Achiote: the Lipstick Tree

The achiote tree produces inedible fruit that looks a bit like a pomegranate cut in half: it is an open pod filled with red seeds that look as if they are bursting with flavor. But since they can’t be ingested, they are instead used for making dyes.


The Incas used achiote as face paint to ask the gods within the mountains for protection, and the tree is still used to today among the Quechua people.

IMG_5015 To apply achiote: Open the fruit and mix the pulp with water in a small bowl to create the paint. The wet paint will become an orange-red extract as you mix, but turns orange when it dries. It’s used as body paint as well as paint for fabric.


The plant can be found in the Amazon basin. In this photo, we are painting one another as a symbol of unity within the tribe of Quechua.


I had the tribe members apply it as a lipstick as well for a natural flush. I have a feeling this was one of the first original lipsticks of ancient times.

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Extra cool fact: For ritual and religious purposes, the Aztecs added achiote (also known as annatto) to turn chocolate into a blood-red liquid for a “blood” offering to the Gods. I got to experiment with Achiote on my trek to Machu Picchu and in the Amazon Rain Forest in Ecuador.