Pigment preparation with the Achiote seeds. Leticia, Colombia, 2011.
From pre-Hispanic times to the present day, achiote has been used for its medicinal properties, especially its bark, leaves and seeds, due to its emollient, antioxidant, analgesic, antibiotic, antibacterial, astringent, antiseptic, febrifuge, antidiabetic, antidysenteric, antiparasitic, anti-inflammatory and wound-healing properties. Its oil is rich in essential oils, beta-carotene, tocotrienols, fatty acids, flavonoids and vitamin C.
Its leaves are used to treat skin infections, conjunctivitis, sore throats, angina, respiratory and kidney conditions, fever and diarrhea, hypertension and hemorrhoids. They are also used in infusion to perform vaginal washes as it is effective in controlling inflammation caused by fungi and bacteria. Achiote seeds are used against measles and smallpox, to cure headaches, neuralgia, irritations, inflammations, excoriations, asthma, dyspnea and pleurisy.
The seeds have a natural pigment with multiple uses. Traditionally, different native communities of America have used annatto—as it is known in English—to paint and tattoo the body, as a repellent, as sunscreen, and for the lips. From the seeds, both hydrosoluble (water-soluble) and liposoluble (oil-soluble) colorants are obtained, depending on the solvent used in the extraction. For this reason it is very useful for dyeing textiles and as a food colorant or condiment, as it is non-toxic and tasteless.
Today, the pigment that is extracted from the achiote plant has attained global economic importance, since it is one of the most frequently used natural dyes for coloring food, cosmetics and pharmaceutical products.
A red color is extracted by rubbing the seeds. The yellow-fruit variety of achiote was the kind chosen this time. This is a low-yielding dye, since abundant fruit is necessary for the extraction of color pigment. The extract adheres well on paper, while the intensity of the color diminishes and becomes softer when used on fique (natural fiber) and cotton.