Bixa orellana

scientific name: 
Bixa orellana L.
Bixa odorata Ruiz & Par. ex G. Don
Botanical family: 

Botanical description

Shrub or small tree, up to 9 m in height, with many branches.  Leaves alternate, ovate, 8 to 20 cm in length, cordate at the base, entire.  Inflorescence in terminal panicles; flowers 4 to 5.3 cm wide; pink or white petals, obovate to broadly oval.  Capsule (fruit), ovoid to globosely-ovoid, 3 to 4 cm in length, usually with soft thorns.  Seed with red aril.




seed, crushed, topical application1

seed, crushed, deep-fried in oil (coconut or other), topical application1-2

The dried seed of Bixa orellana is widely used as a spice.

TRAMIL Research22

For burns:

Deep-fry 10 grams of crushed seeds in 40 mL of vegetal oil and allow cooling.

Wash injury with boiled water and soap.  Apply in sufficient quantity to affected area.  Cover injury with a dressing or clean cloth.  Replace every 12 hours.

According to published and other information:

Use for burns is classified as REC, based on significant traditional use documented by TRAMIL surveys and available published scientific information.

Traditional use should be limited to non-extensive (covering less than 10% of body surface) superficial burns only (epidermal injury), located away from high-risk areas such as face, hands, feet and genitals.  Preparation should only be used for topical application.

For topical application, strict hygiene measures should be observed in order to avoid contamination or additional infection.

The seed oil taken orally can cause hypersensitivity reactions.

TRAMIL Research11

Intra peritoneal administration of the freeze dried aqueous extract from the raw seed at a dose of 500 and 1000 mg/kg (weight of dry extract to female rat, typically 160-180 g) caused a decrease in motor activity, an increase of diuresis and signs of diarrhea, as per the Hippocratic sieve model.

TRAMIL Research26 (will be translatedin 3rd Edition)

La semilla (decocción), vía oral (5000 mg/kg/día) a 10 ratones Hsd: ICR (CD-1) de 25.30 ± 1.66 g (5 machos y 5 hembras) durante 5 días con 12 días adicionales de observación, no provocó mortalidad, según el protocolo EPA.OPPTS 870.1100. El control se realizó con agua (0.4 mL/20g de ratón) a otros 10 ratones de la misma cepa y características. Durante el ensayo ni en el periodo de observación posterior, se presentó mortalidad, ni se evidenció ningún signo de toxicidad (Test Polidimensional de Irwing). No se observaron cambios en los pesos corporales más que los normales en la curva de crecimiento. La autopsia macroscópica no evidenció alteraciones en los órganos.

Se hizo una medición de hematocrito antes de la administración y después de la última se observo una disminución que después del periodo de observación desapareció. 

TRAMIL Research12

The aqueous and ethanolic extracts (80%) from the seed in the tumor growth model (Molt-4) of human lymphoma and L929 human fibroblasts (adherent cells) caused slight cell toxicity and low toxicity on fibroblasts (local toxicity).

TRAMIL Research16

The LD50 of the seed administered orally to mouse was 1092 ± 202 mg/kg.

TRAMIL Research20

The lyophilized aqueous extract and lyophilized infusion of petioles in topical application (0.5%) to rabbit (0.5 mL x 5 cm2) for 72 hours did not induce evident changes in skin. A volume of 0.1 mL of the extract was instilled in the eye (0.5%), with no evident changes in the conjunctiva; initial tear production was observed.

TRAMIL Research23 (will be translatedin 3rd Edition)

La hoja fresca (liofilizado), vía tópica (100 µL) en el saco conjuntival del ojo derecho en el modelo de irritación ocular, observada por 72 horas, no provocó ninguna alteración ni irritación durante el periodo de observación.

The chloroform-methanolic extract (2:1) from the seed (100 mg/plate) was inactive as mutagenic in the models of: Salmonella thyphimurium (TA98 and TA100) with or without metabolic activation, pig kidney cells (LLC-PK-1), and trophoblastic placenta cells18.

The LD50 of the root by intraperitoneal administration to male mouse was 700 mg/kg19.

The dried seed extract administered orally (25 mL/person) proved to be allergenic in adult, with signs of chronic rash and angioneurotic edema20.

Massive administration of the seed caused pancreatoxicity, hepatotoxicity with hyperglycemia and signs of increased insulin level in dog; toxicity diminished following administration of riboflavin 21.

There is no available information documenting the safety of medicinal use in children or in pregnant or lactating women.

TRAMIL Research3

The chemical analysis was performed on the seed.  The vitamin C content was determined by titration with iodine; protein content by Kjeldahl method; total sugars, through colorimetry, and the iron content, by atomic absorption.  Results were as follows:

vitamin C: 0.05%

protein: 6.61%

total sugars: 10.24%

iron: 0.08%

The seed has been extensively studied.  It contains, among other components, carotenoids:b-carotene4, bixin5, methyl bixin6, norbixin7 and other derivatives8; diterpen: geranyl-geraniol derivatives, farnesyl-acetone, tocotrienol9.

Proximate analysis of 100 g of seed10: water: 0%; proteins: 13.1%; fats: 5%; ash: 5.4.

TRAMIL Research11

The aqueous raw extract from the seed was prepared by triple maceration in 2% acetic acid with constant shaking, filtered and lyophilized.

In vitroanti-inflammatory activity of the extract was demonstrated by 38% inhibition of prostaglandin synthetase at a concentration of 0.1 mg/mL. In the collagen-induced thrombocyte aggregation model, the extract inhibited the response by 24% at a concentration of 0.88 mg/mL.

In the isolated guinea pig ileum model, the extract inhibited histamine-simulated motility (0.102 µg/mL) by 17% at a concentration of 0.2 mg/mL, and inhibited electrically-stimulated motility by 46% at a concentration of 2 mg/mL.

In the carrageenan-induced pawedema model, 1 g/kg bw reduced the inflammatory response by 22%.

TRAMIL Research12

The effects of the aqueous and ethanolic extracts (80%) from the seed were assessed by tumor growth models (Molt-4) of human lymphoma, Swiss mouse (immunomodulator) splenocytes and murine macrophages (phagocytosis).  The findings were: a slight stimulation of the proliferation of splenocytes induced by the aqueous extract, and a significant immune-stimulating and dose-dependent effect induced by the ethanolic extract.

The ethanolic extracts from the fruit and leaf showed antibacterial activity in vitro against Staphylococcus aureus and Escherichia coli13.

The aqueous and ethanolic extract from the seed (200 mg/mL) in Molt-4 lymphoid cell cultures significantly reduced proliferation after incubation for 72 hours.  Bixin (100 mg/mL) showed significant cytostatic activity in the same model14.

The chloroformic (1 g/kg) and aqueous (200 mL/animal equivalent to 20 g of vegetal material) extracts of the dry seed administered orally to dog induced non-insulin-dependent hypoglycemic activity14.

The alcoholic extract (2 g/mL) administered orally to dog caused slight hyperglycemia15.


1 GERMOSEN-ROBINEAU L, GERONIMO M, AMPARO C, 1984 Encuesta TRAMIL. enda-caribe, Santo Domingo, Rep. Dominicana.

2 WENIGER B, 1987-88 Encuesta TRAMIL. enda-caribe, Santo Domingo, Rep. Dominicana.

3GUPTA M, ESPOSITO AVELLA M, 1988 Evaluación química y farmacológica de algunas plantas medicinales de TRAMIL. CIFLORPAN, Universidad de Panamá, Ciudad de Panamá, Panamá.

4 ANGELUCCI E, ARIMA HK, KUMAGAI EA, 1980 Annatto. 1. Preliminary data of the chemical composition. Col Inst Technol Aliments 11:89-96.

5 TIRIMANA A, 1981 Study of the carotenoid pigments of Bixa orellana L. seeds by T.L.C. Mikrochim Acta 2:11-16.

6 MERCADANTE AZ, STECK A, PFANDER H, 1997 Isolation and structure elucidation of minor carotenoids from annatto (Bixa orellana L.) seeds. Phytochemistry 46(8):1379-1383.

7 CRAVEIRO AA, OLIVERIRA CLA, A-RAUJO FWL, 1989 The presence of geranil-geraniol in Bixa orellana Linn. Quim Nova 12(3):297-298.

8 MERCADANTE A, STECK A, PFANDER H, 1999 Three minor carotenoids from annatto (Bixa orellana) seeds. Phytochemistry 52(1):135-139.

9 JONDIKO IJO, PATTENDEN G, 1989 Terpenoids and an apocarotenoid from seeds of Bixa orellana. Phytochemistry 28(11):3159-3162.

10 DUKE JA, ATCHLEY AA, 1986 Handbook of proximate analysis tables of higher plants. Boca Raton, USA: CRC Press. p27.

11 SERRANO G, SANDBERG F, 1988 Actividad antiinflamatoria de Bixa orellana: informe preliminar. Universidad de Uppsala, Uppsala, Suecia.

12 WENIGER B, 1992 Etude sur Bixa orellana. Faculté de Pharmacie, Université de Strasbourg, Illkirch, France.

13 GEORGE M, PETALAI KM, 1949 Investigations on plant antibiotics. Part IV. Further search for antibiotic substances in Indian medicinal plants. Indian J Med Res 37:169-181.

14 WENIGER B, JIANG Y, OULAD-ALI A, ITALIANO L, BECK JP, ANTON R, 1993 Biological effects of bixin and Bixa orellana extracts on lymphoid cells in culture. Planta Med Suppl 59(7):A680.

15 MORRISON E, WEST M, 1982 A preliminary study of the effects of some West Indian medicinal plants on blood sugar levels in the dog. West Indian Med J 31(2):194-197.

16GARCIA D, SAENZ T, 1995 Toxicidad aguda de algunas plantas TRAMIL. Informe TRAMIL. Farmacognosia, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad de Sevilla, Sevilla, España.

17Solis PN, Olmedo D, Buitrago de Tello RE, Gupta MP, 2000 Estudio fitoquímico y toxicológicode algunas plantas TRAMIL. Informe TRAMIL. Centro de Investigaciones Farmacognósticas de la Flora Panameña CIFLORPAN, Facultad de Farmacia, Universidad de Panamá, Panamá, Panamá.

18 ROCKWELL P, RAW I, 1979 A mutagenic screening of various herbs, spices and food additives. Nutr Cancer 1:10-15.

19 DUNHAM N, ALLARD K, 1959 A preliminary pharmacological investigation of the roots of Bixa orellana. J Am Pharm Assoc Sci Ed 49(4):218-219.

20 MIKKELSEN H, LARSEN JC, TARDING F, 1978 Hypersensitivity reactions to food colours with special reference to the natural colour annatto extract (butter colour). Arch Toxicol Suppl 1:141-143.

21 MORRISON EY, SMITH RS, 1987 Toxicity of the hyperglycemic inducing extract of Bixa orellana in dog. West Indian Med J 36(2):99-103.

22CARBALLO A, 1995 Plantas medicinales del Escambray cubano. Apuntes científicos. Laboratorio provincial de producción de medicamentos, Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.

23 MARTINEZ MJ, BETANCOURT J, LOPEZ M, MOREJON Z, FUENTES V, MORON F, 2005  Irritabilidad dérmicade semilla seca de Bixa orellana. Informe TRAMIL. Laboratorio Central de Farmacología, Facultad de Ciencias Médicas “Dr. Salvador Allende”, La Habana, Cuba.

24 MARTINEZ MJ, BETANCOURT J, LOPEZ M, MOREJON Z, FUENTES V, MORON F, 2005 Clases Tóxicas Agudas por vía tópicade semilla seca de Bixa orellana. Informe TRAMIL. Laboratorio Central de Farmacología, Facultad de Ciencias Médicas “Dr. Salvador Allende”, La Habana, Cuba.

25 PAZOS L, COTO T, CAIZA F, 2008 Irritación ocular, en conejos, del jugo de hojas de Bixa orellana. Informe TRAMIL. Laboratorio de Ensayos Biológicos, LEBi, Universidad de Costa Rica, San Pedro, Costa Rica.

26 PAZOS L, COTO T, CAIZA F, 2008 Toxicidad oral aguda, dosis repetida, en ratón, semillas de Bixa orellana. Informe TRAMIL. Laboratorio de Ensayos Biológicos, LEBi, Universidad de Costa Rica, San Pedro, Costa Rica.


The information provided is for educational purposes only for the benefit of the general public and health professionals. It is not intended to take the place of either the written law or regulations. Since some parts of plants could be toxic, might induce side effects, or might have interactions with certain drugs, anyone intending to use them or their products must first consult with a physician or another qualified health care professional. TRAMIL has no responsibility whatsoever towards the user for any decision, action or omission made in relation to the information contained in this Pharmacopoeia.