Bixa orellana L.

Nota de alcance

DIVERSIDAD GENÉTICA Y MEJORAMIENTO DE PLANTAS MEDICINALES= Medicinal plants and improvement of medicinal herbs

A reliable protocol is described for isolation of large full-length cDNA from Bixa orellana mature tissues containing large quantities of pigments, phenols, and polysaccharides. This protocol involves the optimization of a commercial RNA extraction protocol in combination with a long distance reverse transcript PCR protocol. The principal advantages of this protocol are its high RNA yield and quality. The resulting RNA is suitable for RNA expression evaluation and production of large, full-length cDNA. This is the first time RNA has been isolated from all mature tissues in the tropical perennial plant B. orellana and has been proved viable for downstream applications, especially important for molecular biology studies on this economically important pigment-producing plant.

Nota de alcance

ÚLTIMOS AVANCES EN LA QUÍMICA Y ACTIVIDADES BACTERIOLÓGICAS EN LAS PLANTAS MEDICINALES= Medicinal plants, last advances on chemistry and bacteria activities on the medicinal herbs

 Various traditional systems of medicine enlightened the importance of the leaves of Bixa orellana (Bixaceae) to have a great medicinal value.  The present study was aimed at pharmacognostic and preliminary phytochem. evaluations of B. orellana leaves.  The pharmacognostic investigations were carried out in terms of organoleptic, microscopic and phys. parameters.  The dried leaves were subjected to successive Soxhlet extn. using petroleum ether, chloroform, Et acetate, methanol and water.  These solvent exts. were subjected to a preliminary phytochem. screening to detect the different chem. principles present viz., carbohydrates, proteins, amino acids, steroids, glycosides, alkaloids, tannins and phenolic compds.  The phytochem. evaluation revealed the presence of carbohydrates, steroids, alkaloids, proteins, flavonoids, terpenoids, phenolics, tannins and glycosides.

The objective of this work was to evaluate the effect of hydro alc. plant exts.: Bixa orellana (achiote), Eupatoriunt triplenerve (asmachilca), Physalis peruviana (aguaymanto) and Equisetumn arvense (cola de caballo) on the proliferation of primary cultures of fibroblasts.  We also evaluated the antioxidant capacity, polyphenol and flavonoid contents of the plant exts.  Our results showed that Bixa orellana and Physalis perndviana had the highest antioxidant capacity, Bixa orellana had the highest concns. of polyphenols and flavonoids.  All the plant exts. stimulated differentially the proliferation of fibroblasts, however, Equisetuni arvense had the highest stimulation but the lowest antioxidant activity, polyphenol and flavonoid contents.  On the other hand, Bixa orellana and Physalisperuviana had moderately effect on the proliferation of fibroblasts, and Eupatorium triplenerve had the lowest effect.

As part of a program oriented towards the discovery of bioactive natural products, 44 methanol exts. from 37 Brazilian traditional medicinal plants, most of them commonly used for treating conditions likely to be assocd. with microorganisms, were evaluated for their antibacterial activity and toxicity to brine shrimp.  The agar-well diffusion method was used against Staphylococcus aureus, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, Salmonella typhimurium, Shigella sonnei, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Escherichia coli, and Bacillus cereus.  The active exts. were subjected to serial diln. assay for detn. of the minimal inhibitory concn.  Phytochem. anal. of the exts. for their major groups of phytoconstituents is also reported.  Exts. of Baccharis dracunculifolia, Cajanus cajan, Eugenia uniflora, Solanum palinacanthum and Solanum concinnum presented strong antibacterial activity with MIC values below 10 mg/mL for some bacterial strains.  The exts. of Mikania glomerata and Leonurus sibiricus showed significant toxicity against brine shrimp with LC50 values of 63 and 86 mg/mL, resp.

Nota de alcance (en)


The species is native to tropical South America.

Historical remarks

The colouring matter obtained from the aril of the seeds was formerly used by the Indians, particularly of the Caribbean region, to paint their bodies; this was partly done for adornment and partly for relief from insect nuisance; the ointment also gave protection against strong sunlight. The red   skin of the Indians painted with achiote or anatto led to the erroneous conclusion that a 'red race' existed (SECAB II 1989, P. 270).


The species occurs partly wild and partly cultivated over most of tropical America and prefers high temperatures. It is, however, not pretentious concerning soil and climate, occuring from sea level up to 1200 m above sea level. It is widely planted in tropical regions of the whole world.

Ethnobotanical and general use

Nutritional use
The arillike seed coat is used as a particularly tasty condiment and to give colour to food stuff such as soups and dishes. It is also used as a substitute for saffron. It facilitates digestion when added to dishes. The seed is rich in calories, carbohydrates, fiber, minerals (salts), provitamin A, and 2 pigments, bixina and orellina, which are responsible for the colour. Vitamin A is generated from bixina by oxidation. Chickens are fed with the testa to give the egg yolk a more intense colour.

Medicinal use

The following parts of the plant used as a medicine are stem, leaves, root, flowers, fruits and seeds and the corresponding names of the drugs are: cortex, folia, radix, fructus, and semen. In the 'herbolarios' (herb shops) of Venezuela mostly the twigs with fruits are sold. Bark shredded and macerated in water is applied against jaundice. Leaves have digestive effects and are used as antipyretics. A decoction of the leaves (30 g per liter) for 2 minutes is used as a gargle and has also haemostatic effects on wounds; it is furtermore considered a remedy for diseases of the liver. A decoction of the leaves is also used against diarrhoea and against parasites of the intestine. Fresh leaves placed on the forehead relieve headache and migraine. Fresh leaves applied locally are also said to cure erysipelas. Leaves and twigs shredded and macerated in water supply a slime similar to that of arabic gum and with the same stimulant properties. A decoction of leaves and root is applied against dysentery. Leaves shredded and macerated in a small quantity of water, supply a gummy substance which has purgative, diuretic, antiinflammatory, and antigonorrheal effects. Further healing effects ascribed to the leaves are healing of wounds, curing of diabetes, of heamorrhage and anuria. A decoction of the leaves is applied for loss of hair (alopecia). An infusion of the root has diuretic effects and cures icterus. A tea of the root alleviates cough. A powder of the root has an antispasmodic effect and raises blood pressure. Healing properties ascribed to the root are those of curing hepatitis and jaundice, of reducing debility and sleepiness; and having digestive effects.The flowers which are rich in honey are used in an infusion that has laxative effects, and also to remove the mucus from new-born children. The inner pulp of the fruit is used to cure tonsillitis. A decoction of the fruit is used to cure tonsillitis. A decoction of the fruit is diuretic, when locally applied it cures haemorrhoids. Fried it is usedagainst erythema. A decoction of fruit and leaves has depurative effects. A spoonful of seeds in a cup of boiling water is an expectorant and helps against bronchitis. Seeds are applied against diseases of the skin and for burns. A mixture of seeds and fruit pulp is used for herpes zoster and eczema. An infusion of the seeds is used as a diuretic, against diabetes, against venereal diseases and haemorrhage. Orally the seeds are applied against measles, smallpox and pleurisy. The oil of the seeds taken orally is good for the stomach, has refreshing effects and is purgative; it is also used against leprosy. Seeds taken orally promote the monthly menstruation (emmenagogum). The part of the plant mostly used is the seed coat which is rich in carotenes. It is used as a condiment, a digestive and to cure the stomach. As an antidote it is furthermore used against poisoning with Yuca brava. Put on the skin it causes better cicatrization. A powder of the testa mixed with oil is used as an ointment and cures burns and ulcers. Four grams of the dried testa taken a day are said to have an aphrodisiac effect. The healing substances of the distinct plant parts are mainly located in the secretory cells andcanals which contain resin and slime.

Method of use

Decoctions or infusions are prepared from the root, either in pure water or in aquavit. Entire twigs are used for bath preparations. The grind bark dissolved in water supplies a drink. The boiled leavesare taken as a remedy either orally or as a gargle; Bixaceae 'P fresh leaves are applied locally. Flowers in an infusion, fruits as a decoction and seeds as an infusion are used in the same way as the leaves. Pulverizedand mixed with oil all these parts also serve as an ointment. See also the methods of application described above.

Healing properties

The plant is used as an aphrodisiac (seeds), as a laxative and diuretic, against diseases of the liver, against angina, dysentery, tonsillitis and asthma, as an expectorant, against hedache, to cure burns, ulcers and eczema, against gonorrhoea, smallpox, leprosy, and diabetes; as an antidote against intoxication caused by yuca brava or tua-tua, it is also applied as a haemostat for slight wounds, against haemorrhoids and even against insect bites and as an insect repellent. Toxicity has not been reported. The plant is not carcinogenic and is therefore preferred as a colouring for food.

Chemical contents

Although the plant is well known in the tropics of the whole world, relatively little is known of its contents. The species is rich in carotene, in a red pigment (bixin) and a yellow pigment ( orellina); it also contains slime, tannins, 7 different flavones, mono- and sesquiterpenes, tomentosic acid, oil, gummy substances and saponins (SECAB II, 1989).

Varieties and related species

A black, a variegated and a yellow variety are known in Venezuela. Related species are B. excelsa GLEASON & KRUKOFF, B. platycarpa RUIZ & PAVON, and B. urucurana WILLD. from Ecuador with similar characteristics as B. orellana; this species is stillcollected by the Indians to paint their bodies (BRUCHER 1989, MOLAU 1983). METCALFE & CHALK 1950 suggest affinities of Bixa with Cochlospermaceae and Tiliaceae for anatomical reasons; CRONQUIST 1988 suggests to unite the genera Cochlospermum and Bixa, but there is no concordance at thechemical level.


The plant is easily propagated by seeds and develops rapidly. In only 2 years it already produces fruit, so that about 135-270 kg fruit may be harvested per tree. Propagation by cuttings is also possible. However, the distinct varieties differ in production. No disease or plague is known which affects this plant. The plant is also cultivated as an ornamental tree for its beautiful white or rose-coloured flowers.


The species is easily recognized by its verycharacteristic stem transection. Likewise the fruitswith their red spines and the seeds with the balloon-like cells of the aril are very typical and unmistakable.


Uses: wound healing, prevent boils, weight loss, anemia, cholesterol, expectorant, throat, dengue, liver, bladder infection, infection in the kidneys.                                                 

Origin: Argentina, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Caribbean, China, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, French Guiana, Gabon, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Madagascar, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Suriname, United States, Venezuela.     


Parts Used: roots.                                                                                                     

Uses: tooth extraction.                                                 

Origin: Barzil.         


Whole plant: In mixture applied to feet to prevent chigoes (Pulex penetrans).

Stem: Young shoots applied locally on abscesses. Sap from bark and crushed leaves for skin rashes; bark decoction for malaria; angina, asthma.

Leaf: Sap from petiole used, in hot water with rum, to remove secretions from encrusted eyelids as a treatment for blepharitis; antiemetic. Decoction for dysentery, and as a wash for fevers. Infusion used by Surinam Wayana as a wash for muscular aches and fevers; for children's fevers and vomiting; detersive; manioc poison antidote.

Seed: Shell, pulp and juice are vermifuge and insecticidal; red coloring matter used for mosquito repellent. Employed for asthma and nasal cavity problems.

Fruit: Fruit isused to rub the skin to prevent sores, probably from sunburn, by the Guyana Patamona.


Origin: Originate from tropical America. Cultivated Pantropically.

Pharmacological Activities: Antibacterial. Anticancer, Anticonvulsant, Antidiarrhoeal, ... more on the book

Nota de alcance

PARTE UTILIZADA= Used part: Semillas, hojas.

ACCIÓN FARMACOLÓGICA= Pharmacological action: Pectoral, estimulante, diurético, en enfermedades cardíacas, presión de vientre y hemorragias, dolores estomacales, afrodisíaco, laxante, en quemaduras, febrífugo y antiasmático, antidisentérico, antipirético, para la diabetes.

POSOLOGÍA= Posology: Infusión : 10-15 g de semillas en un litro de agua. 1-3 tazas diarias. La infusión también puede aplicarse en uso tópico. Polvo de las semillas : hasta 1 g/día. El extracto oleoso como fitocosmético (bronceador o protector solar)

COMPOSICIÓN QUÍMICA= Chemical composition: Se ha registrado la presencia de carotenoides: bixina, metilbixina, nor-bixina, trans-bixina, beta-caroteno, criptoxantina, luteína y zeaxantina; flavonoides: apigenina-7-bisulfato, cosmosina, hipoaletina-8-bisulfato, luteolin-7-bisulfato y luteolin-7-0-beta-D-glucósido e isoscutelareína; diterpenos: farnesilacetona, geranil geraniol, geranil geranil formato, geranil geranil octadeconoato; y un benzenoide: ácido gálico.  

ZONA GEOGRÁFICA= Geografical zone: Brasil, Honduras y Panama


Distribución geográfica - Ecología Originaria de Centroamérica, se distribuye geográficamente desde México hasta el Brasil y norte de Argentina (Salta, Formosa y Corrientes), creciendo por lo general en zonas cálidas

Parte utilizada: Semillas (principalmente arilo y pulpa), raíz y hojas. Los pigmentos de las semillas de achiote tienen poca estabilidad a la luz y las altas temperaturas, por lo que deben ser mantenidos en ambiente fresco y aireado, al abrigo de la luz solar y con preferencia en frascos color ámbar.

Farmacodinamia - Acciones farmacológicas:
Actividad antimicrobiana, Actividad antimalárica, Actividad hipoglucemiante, Acción antiinflamatoria y analgésica, Actividad antioxidante.
Toxicidad: Se desconocen. Ante la falta de datos que aseguren la inocuidad de E. crassipes durante el embarazo y lactancia, se desaconseja su empleo en dichas circunstancias.


Originario de la cuenca Amazónica, no se encuentra silvestre, pero se cultiva desde México hasta Bolivia en alturas de 1,000 ms.n.m., como vegetación secundaria del bosque tropical perennifolio (BRÜCHER, 1989), común en matorrales secos y húmedos de las tierras bajas, cultivado en forma extensiva en las planicies del Pacífico (STANDLEY & WILLIAMS, 1961).  En Panamá se encuentra en todas las provincias (CORREA, et al, 2004).

Usos etnomédicos y modo de empleo:
En Centro América y el Caribe, la decocción de semillas se usa para combatir debilidad, diabetes (MORRISON & WEST, 1985), afecciones gastrointestinales (cólico, diarrea, estreñimiento, gastritis, inapetencia, indigestión), respiratorias (asma, amigdalitis, cefalea, gripe) y hepáticas (WILLIAMS, 1981; MORTON, 1981; GERMOSÉN-ROBINEAU, 1995). Tópicamente se usa para evitar cicatrices, desinflamar hemorroides, aliviar erupciones de la piel, alergias, quemaduras e infecciones dérmicas (erisipela, sarampión, tinea (MELLEN, 1974; CÁCERES, 1996). El aceite de semillas se usa con cierto éxito contra la lepra (MARTÍNEZ, 1959). La decocción de hojas se usa por vía oral contra disentería, fiebre y gonorrea; tópicamente se aplica en baños contra quemaduras y otras afecciones dérmicas. La decocción de la raíz se usa para tratar ictericia, oliguria, diabetes, gonorrea (GEILFUS, 1989; GIRÓN , et al, 1991) y aliviar los dolores de parto (BARRETT, 1994).  En Brasil se emplea como pectoral, estimulante y diurético, en las enfermedades cardíacas, presión de vientre y hemorragias, dolores estomacales, afrodisíaco, laxante, en quemaduras, febrífugo, en tratamiento de la malaria y antiasmático. En Perú la fruta y la huya son consideradas como antidisentéricas, antipiréticas, afrodisíacas, astringentes y diuréticas (RAMÍREZ , et al, 1988). A las semillas se les atribuyen propiedades desinflamante, diurética, emética, emenagoga, purgante y vulneraria (ORELLANA, 1987; CÁCERES, 1996); a las hojas se les atribuye propiedad antibiótica, emenagoga y hepatoprotectora (MORTON, 1981; GERMOSEN ROBINEAU, 1995); a la raíz se le atribuye propiedad antidisentérica y antidiabética (GERMOSEN-ROBINEAU, 1995).

Cultivado. Amazonas, Cuzco, Huánuco, Junín, Loreto, Madre de Dios, San Martín, Ucayali.

Hojas Infecciones de la piel: dejar de 9 a 12 hojas en un litro de agua durante una noche y aplicar después sobre la lesión.

Antiséptico vaginal y cicatrizante: poner de 9 a 12 hojas restregadas durante una noche en un litro de agua. El líquido se aplica en lavados vaginales.

Hepatitis: tomar la decocción de las yemas foliares. .

Vómitos: en infusión, poner tres hojas por cada taza, tomar una taza tres veces al día.

Nota bibliográfica

1) 270 (doscientos setenta) plantas medicinales iberoamericanas. Santiago de Bogotá : CYTED-SECAB, 1995, p.198-200.

2) RODRIGUEZ-AVILA, N.L., et al. Full-Length gene enrichment by using an optimized RNA isolation protocol in Bixa orellana recalcitrant tissues. Molecular biotechnology . 2009, vol.42, nº1, p.84-90.
3) RADHIKA, B.; BEGUM, N.; SRISAILAM, K. Pharmacognostic and preliminary phytochemical evaluation of the leaves of Bixa orellana. Pharmacognosy Journal . 2010, vol., nº2, p.132-136.
4) GUTIERREZ, Javier Enciso, et al. Antioxidant activity of hydroalcoholic extract of medicinal plants and stimulation of fibroblast proliferation.  Revista de la Sociedad Química del Perú . 2010, vol.76, nº1, p.73-79.
5) BOUZADA, Maria L, et al. Antibacterial, cytotoxic and phytochemical screening of some traditional medicinal plants in Brazil. Pharmaceutical Biology (London, United Kingdom). 2009, vol.47, nº1, p.44-52.

6) ALONSO, Jorge ; DESMARCHELIER, Cristian. Plantas medicinales autóctonas de la Argentina : bases científicas para su aplicación en atención primaria de la salud.  Buenos Aires: L.O.L.A, 2005, p. 12.

7) ALONSO, Jorge R. Tratado de fitomedicina : bases clínicas y farmacológicas. Buenos Aires : ISIS, 1998, p. 154.

8) South American medicinal plants : botany, remedial properties, and general use / I. Roth, H. Lindorf. Berlin ; New York : Springer, c2002. -- p. 492.

9) Geraldini , Isanete, Journal of Ethnopharmacology v. 173, 2015 . -- p. 383-423

10) Bueno, Regina Norlene, et al., Acta bot. bras. vol. 19, no. 1, 2005. p.-- 39-44.

11) Robertt, A., et al.. Medicinal Plants of the Guianas (Guyana, Suriname, French Guyana)/Smithsonian NMNH. cited online: 17-08-2017.

12) A guide to medicinal plants / Hwee Ling, Koh; Tung Kian, Chua; Chay Hoon, Tan. Singapore:  World vScientific Public Co. Pte. Ltd., 2009. p 289 p.

13) Plantas medicinales autóctonas de la Argentina. Bases científicas para su aplicación en atención primaria de la salud / Jorge Alonso y Cristian Jorge Desmarchelier. - 1a ed. - Ciudad Autónoma de Buenos Aires: Corpus Libros Médicos y Científicos, 2015.

14) Gupta, Mahabir P.; Santana, Ana Isabel; Espinosa, Alex/ Plantas medicinales de Panamá. sd: sd. - p. sd.

15) Mejía, Kember; Rengifo, Eisa /Plantas medicinales de uso popular en la Amazonía Peruana.-- Lima : Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional, 2000. -- p. 286

Bixa orellana L.
Término aceptado: 05-Sep-2007