Bixa Orellana

Bixa orellana or achiote is a shrub native to Central America. The tree is best known for the orange-red condiment derived from the waxy arils that cover it’s seeds – annatto. You may have experienced this in popular dishes such as cochinita pibil. Although at this time we are currently not offering Bixa Orellana dietas at AYA Healing Retreats. If you are looking for a plant spirit to call to you, or are simply curious for more information, read onwards through our plant directory and learn about the unique benefits of Ajo Sacha.

Bixa Orellana - Achiote - Annatto

A tall, perennial shrub, Bixa Orellana can grow up to 10 meters in height, bearing clusters of bright white and pink flowers at the tip of it’s branches. Spiky red-brown seed pods cluster in ovoid capsules, containing up to 45 seeds in a red aril. Fully matured, the seeds emerge from cracks in the hardened dried pods. Originally, some indigenous tribes of Central and South America began using the seeds for body paint and lip stick – thus giving it the nickname lipstick tree. 

During the 17th century, the annatto dye was traded across the world and tropical areas – in the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Africa, Hawaii, and more. These nations even began cultivating it themselves for the coveted dyes, and it grows easily in subtropical to tropical climates. However, the majority of the production still lies within Latin America – in Peru, Brazil, and Mexico. 

Before synthetic dyes, Bixa orellana was a powerhouse commercial plant for the pigment created from grinding it’s seeds. The pigment is a great substitute for synthetic food colorings as it doesn’t alter the taste or smell. The seeds themselves are used throughout many cuisines globally, adding a subtle flavor and aroma, along with a reddish-orange tinge. Although the seeds are relatively tasteless, they are great for enhancing the flavoring of various dishes, while also containing a fair amount of protein and healthy fats. From the coat of the seeds, a yellow color is yielded, and very likely you will have seen it’s use in the food industry as it is widely used as a coloring for margarine.

As a plant medicine, Achiote has been used in Ayurvedic practices, as well as parts of India where the shrub is revered for it’s therapeutic capacity. The pulp is known to cure cases of jaundice and other kidney diseases.

Interested in seeing more about this magnificent plant? You can take a detailed look through this video.

23 Uses and Benefits of Achiote

  • Achiote is a powerful, natural, and safe insect repellent
  • Contains antipyretic properties, which will help to reduce fevers
  • A natural aphrodisiac is created from grinding the seeds and consuming the powder
  • May be used as an antidiabetic, helping to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Bixa Orellana has been used both as an antidiarrheal and laxative
  • Treatment of bronchitis
  • Anti-inflammatory activity which is great for bruises and wounds
  • The leaves can be used for antiemetic therapy during pregnancies
  • A water infusion of cold buds can be used to wash out inflamed eyes
  • In the food industry, Annatto is used to color just about anything from butter, sauces, ice cream, or mac and cheese
  • Annatto is also used among many aborigines as a dye and to color ceramics. The dye is also put on the skin to protect from UV light and mosquitoes
  • The stems and bast have great fibres which are used for rough cordage
  • Recently, Bixa Orellena seed extract has been used in dermatology to treat skin conditions
  • Being quite bitter and astringent, the herb is able to destroy intestinal worms and as a treatment for dysentery
  • Use as an expectortant to expel mucus during a cold or cough
  • Improve digestion
  • The roots are digestive and diuretic, helping control sodium levels and blood pressure
  • A decoction can be taken orally to control asthma
  • Tea brewed from the root is known to fight venereal diseases, oliguria, and jaundice
  • Sap from the bark to treat skin rashes
  • Ground seeds can be applied to burns to reduce blisters and scars
  • Great fire starter when two sticks are rubbed together
  • The bark from the branches yields a gum similar to gum arabic, used as a thickening agent or emulsifier in many products

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Improvements, Pricing Changes, and What’s On The Horizon For AYA Healing Retreats

While living mindfully in the present, we are always excited for the future and we have much in store for the coming year. Among other upgrades to better serve our guests, we will be:

  • adding new staff at the center that offer even better cleaning and laundry services
  • increasing the breadth and depth of training undertaken by our facilitators
  • offering more in-depth one-on-one preparation sessions to all of our guests, in addition to integration sessions
  • purchasing a Kangen machine for healthy, alkaline, antioxidant drinking water rich in minerals and purged of impurities.
  • purchasing additional medical equipment and continued medical training of staff for the safety of all, both here and in our community

Part of our improvement plans include raising our prices starting in 2024 to support our continuing efforts in improving everything that we do. With that said, we will always do our best to keep our prices attainable and within reach for as many people as possible, and we will also offer the possibility of discounts in a few different ways:

  • Earlybird discounts when you book your retreat in advance
  • Deep discounts for return attendees
  • Deep discounts for residents of Central and South America

We will continue to provide payment plans for all of our retreats, please contact us at to discuss options.

We are committed to prioritizing the quality of our retreats, giving you the most personalized and authentic experience possible, and caring for the health, safety, comfort and well-being of everyone who comes to AYA Healing Retreats.


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Don Miguel

Shipibo Curandero

AKA Senen Yoi - 'Speaking the Truth'

Don Miguel was born into a Shipibo community called Roaboya on the River Ucayali. When Don Miguel was a child, Angel Sanchez Vargas, his grandfather was the community’s curandero. Vargas was an expert in sacred plant medicines and was frequently called upon to heal and share his spiritual wisdom with members of Roaboya. The school built some years later was named after Vargas and Roaboya went on to be recognised as the first indigenous community 114 years ago. Don Miguel grew up surrounded by the Shipibo wisdom and possess intimate knowledge of the sacred plant medicines. At a very young age he began his apprenticeship as a curandero through plant dietas under the supportive guidance of his grandfather. Miguel is also a trained literature professor and thoroughly enjoys teaching the Shipibo language and culture. Since 2012, Don Miguel has spent the bulk of his time leading lectures, workshops, initiation courses and retreats. Don Miguel will lead our Ayahuasca ceremonies, circle discussions and be available for personal consultations whilst on retreat.


Our comprehensive screening questionnaire has been developed in partnership with the International Centre for Ethnobotanical Education, Research and Service (ICEERS). Please take your time to answer it as honestly and with as much detail as possible. This information will remain strictly confidential and will only be used to assess your suitability for a place on retreat with AYA Healing Retreats and keep you safe

Please remember that the purpose of this screening questionnaire is to determine whether plant medicine healing is suitable for you…not whether you are suitable for plant medicine healing. Plant medicines are tools, like any other healing modality and like other tools for healing experiencing them entails certain risks. We need to make sure that our plant medicines will not compromise your wellbeing or harm you in any way before we allow you to begin your healing journey with us. In short, we care about your safety and we need to do what we can to ensure that during your time with us you are not at risk of harm. Plant medicines can be dangerous if the plants are not the right fit for the individual. Your answers to this questionnaire will help us to determine whether the plants we intend to use are going to help, rather than harm you

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