Castor oil is derived from the seeds of the Ricinus communis plants that grow wild in wastelands across tropical regions. It is often grown as an ornamental garden plant in milder climates, and now cultivated on a large scale for biodiesel manufacture.
Castor oil has been around for a very long time, and has been widely used for medicinal purposes in its native lands spread across Africa, the Indian subcontinent and the Mediterranean basin. It is one of the first vegetable oils to be used for industrial purposes because of its high viscosity and lubricating property. In fact, the automotive lubricant company Castrol derives its name from castor oil.
Infamous as a laxative, many people consider castor oil a crude product. But this unique vegetable oil has so many wonderful uses that it deserves a place in every home.
1. Safe, Natural Laxative
Well, this use of castor oil needs no introduction, but there’s a myth–probably promoted by pharmaceutical companies–that it is not safe to ingest the oil for its laxative effect. The truth is that, it is not only safe, but also suitable for even small children.
The castor oil plant, including the castor bean, contains a highly potent toxin ricin, but it is deactivated during the oil extraction process. There have been deaths due to castor oil ingestion, but they were from force-feeding it in large quantities to political enemies and dissidents in the past. The deaths resulted from dehydration, and not from any toxic substances.
When the oil is used as a laxative, the dosage can be easily adjusted as its effect is directly proportional to how much oil you are using. The usual dosage is 1 to 2 tbsp for adults and 1 to 2 tsp for children 2-12 years old. Children under 2 years shouldn’t have more than a teaspoonful at a time. You can mix the oil with orange juice to make it more palatable.
Unlike other laxatives that act in the colon, the action of castor oil starts in the small intestine. You can expect a complete clean out of the bowels within 2 to 5 hours of taking the oil.
2. Relieves Muscle Soreness
Castor oil is considered a warm oil that promotes the circulation of fluids in the body. It is excellent as massage oil, and can relieve the soreness resulting from overworking the muscles. If you have aching calf and thigh muscles after vigorous exercise or active sports practice, apply a little castor oil on the sore area and rub it in.
Castor oil is a good carrier oil for essential oils. Add a few drops of Roman chamomile oil or peppermint oil to a tablespoon of castor oil to make the massage more relaxing and healing.
3. Soothes Joint Pain
The analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties of ricinoleic acid which constitutes almost 90% of castor oil have been well documented. A major part of it comes from its decongestant action on the lymphatic system.
The lymph vessels that form a wide network all over the body collect waste from the tissues and carry it to the blood for elimination. Congestion in these vessels and accumulation of toxic wastes is implicated in many autoimmune diseases like arthritis which causes pain and inflammation in the joints.Castor oil eases up the congestion and gets the lymph moving freely.
It acts directly on the immune system by stimulating the thymus gland and increasing the count of a type of white blood cells called lymphocytes. What is amazing is that mere topical use is found to bring about these internal changes. If you want to use cayenne pepper for arthritic pain relief, castor oil is excellent for making a potent mix for local application.
4. Treats Fungal Infections
Castor oil has a strong fungicidal property thanks to undecylenic acid, which is a breakdown product of the ricinoleic fatty acid abundant in the oil. It can be used to treat common fungal diseases like ringworm, athlete’s foot and tinea cruris (crotch itch). It is as effective as the azole drugs used to treat fungal infections, if not more, but without any of the toxic effects of the antifungal drugs.
Heat some castor oil and allow it to cool until it is just warm to touch. Apply it in the affected area just before bedtime and leave it on overnight. Repeat for a week to see significant improvement. Continue the treatment until the infection completely disappears.
5. Promotes Hair Growth
Massaging just any part of the body with castor oil does not result in extra hair growth, but applying it to the scalp does. The mechanism at work could be the ability of this warm oil to improve circulation.
Heat the oil until it is hot to touch, and then allow it to cool for a bit. While it is still warm, apply the oil to your scalp with your fingertips, massaging it in. If it is done every night, you will see the difference in as little as two weeks.
If you have scanty eyebrows, the oil can be applied with the tip of a cotton ear bud to the eyebrow ridge. Hair will grow denser there, and you can shape the eyebrows as usual.
Castor oil can be applied in areas that have lost hair due to alopecia. The anti-inflammatory property of the oil may work against this autoimmune disorder.
6. Enhances Hair Color
Castor oil can be used to enhance the natural color of your hair and make it look rich and thick. This oil is a humectant, locking in moisture. When applied on the hair, it preserves the moisture in the hair shaft and makes each strand thicker and darker.
After washing your hair, towel dry it. Slightly warm one tablespoon of castor oil and dip your fingers in it. Run the fingers through the hair to get the oil on to as many strands as possible. If you have long hair, divide it into sections and gently rub each section between your palms to coat all the hair strands.
7. Homemade Natural Mascara
Mascara is used to make the eyelashes look fuller and darker, and to define the eyes better. This age-old beauty aid is traditionally made by burning vegetable oils such as coconut oil infused with herbal extracts and essential oils. The soot is collected on a surface smeared with castor oil. It is a messy process, but the homemade product is much safer than any mascara you can buy today.
If you want homemade mascara for makeup, make it with castor oil and beeswax, adding charcoal powder for black color or coco powder for brown. Melt one tablespoon beeswax in a double boiler and add 2 tablespoons of castor oil into it. Mix in charcoal powder/cocoa powder to get the desired color and consistency.
Applying just castor oil to the eyelashes every night with a mascara brush can give you thicker and darker eyelashes over a period of time.
8. Deeply Moisturizes Skin
Castor oil can be used to moisturize dry skin. Being highly viscous, the oil stays put, and penetrates deep into the skin tissue and nourishes it with fatty acids. Many pricey commercial moisturizers contain castor oil, but you can get all its benefits from direct application.
The thick oil is a bit tricky to apply, so you have to rub a teaspoonful of oil between the palms and rub it into skin. This ensures a thin and even layer. When you do this, a little oil goes a long way, and that is all you need.
It may be kind of sticky at first, but once you get it on the skin in a thin layer, it gets absorbed rather quickly, leaving no oily feel. Some people like to lighten the texture with coconut oil for easy application.
9. Spot Treatment for Skin Problems
Use castor oil to treat acne, warts, and skin tags that seem to appear for no reason. While warts result from a viral infection, skin tags usually develop in areas where the skin gets rubbed constantly. Acne breaks out when there’s an overproduction of sebum in the skin gland, and it is often complicated by secondary microbial infections.
Apply castor oil to these ugly skin growths with a cotton swab. Most of these problems seem to get resolved with regular application for one or two weeks. The antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties of castor oil may be responsible for this healing effect.
10. Natural Sleep Aid
More and more people are sleep deprived today. Awareness about the ill effects of not having enough sleep has not helped much because sleep is not something we can force on ourselves. We need to feel sleepy, and should be able to fall asleep easily. Ideally, nighttime sleep should continue uninterrupted for at least 7 to 7 ½ hours.
Castor oil can help you fall asleep without much delay and put you into deep slumber for an extended period.
This is an excellent remedy for people whose biological clock has gone haywire. It is not clear exactly how castor oil induces sleep, but people who use it on their hair or around the eyes vouch for its effectiveness.
If you have difficulty falling asleep or cannot maintain the sleep for more than 6 hours, dab a bit of castor oil on your eyelids. Be prepared for a longer than usual sleep, so if you’re setting up the alarm to go off after 5 or 6 hours, you will wake up groggy.
11. Treats Babies With Colic
Most babies go through a phase of crying uncontrollably due to colicky pain sometime in the first few months of life. But the exact reason of colic is not known. It could be due to gas, abnormal spasms, or obstructions in the still developing gastrointestinal tract. Whatever the reason, castor oil seems to provide relief where many oral medications fail to.
The oil should be applied externally on the abdominal area and gently rubbed in. It is not clear whether it is the analgesic property of the oil or its soporific effect at work here, but most babies seem to get quick relief and sound sleep soon after the application.
12. Heals Skin Ailments on Pets
Dogs and cats have the tendency to constantly lick their wounds and places on their skin that may have become infected. This only exacerbates the skin condition and causes them to ingest any medication applied on these spots.
Castor oil is safe to use on minor cuts and infected areas. Its antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties will help faster healing. Besides, these animals may find the oil unpalatable and leave off licking the spots. Even if they don’t, the edible oil may not cause anything more than loose stools.
13. Castor Oil as a Preservative
The anti-fungal property of castor oil has been put to good use in the food industry. Many dried grains and pulses are given a coating of the oil when they have to be stored for a long time. Castor oil also seems to repel insect pests that spoil them. A typical example is cowpea smeared with the oil. It washes off when these dry foodstuffs are soaked in water and rinsed before cooking.
If you’re hoarding survival foods for potential emergencies, you have to protect them against spoilage by microbes as well as macro pests. But you may not want to use chemical preservatives, especially if your focus has been on stocking organic products. Using castor oil may be the best option for you.
14. Castor Oil as a Lubricant
Castor oil works almost as good as grease in lubricating moving parts of machines. It works equally well in high and low temperatures, and is often used in racing cars. Unlike other oils, castor oil does not spoil rubber, so it can be safely used in devices like cycle pumps that have rubber seals.
Castor oil is safe to be used on kitchen appliances that need lubrication. Use it on kitchen scissors and hand-cranked meat grinders.
Precautions for Using Castor Oil
Before you use castor oil internally or topically, perform a skin test using a very small amount of the oil to check for allergic reactions.
Only administer castor oil according to the instructions provided in the packaging and use a clearly labeled measuring device (never a household spoon!) to get the correct dose.
Castor oil is well-known for its ability to cause strong pelvic contractions which may lead to miscarriage or premature birth. For this reason, castor oil should never be used internally by pregnant women unless specifically instructed by a medical professional.
When taken internally, castor oil produces a very strong laxative effect. Overdose of the oil can easily result in severe dehydration which, in extreme cases may be fatal. Other possible side effects of an overdose include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, dizziness, hallucinations (rare), fainting, nausea, skin rash, throat tightness, shortness of breath and chest pain.
Individuals with peptic ulcers or bleeding problems should not use castor oil internally.