial and industrial processes. Historically, indigenous peoples have used the seeds and plant for body paint, and to treat a variety of maladies.