Common names: Castor Oil Plant, Castor Bean
Taxonomic name: Ricinus communis
Flowering time: Summer (but sometimes at other times)
Uses: Oil, hot compresses, inflammation.
Area of origin: Eastern Africa
Warnings: Do not drink the oil unless commercially prepared or eat any part of the plant.
Castor oil has a long history of use in herbal medicine as a laxative and a purgative as anyone of my generation or older will remember!
The oil is pressed from the seeds when ripe and contain several fatty acids and also the toxic substance, Ricin. So don’t eat the seeds, as Ricin occurs under the shell as well as other parts of the plant and several large seeds are enough to kill an adult. So don’t eat the seeds. Once more
… Don’t eat the seeds!
Personally, I don’t recommend swallowing it, it’s foul. Castor oil has a gentler, but nearly as effective an action when rubbed on the abdomen, especially when using it with children. In this way it can also be used with babies.
Used externally as it is, or warmed or placed with warm towels, Castor oil can help alleviate many abdominal and intestinal disorders.
Warm packs placed over the liver and gallbladder can help these organs to. Application of packs, or even warmed leaves to the breasts can help increase milk flow and also ease the pain of mastitis.
One of the reasons I don’t recommend it internally is that it will cause ‘evacuation of the bowels’ ( sounds almost pleasant said that way!). Often though, after the bowels have been emptied (sometimes taking a couple of days), constipation will set in.
That confuses people and has caused them to try and resolve the constipation with MORE Castor oil! Ouch!
I’ve seen that lead to a situation where someone couldn’t go to the toilet without Castor oil or other laxatives. Not a good situation.
This is why, as you read some herbals, you will see Castor oil as being indicated as being good for diarrhea. It will cause the bowel to react to purging by holding on and blocking up. Confusing, hey?
So, Castor oil is a great laxative and soother. It doesn’t have to be taken internally. Some parts of the plant are toxic, which is why, even though I’m introducing it as one of our local wild herbs, I recommend buying it from a reliable source instead of making your own.
Hairless shrub that can grow to 6 metres. Hollow stems can be green to red coloured. Leaves Large, alternate leaves have the stem offset to the base of the leaf. 10 – 6 cm wide with 7 – 9 triangular segments and toothed edges. The leaves have an unpleasant odour when crushed. Flowers flowers in clusters at the end of branchlets or in stem junctions. Male flowers white, at the top of the cluster. Female flowers red, at the base of the cluster. Flower clusters are erect and can be up to 5 cm long. Fruit is green with soft green spines and contain 3 seeds.