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Castor Oil Plant

Ricinus communis

Herbs gallery - Castor



Common names

  • Bofareira
  • Castor Oil Plant
  • Castor Bean Plant
  • Mexico Seed
  • Oil Plant
  • Palma Christi
  • Pei-ma

The castor oil plant (botanical name Ricinus communis) is an evergreen shrub that grows up to approximately 30 feet or 10 meters when growing in the wild. However, when cultivated, the trees are comparatively smaller and of annual variety. The castor oil plant produces large leaves having the shape akin to palm leaves and bears green female flowers and spiky seed capsules that have a red hue.

It is said that when the archaeologists visited the Egyptian tombs dating back to 4,000 years for the first time ever, they were attracted by the glittering gems, valuable metals, delicately carved statues as well as the stone sarcophagi, which housed the ancient mummies. It was only much later that these archaeologists as well as other researchers paid greater attention to the minute oval shaped objects found inside the tombs. These objects were lustrous and speckled, rarely more than half an inch in length, and looked like nothing other than polished small pieces of marbles. However, detailed examination of these objects revealed that these ‘stones' were actually castor beans that were several million years old. Castor beans are actually the seeds of an African tree that currently grows in most parts of the world having warm climatic conditions. In effect, presently gardeners in Europe and America grow them in the form of a foliage plant.

When growing in the wild or its native environment, the castor oil plant is a tree that grows up to a height of anything between 30 feet and 40 feet. These trees bear wide, intensely lobed leaves on elongated stalks. When young, the leaves have a purple-bronze hue, but they turn into dark maroon or gray-green when matured. The trees produce female flowers that are petalless and appear in clusters on top of the male flowers. The female flowers eventually develop into capsules that look like knobs and each of them enclose three seeds. When these capsules become mature and dry off they burst dispersing their beans. When the castor oil plants are cultivated they are dwarfed and shrub-like growing not above five feet in height and produce capsules that do not explode when mature.

The ancient Egyptians employed castor oil obtained from the beans in the form of a lamp oil as well as an ointment. In addition, they purged their system thrice every month by drinking this oil blended with beer. On the other hand, realizing that the beans are poisonous, the Greeks and Romans only used the oil for external purposes. However, it was as late as the 18th century that this pungent flavoured oil once again recovered its ancient function as a laxative.

Castor beans enclose a venomous substance called ricin, which is among the most fatal toxins known to mankind. Consuming even one castor bean may cause death to a child. However, it is fortunate that it is possible to extract the oil from castor seeds without ricin by means of a much uncomplicated process. The main factor in this case is the temperature. Generally, heat is employed to extract the oil from nearly all castor seeds, but when heated castor beans, ricin enclosed by the bean in spread out all through the oil. However, when the beans are hulled and compressed at temperatures under 100ºF, they yield yellowish or clear oil that is free of toxicity and rich in an additional substance, ricinolein that causes irritation to the intestines causing them to force out their contents.

Castor oil has a number of commercial uses too. Since castor oil is not soluble in benzine and has an extremely low freezing point, it is wonderfully suited for lubricating the engines of airplanes. In addition, castor oil is also employed in hydraulic brake fluids as well as in laundry detergents that are biodegradable. It is also used in the manufacture of paints and varnishes.

Parts used

Seed oil, seeds.

Uses

Castor oil possesses a number of therapeutic properties and is very familiar for its potent laxative (and when taken in larger doses for purgative actions) attributes, encouraging a bowel movement approximately between three to five hours after ingesting it. The oil extracted from this herb is highly effectual and it is used on a regular basis to cleanse the digestive tract, especially in the instance of any type of poisoning. Castor oil is also tolerated well by the skin and occasionally it is employed in the form of a base for remedial as well as cosmetic preparations. People in India use castor oil to massage onto the breasts following childbirth with a view to promote flow of milk. In Indian herbal medicine, castor oil seeds are also used in the form of poultices with a view to alleviate tender and swollen joints. On the other hand, people in China crush the castor oil seeds and employ them to cure facial palsy.

However, certain precautions should be adopted while using castor oil plant, for instance, this herb should not be given to people suffering from chronic constipation, wherein the medication may take care of the symptoms, but does not treat the real cause. The taste of castor oil is rather disagreeable, but it can cause queasiness in some people. This oil possesses notable anti-dandruff consequences. In fact, castor oil thickens to form a gel mass when the alcoholic solution is filtered in the existence of sodium salts of higher fatty acids. This particular gel is effective in treating non-inflammatory skin ailments and is an excellent protective in the instance of work-related dermatitis and eczema.

Castor oil seed possesses cathartic, anthelmintic, laxative, emollient and purgative properties. This oil is often rubbed on the temple to cure headaches and is also pulverized into a powder and applied directly to abscesses as well as a variety of skin infections. The seed is also employed in Tibetan medicine, where it is said to have a pungent, bitter and sweet taste with a heating power. It is also employed in treating indigestion and also in the form of a purgative. A decoction prepared from the leaves and root of the castor oil plant is said to be discutient (any medication that disperses pathological accumulation), antitussive and expectorant. The leaves of castor oil plant are also used in the form of a poultice to alleviate headaches as well as cure boils.

Castor oil seeds enclose anything between 35 per cent and 55 per cent of a drying or dehydrated oil. Besides being used for cooking, this oil is also used as an ingredient in soaps, paints, varnishes, polishes and flypapers. In addition, the drying oil extracted from castor oil seeds is also employed in the form of a lubricant and also for lighting purposes. It is also used as a component in fuels for precision engines. This oil is also used in coating fabrics as well as other protecting wrappers, in the production of superior-grade lubricants, in textile dyeing and transparent typewriter and printing inks. To use as a textile dyeing, especially cotton fabrics, the oil is transformed into sulfonated Castor Oil or Turkey-Red Oil with alizarine. It is also employed in the manufacture of ‘Rilson', a polyamide fiber of nylon-type.

The dehydrated oil extracted from castor oil seeds is a wonderful drying agent that may be compared positively with tung oil. This oil is employed in manufacture of paints and varnishes. On the other hand the hydrogenated oil is employed in making polishes, waxes, candles, carbon paper as well as crayons. The stems of the castor oil plant yield a fiber that is used for making ropes, while the cellulose obtained from the stem of this plant is employed in making paper, cardboard and other similar items. In addition, it is said that the growing plant keeps away mosquitoes and flies. It is said that when castor oil plant is grown in any garden it helps to eliminate nibbling insects and moles. The leaves of the castor oil plant possess insecticidal attributes.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

While castor oil plant is native to the south-eastern region of the Mediterranean Basin, India and Eastern Africa, in the current times it is grown extensively all over the regions having tropical climatic conditions. Places where the conditions are suitable, castor oil plant establishes itself without difficulty in the form of an actually ‘indigenous' plant and may be found growing in wild on wasteland. The toxic seed capsules of castor oil plant are gathered all through the year when they are almost mature and subsequently placed in the sun to ripen or mature.

The castor oil plant has a preference for a properly drained clay or sandy loam soil that is able to retain moisture and is in full sunlight. This plant has a need for morning temperatures more than 20ºC for the seedlings to grow robustly, while the seed may fail to establish provided the temperatures go up over 38ºC for a prolonged period. In addition, the castor oil plant needs about 140 to 180 days of warm temperatures during its growing season so as to produce an excellent crops of seeds. It is reported that the plant has the ability to endure an annual rainfall varying from 20 cm to 429 cm, an annual temperature that varies between 7ºC and 27.8ºC as well as a pH in the region of 4.5 to 8.3.

It may be noted that the castor oil plant is a rapidly growing shrub in the wild. This plant is said to have a long record of being cultivated for its seeds in the tropical as well as sub-tropical climatic zones. Castor oil plant has several named varieties, some of which are developed of ornamental purpose, while other are used for producing oil. If grown in exposed or open areas, this plant may require support.

The castor oil plant is propagated by its seeds, which are sown in separate pots in a warm greenhouse in the early part of spring. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently enough to be handled, prick them individually and plant them in separate pots or containers. The young plants may be transplanted into their permanent positions outdoors when the last expected frost in your region has passed. The seeds are viable for a period of two to three years, after which they lose their fertility.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of the seeds of castor oil plant has revealed that they enclose about 45 per cent to 55 per cent fixed oil that comprises primarily an alkaloid ricinine, an extremely poisonous protein ricin, glycerides of ricinoleic acid and lectins. The seeds of this plant are extremely poisonous and two of them are enough to kill an adult. However, the toxins do not pass through the oil obtained from the seeds.

Side effects and cautions

People using therapeutic preparations of the castor oil plant ought to be aware of its side effects, especially because the entire plant is extremely poisonous and just a solitary seed of this toxic plant is known to be deadly for children. Even the seed coating encloses a highly poisonous substance that was earlier used by the Russian secret service agency KGB to eliminate their foes. Only the leaves of castor oil plant are gently venomous. Since the poisonous substance contained by this plant is soluble in water, it is not present in the fixed oil obtained from the castor oil plant. Ingestion of this toxic substance may result in cramping, abdominal discomfort, queasiness, even loss of body fluid and electrolytes. This toxic substance may possibly also contain allergens. Here is a word of caution - this herb should not be used by women during pregnancy since it may result in forced premature labor as well as miscarriage.

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