Origin, Distribution and Composition
The castor is a small annual plant. It ranges from 1 to 7 meters in
height. It has well-developed roots, with green and reddish stems which
become hollow with age. The fruit is a spherical capsule with small grey
seeds with brown spots.
Castor seeds were an important item of commerce in ancient Egypt. It has
been found in tombs dating from 4000 BC. In India too, castor has been
used since ancient times. In the Susruta Atharvaveda, dating back
to 2000 BC, it is referred to as indigenous plant and that its oil was
used for lamps. Two varieties - the red and the white seeded are
mentioned. The oil was, and is still, used extensively in local medicines
mainly as a laxative, but also to soften dry and coarse skin. The Chinese
have used the oil for medicinal purposes, for centuries.
The castor plant appears to have originated in eastern Africa, especially
around Ethiopia. It now grows throughout the warm-temperate and tropical
regions and flourishes under a variety of climatic conditions. It can be
grown almost anywhere and this is one of castor's greatest virtues.
The seeds of the plant contain alkoloid ricinine and toxalbumine ricin.
They yield a fixed oil, which is used chiefly for medicinal purposes.
Though castor plant or its oil is not a food, yet it is one of the most
commonly used oils all over the world as a safe purgative and drug for
reducing irritation of the skin and alleviating swelling and pain.
Castor oil chiefly consists of ricinoleate of glycerol or triricinolein
with a small quantity of palmitin and stearin. Unlike most fixed oils,
castor oil possesses the remarkable property of mixing with absolute
alcohol and glacial acetic acid in all proportions. The glycerides of
ricinoleic acid in castor oil are mainly responsible for its purgative
Healing Power and Curative Properties
Castor is used very effectively in the treatment of rheumatic and skin
disorders. It is a harmless purgative.
A poultice of castor seeds can be applied with beneficial results to gouty
and rheumatic swellings. A decoction of the roots of castor plant with
carbonate of potash is useful in the treatment of lumbago, rheumatism and
sciatica. A paste of the kernel without the embryo, boiled in milk, is
also given as a medicine in these conditions.
A poultice of castor leaves is useful as an external application to boils
and swellings. Coated with some bland oil such as coconut oil and heated,
the hot leaves can be applied over guinea-worm sores to extract the worms.
A poultice of castor seeds is also applied to scrofulous sores and boils
due to tuberculosis of lymph nodes.
Problem of Breast Milk Secretion
Castor oil massaged over the breast after child-birth increases the flow
of milk, as it stimulates the mammary glands. Castor leaves can also be
used to foment the breasts, for the same purpose.
If used regularly as hair oil, it helps the growth of the hair and cures
Castor oil is a simple, harmless purgative and can be used without any
rigid consideration and limitation of weather and the physiological nature
of the patient. Generally, spring is the best season to administer
purgatives, but castor oil, can safely be used round the year. It simply
passes out after completing its purgative action, making the patient feel
a mild irritation in the anus at that time.
Administration of castor oil as a purgative is very simple. About 30 to 60
grams of pure odorless castor oil is given orally with 250 to 375 grams of
lukewarm milk. It acts just after an hour.
Those who find its use nauseating and unpalatable, can take it with ginger
water in place of milk. This greatly reduces its unpleasantness, while
destroying mucous and promoting healthy appetite.
Natural Birth-Control: According to Ayurvedic and Unani treatises,
if a woman chews one castor seed daily for a period of seven days after
the menstruation she becomes sterile. This has been interpreted by many
that castor seed is a herb for birth control and if the woman swallows one
castor seed, after the menstrual cycle she will not conceive during that
month. When pregnancy is desired, the practice can be given up and
conception follows after a year.
Castor oil massaged over the body, before bath, keeps the skin healthy and
imparts sound sleep. Such an oil bath may be taken once in a week.
Applying castor oil over hand and feet before going to bed keeps them soft
and similarly over the eyebrows and eyelashes keeps them well-groomed.
Precautions: Repeated use of castor
oil as a laxative should be avoided as it causes secondary constipation,
that is, recurrence of the condition after cure. Persons suffering from
kidney infections should not take castor oil as a purgative. It should
also not be used when there is abdominal pain or intestinal infections
such as appendicitis, enteritis or inflammation of the small intestine and
peritonitis. Large doses of castor oil during the early months of
pregnancy may cause abortion.