Castor oil has been used medicinally for about 4,000 years and until recently, it was given regularly to children to "keep their systems clear". Because of its unpleasant taste, castor oil is a remembered bane of many a childhood.
Castor oil is obtained from castor seeds or beans either by pressing or by solvent extraction. The castor seed has a long history of use. Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC, being used mostly to fuel lamps because of the slow burning oil. Herodotus and other Greek travellers have noted the use of castor seed oil for lighting, body ointments, and improving hair growth and texture. Cleopatra is reputed to have used it to brighten the whites of her eyes.
Today, castor oil is used both internally and externally for medicinal use and for such industrial purposes, as in the production of nylon and other synthetic fibres and resins. The oil has a very consistent viscosity and won't freeze, which makes it ideal for lubricating equipment in severely cold climates such as a component in motor oil, sealants, plastics, rubber, insecticidal oils, protective coatings, paint and varnish, insulation and so forth. In addition, castor oil and its derivatives are used in cosmetics such as lipstick, soap, shampoo, hair oils, embalming fluid, synthetic flower scents, food containers, food additives and flavouring agents, mould inhibitor, ink and dyeing aids.
It consists almost entirely of the triglycerides ricinoleic acid. This unique fatty acid is found in lower concentrations in a few other seeds and oils (0.27 percent in cottonseed oil and 0.03 percent in soybean oil) and is thought to be responsible for castor oil's unique healing properties. It is well known for its strongly laxative action, taking effect within three to five hours after ingestion. In higher doses, it is a purgative. The oil is so effective that it is regularly used to clear the digestive tract in cases of poisoning. Although castor oil has been taken internally as a cathartic, its use can be harmful (see ‘Err on the Side of Caution’ for more info).
All parts of the castor oil plant can be used for medicinal purposes. In India, the oil is massaged into the breasts after childbirth to stimulate milk flow. In Ayurvedic medicine, a poultice of castor oil seeds is applied for the relief of swollen and tender joints. In China, the crushed seeds are used to treat facial palsy. In Mexico, the leaves are used in poultices placed on the chest for congestion, cough, or fever, or on the abdomen to treat an acute intestinal distress known as "empacho". The leaves are used on anything that "hurts", that is, swollen joints, bruises, boils, neuralgia, abscesses, as well as for colds and fever.
Err on the Side of Caution
Castor seed is the source of castor oil and ricin. The seeds contain between 40 and 60 percent oil that is rich in triglycerides, mainly ricinolein. Ricin is a deadly poison, which is obtained after the oil is extracted, with the oil not containing any of this poison. It is produced from the "mash" that is left over after processing castor seeds into oil. In the past it has been used as a biochemical weapon because it is highly toxic to humans and other animals, including insects. This potent toxin comes from a protein in the castor seeds that, if ingested (orally, nasally, or injected), gets into the ribosomes of your cells where it prevents protein synthesis, which eventually kills the cells.
Castor oil's main side effects fall into the categories of skin reactions and gastrointestinal upset. It is broken down by your small intestine into ricinoleic acid, which can act as an irritant to your intestinal lining. This effect is what gives castor oil the ability to reverse constipation but can also cause digestive discomfort, diarrhoea, and other gastrointestinal side effects. If you suffer from cramps, irritable bowel, ulcers, diverticulitis, haemorrhoids, colitis, prolapses, or have recently undergone surgery, you should probably avoid ingesting castor oil due to these possible adverse reactions.
Although castor oil has been traditionally used to help stimulate labour in healthy pregnant women, there are widespread reports of nausea when consumed. It’s probably best to rub some of the oil on the belly instead, if it is tolerated.
Immune System and Lymphatic Stimulant
w William McGarey, author of The Oil That Heals, reported that when used properly, castor oil packs improve the function of your thymus gland and other components of your immune system. He found that patients using abdominal castor oil packs had significant increases in lymphocyte* production compared to placebo packs.
w A 1999 study was carried out to determine whether or not topical castor oil would stimulate the lymphatic system. The findings were positive. After a two-hour treatment with castor oil packs, there was a significant increase in the number of T-11 cells, which increased over a seven-hour period following treatment.
w Castor oil could support your immune system by only apply it externally using a castor oil pack.
*Lymphocytes are your immune system's disease-fighting cells and are produced and stored mainly in your lymphatic tissue (thymus gland, spleen, and lymph nodes). Hundreds of miles of lymphatic tubules allow waste to be collected from your tissues and transported to your blood for elimination, a process referred to as lymphatic drainage. When your lymphatic system is not working properly, waste and toxins can build up and make you sick. Lymphatic congestion is a major factor leading to inflammation and disease. When castor oil is absorbed through your skin (according to McGarey), your lymphocyte count increases. Increased lymphocytes speed up the removal of toxins from your tissues, which promotes healing.
The oil's benefits can be derived by topical application:
w It is useful for a variety of skin conditions like keratosis, dermatosis, wound healing, acne, ringworm, warts and other skin infections, sebaceous cysts, itching, and even hair loss.
w Castor oil and ricinoleic acid also enhance the absorption of other agents across your skin.
w Patients with occupational dermatitis may have a positive reaction to castor oil or ricinoleic acid.
w A 2010 study found that castor oil packs were an effective means of decreasing constipation in the elderly.
Antimicrobial (antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal)
w An Indian study in 2011 found that castor leaf extract showed better antibacterial activity against both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria than Gentamycin (their standard for comparison).
Anti-Inflammatory and Analgesic
w A 2009 study found that castor oil effectively relieves arthritis symptoms.
w A 2000 study of the effects of ricinoleic acid on inflammation, researchers found it exerted "capsaicin-like" anti-inflammatory properties.
w Castor oil has been found to have a strong suppressive effect on some tumours.
w Early clinical trials suggest that ricin, when combined with an antibody to confine this poison to malignant cells, shrinks tumours in lymphoma patients.
Castor oil has been reportedly used to treat many other conditions, however, its effectiveness is yet to be researched.
Recipes for Health
Advocates claim castor oil is most effective for strengthening your lymphatic system when it is applied topically in a ‘castor oil pack’. Castor oil "packs" can be an economical and efficient method of infusing the ricinoleic acid and other healing components of castor oil directly into your tissues. Some say it can even help to slowly break down unwanted mass on your organs such as cysts, bonespurs and tumours. Do a "patch test" prior to applying a castor oil pack to make sure you aren't allergic to the oil.
w High quality cold-pressed castor oil
w A hot water bottle or heating pad
w Clingfilm or a waterproof material
w Two or three pieces of half metre squares of wool or cotton flannel, or one piece large enough to cover the entire treatment area when folded in thirds
w One large old bath towel
1. Fold flannel three layers thick so it is still large enough to fit over your entire upper abdomen and liver, or stack the three squares.
2. Soak flannel with the oil so that it is completely saturated but not dripping. The oil should be at room temperature.
3. Lie on your back with your feet elevated (using a pillow under your knees and feet works well), placing flannel pack directly onto your abdomen; cover oiled flannel with the waterproof material/clingfilm, and place the hot water bottle on top of the plastic.
4. Cover everything with the old towel to insulate the heat. Take caution not to get the oil on whatever you are laying on, as it can stain. If necessary, cover that surface with something to protect it.
5. Leave pack on for 45 to 60 minutes.
6. When finished, remove the oil from your skin by washing with a solution of two tablespoons of baking soda to one litre water, or just soap and water. (Be sure to wash the towel by itself, as the castor oil can make other clothes stink if washed together.)
7. You can reuse the pack several times, each time adding more oil as needed to keep the pack saturated. Store the pack in a large glass jar. Replace the pack after it begins to change colour.
8. For maximum effectiveness, apply at least four consecutive days per week for one month. Patients who use the pack daily report the most benefits.
Apart from the castor oil pack, there are several other ways to use castor oil topically:
w Simply rub it onto an affected area of your skin.
w For only a very small area - affix a plaster / Band-Aid soaked in it.
w For larger or more systemic applications - use as massage oil, especially effective when massaged along your spinal column or lymphatic drainage pathways.
To Sum Up…
Castor oil has shown some very promising results when put to the test, however, much needs to be learned about this powerful oil which is still untapped. So far the best way to gain its benefits is in the form of a castor oil pack. The thick oil is powerful enough to penetrate deep into the body’s tissues which many oils are unable to do.
If you come across some castor seeds avoid eating them. One bean can be lethal for a child, while two or more can be lethal for an adult. The good thing is that its toxins do not pass into the expressed oil.
Where you buy your castor oil is equally important, as much of the oil currently sold in stores is derived from castor seeds that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides, solvent-extracted, deodorised, or otherwise chemically processed, which damages beneficial phytonutrients and may even contaminate the oil with toxic agents. Go for the cold pressed variety which is organically sourced to reap the full effects of this amazing oil.