Lipstick tree (Bixa orellana)
is a shrub native to a region between northern South America and Mexico. Bixa orellana
is grown in many countries worldwide.
The tree is best known as the source of annatto, a natural orange-red condiment (also called achiote or bijol) obtained from the waxy arils that cover its seeds. The ground seeds are widely used in traditional dishes in Central and South America, Mexico and the Carribbean, such as cochinita pibil, chicken in achiote
and caldo de olla
. Annatto and its extracts are also used as an industrial food coloring to add yellow or orange color to many products such as butter, cheese, margarine, ice creams, meats, and condiments. Some of the indigenous peoples of North, Central, and South American originally used the seeds to make red body paint and lipstick, as well as a spice.
This plant stands alone in its family; a profusely fruiting shrub, reaching 6 - 20 feet tall and age up to about 50 years. Annato has large 5-15 cm long, 4-11 cm wide, pointed leaves. Flowers occur in vertical upright clusters, which prominently appear above the foliage. Flowers are showy, white or pink, nearly 5 cm broad, with five petals and a dense mass of stamens in the center. The petals often tend to curl up. Fruit is 2-valved, ovoid, red, spiny, 2.5-5 cm long; seeds many, ovate, with a scarlet covering. Although a native of West Indies, lipstic tree has been cultivated in India for many centuries for the yellow-orange dye obtained from its seeds, which is still used as a safe coloring agent for foods. Approximately 50 seeds grow inside of the pod. Depending on the color of the flowers, the seedpod is either green or red; the seeds have the same coating in both. These seeds are processed to obtain the orange-yellow pigments, bixin and norbixin (caratenoids), as dye for the food, cosmetic and soap industries. This dye is used to color the cheddar cheese and is also used for the coloring of rice. The used part is the dried pulp of the fruit. Lipstick tree is native to tropical America, but widely cultivated throughout the tropical world, since long back. Flowering: October-December.
The medical properties of annatto are poorly understood, but it is a bitter, astringent, purgative herb that reputedly destroys intestinal worms, lowers fever, improves digestion and has expectorant effects. A decoction of the leaves is used as a treatment for dysentery and to reduce vomiting during pregnancy. The leaves are applied to the head and to sprains to relieve aches. A decoction is gargled as a cure for mouth and throat infections. The leaves may also be used in baths to relieve muscular aches, fevers, colic or to get rid of worms in children. The fresh shoots are steeped in water, which is then used as a eyewash for inflamed eyes.