San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Achiote: Not Used Only as Colorant

ACHIOTE(Bixa orellana), ofthe Bixaceae family,is also knownas annato, bija,onoto and urucú.Distribution: Anative plant foundin the warmerregions of thetropical Americas,achiote has beenused for centuriesby indigenous peopleas a colorant,condiment and medicine. Today, it is cultivatedhere as a popular food colorant forrice and vegetables.Botanical Description: A handsomebush that reaches 5 meters (15 feet) inheight and has ovate, heart-like leavesand pink flowers.The unusual seed capsules are coveredwith soft, red spines and contain numerousseeds with a bright reddish-orangeresin.Medicinal Uses: Although achiote iswell known as a dye and food colorant, itis also used medicinally.The leaves are reported to be useful ina tea for the treatment of dandruff andhair loss. The seeds and roots have beenused as a treatment for fevers and dysentery,and also as an aphrodisiac. Theleaves are also used for headaches.Preparation: The bright reddish-orangeresin on the seeds can be preparedby cooking the seeds in hot water to separatethe resin from the seeds. Strain theseeds and boil the solution until itbecomes a paste. This paste can be usedas a food colorant or dye for material. Itis also high in beta-carotene.The leaves are boiled in water to makea tea for use as a hair rinse to combatdandruff and hair loss. The roots can bedug up, washed and chopped into smallpieces, which are boiled in water to makea tea for fevers and diarrhea. It is alsosaid to have a tonic effect on the kidneysand sex glands.Notes: The seeds are easily germinatedin pots or plastic nursery bags filledwith average, moist soil. These hardyseedlings can be transplanted in severalmonths to permanent sites around thehome to serve as curious ornamentals,which can serve as a fence border and auseful source of dye, food colorant andmedicine.For more information on tropicalmedicinal plants and home gardens, or Wehave books, seeds and classes for you.

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