Bixa orellana L.

Last updated: 19 September 2016

Scientific Name

Bixa orellana L.


Bixa acuminata Bojer [Invalid], Bixa americana Poir., Bixa katangensis Delpierre, Bixa odorata Ruiz & Pav. ex G.Don, Bixa orleana Noronha [Spelling variant], Bixa purpurea Sweet, Bixa tinctaria Salisb. [Illegitimate], Bixa upatensis Ram.Goyena, Orellana americana (Poir.) Kuntze, Orellana orellana (L.) Kuntze [Invalid]. [1]

Vernacular Name

Malaysia Jarak belanda, kesumba, kunyit jawa [2], kesumba keeling [3]
English Annatto (anatto, arnatto) tree, lipstick tree [2][4], annatto-tree, arnotta plant [5], yellow dye [3]
China Hong mu [3]
India Induriya, latkan (Hindi); kappuimankala, kuppamanal, uragumanal [5], aarnatu, akvel, amudadaram, bangarakayi, camankalikam, chayalitha, gulbas, irakumancal, jaapharaa chettu, japrero, karachhada, kesui, konkari, latkan dana, manjitti, rangamalar, rwang-sen, sannajapali, sindure, thidin, turumam, uragumanjal, varagumanjal, vatkana, virpusha, et al. [3]
Indonesia Kesumba (General); galuga (Sundanese) [2]
Thailand Kam tai, kam sêt [2]
Laos Kh'am, satii, sômz phuu [2]
Philippines Echuete (Tagalog); sotis (Bisaya); achuete (Ilokano) [2]; annatto, atsuete, achoto, asuti, achuete, asuite [6]
Cambodia Châm'-puu, châm'-puu chrâluëk' [2]
Vietnam Diêù nhuôm [2]
Papua New Guinea Pop, tar [3]
Nigeria Osun elede, úfíé, uhia nkum, úhíé, úhíé aro, úhíé nkū, ula, ula machuku [3]
Togo Berniticu, kirane [3]
France Rocouyer, annatto [2], rocouyier [5]
Hawaii ‘alaea, ‘alaea la’au, kumauna [3]
Germany Orlean-Strauch [5]
Spain Achiote [7]
Mexico Kiwi [5]
Tropical America Achiote, bixa, urucu, anatto [5]
Caribbean Buja, biche [5]
Polynesia Loa [5].

Geographical Distributions

Bixa orellana is native to Central America and tropical South America. It is widely planted and naturalised in the tropical regions of the world, including Southeast Asia. [2]

Botanical Description

B. orellana is a member of the Bixaceae family. It is an evergreen shrub or small tree which can grow up to 2-6(-8) m tall. [2]

The trunk measures up to 10 cm in diametre. The bark is light to dark brown, tough and smooth, sometimes fissured and lenticellate. The inner bark is filled with orange sap. The branches are greenish and densely rusty-scaly when young but become dark brown later. They are ringed at the nodes. [2]

The leaves are arranged spirally, simple, herbaceous, stipulate, ovate, measuring 7.5-24 cm x 4-16 cm, shallowly cordate to truncate at the base, long-acuminate at apex, dark green above, greyish or brownish-green beneath, and scaly when young but nearly hairless. The first leaves are cordate. The petiole is 4.5-1 cm long, cylindrical and thickened at both ends. [2]

The flowers are borne in terminal, 8-50-flowered panicles, fragrant and measure 4-6 cm across. The pedicel is scaly, and thickened at the apex that bears 5-6 large glands. The 4-5 free sepals are obovate. They are 10-12 cm long and caduceus. There are (4-)5-7 petals which are obovate, measuring 2-3 cm x 1-2 cm, pinkish, whitish or purplish tinged. The stamens are numerous while the anthers are violet. The ovary is superior, unilocular, with style 12-15 mm long and becomes thickened upwards. [2]

The fruit is a spherical, or broadly to elongated ovoid capsule. It measures 2-4 cm x 2-3.5 cm, flattened, 2-valved, more or less densely clothed with long bristles, green, greenish-brown or red when mature and many-seeded. The seeds are 4-5 mm long, obovoid and angular, and with bright orange-red fleshy seed coat. [2]

The seedling is with epigeal germination, with thin, ovate, nervate cotyledons, with a fairly long hypocotyl, and alternate. [2]


B. orellana requires a frost-free, warm, humid climate and a sunny location. It can grow in a wide variety of tropical to subtropical climates and needs little care, though in places where rainfall is not distributed equally throughout the year, irrigation may be necessary. It grows in almost all types of soils, with a preference for neutral and slightly alkaline soils. It grows into a larger tree when planted in deeper and more fertile soil, rich in organic matter. It does well on limestone, where the topsoil is only a few centimetres thick and overlies a coral base. In Indonesia, it is planted up to 2000 m altitude. [2]

Chemical Constituent

B. orellana  has been reported to contain bixin, valencene, ß-elemene, ß-selinene, capaene, δ-cadinene, spathulenol, γ-cadinene, δ-elemene, ledol, α-Muurolene, α-cadinol, Isoscutellarein (aldose reductase inhibitor). [4][8]

B. orellana  seeds has been reported to contain high protein contents (13–17%) and phosphorous but low in calcium. The proteins have adequate amounts of typtophan and lysine, but are low in methionine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine and threonine. [4][9]

Plant Part Used

Leaves, root barks, barks, seeds. [4]

Traditional Use

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 [4]. In Trinidad and Tobago, the leaves and roots are used for hypertension, diabetes and jaundice. The leaves are febrifuge; leaf infusion is used to cure dysentery; leaves are used also as diuretic [6]. Some of the prescriptions of B. orellena are used in Belize for diarrhoea by crushing 3 young leaves in a glass of water and taken in half cup doses. In case of blood vomiting, 3 old leaves are boiled in 3 cups of water for 10 minutes and drunk. Furthermore, a handful of leaves are crushed in water and exposed to the sun all day, strained and the infusion is then used as cold wash for sore, rashes and infected insect bites [7].

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 [4]. 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 [6].

The decoction of barks is used for catarrh. The bark of the root is used to treat fever and as an aperients. In Vietnam, The unripe fruits are used as emollient in leprosy. [4]

Preclinical 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. [8]

Antimicrobial activity

Out of 46 plants investigated for antigonococcal activity, 50% alcohol extract (tincture) of B. orellana bark 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 [13]

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 aureusPseudomonas aeruginosa. This compound also demonstrated antitoxic activity and increase gastrointestinal propulsive movements [14][15]. 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. It was 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 [17]. 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 [18].

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). [19]

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 [20]. 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 [21][22].

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 [23][24]. The ethanol extracts was found to be able to reduce oedema-forming activity, neutralize defibrinating and coagulant effects of the venom [25].


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 500 mg/kg body weight/day or greater by oral route [26]. The dye did not show any mutagenicity nor antimutagenicity [27]. Norbixin (the red dye) was found to be able to protect DNA against oxidative damages [18]. It did not show any hepatotoxicity and nephrotoxicity in rats and mice [28]

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 [29]. A subacute toxicity assessment on Wistar rats (4 weeks, 20 doses) did not show any toxicity [30]. Norbixin did not show any hepatocarcinogenic activity nor modify DEN-induced DNA damage and preneoplastic foci in Wistar rat liver [31].

Clinical Data

Clinical findings

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. [32]


No documentation.

Side effects

No documentation.

Pregnancy/Breast Feeding

No documentation.

Age limitation

No documentation.

Adverse reaction

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. [4]

Interaction & Depletion

Interaction with drug

No documentation.

Interaction with other Herbs

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 [4][33]. A safe level of 0.1% was noted in rats where at 0.3 % and 0.9 % induced hyperglycaemia [28].

Case Report

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. [34]


No documentation.

Poisonous Management

No documentation.

Line drawing



Figure 1: The line drawing of B. orellana [2]


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