The Ricinus communis (castor oil) plant is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful plants on the planet. It is indigenous to India and East Africa but can be grown in Ontario as an annual plant in the summer. While this plant is incredibly gorgeous it is also INCREDIBLY poisonous, something to be aware of if this is on your list of garden plants this summer.
The castor bean (actually its seed) contains RICIN, a water-soluble protein made up of two components (Ricin A and Ricin B) that is 6000 times more toxic than cyanide!!! Thats crazy toxic. Moral here is that the castor plant is not to be ingested in any form.
However, extracting the oil from the castor plant (from the beans/seeds) leaves behind the water soluble ricin and has been traditionally utilized as a topical application for many complaints. You can find castor oil for around 10-18$ in most health food stores! It has become a simple and affordable staple in my house and here are some of the reasons why…..
Castor oil decreases substance P. Substance P is a neuropeptide that is involved in the transmission and perception of pain in the central nervous system. The release of substance P from the nerves of muscles, skin and joints is one way in which the body communicates with the brain about tissue damage/inflammation.
But how does this work you ask? Castor oil has been used medicinally for about 4000 years so obviously, even before scientific studies, healers were aware of its benefits. However, observational studies indicate that the ricinoleic acid (RA) in castor oil imposes analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects when applied topically. (1) In fact, a study done in 2000 compared the anti-inflammatory effects of RA and Capsaicin (active ingredient in chilli peppers) and concluded:
“The relevance of the data presented should be associated with the observation that RA does not possess the pungent and painful effect of capsaicin but maintains its anti-inflammatory activities … RA has the potential to be a new capsaicin-like substance endowed with anti-inflammatory effects on several models of inflammation without the pungent charac- teristics of capsaicin.” (1)
Personally, I have found the application of castor oil to sore/inflamed joints, sore muscles and even bruises extremely helpful. While you want to avoid applying heat to a bruise within the first 24 hours, after this point applying castor oil with some heat (I just use my hot water bottle) works WONDERS for increased healing. I have always bruised very easily, so this was recommended to me last year by my intern. Amazing! I also know several people with osteoarthritis who have used castor oil applications to help improve the movement and reduce the pain of their affected joints (as recommended by their ND’s – because depending on the type of arthritis adding heat may not be a great idea!).
Enter the Castor Oil Pack! We learned about these in first year and in fact, it was one of the first things my intern at the RSNC recommended to me. These are usually done over the abdomen or liver. I prefer the liver because it really helps to draw blood to the area and encourage MOVEMENT! In our modern culture, stagnation is a big problem. In general, most of us don’t move our bodies enough, we dont move our bowels enough, we dont move our lymphatics enough, we dont clear/express our emotions enough… and the list goes on. Use of the castor oil pack is a very simple way to increase the bodies ability to purge, metabolize and MOVE (blood, lymph, bowels, toxins etc).
The Castor Oil Pack was a key treatment used by the American psychic and healer, Edward Cayce. Some of the benefits he noted with the use of the pack were: (2)
- Increased elimination
- Stimulating circulation to the liver
- Balancing eliminatons
- Reducing swelling/inflammation
- Stimulating the gallbladder
What do I use?
1. Good quality Castor Oil (hexane free)
2. A piece of flannel or cotton (organic is best if you use cotton) large enough to cover your abdomen/liver. To ensure your liver is covered, make sure the flannel is all the way up to under your right breast.
3. A hot water bottle or heating pad
4. A plastic bag/ some plastic wrap
5. Some old jammies you don’t mind getting a bit oily.
How do I do it?
1. Soak the flannel in castor oil (its thick and gooey – beware). It doesnt need to be dripping, just fully saturated.
2. Place flannel on abdomen and cover with the plastic. I avoid allowing the plastic to touch my skin.
3. Place your heat on top and relax for 30-60 minutes.
4. Your oil-soaked flannel can keep for a few uses before washing – but for a repeated use you want to re-soak it in castor oil; just make sure to keep it in something sealed and in a cool place between use. If it smells ‘off’ just wash it before your next use.
I was doing this a few times a week for a couple months at a time. I find it very relaxing! In fact, I have been using the castor oil pack on and off for almost 2 years now! I find it particularly useful for digestion and notice an improvement in not only bowel function but also in my skin, its clearer for sure. It really does help to get things flowing and moving! I have been able to find very little research on the use of the castor oil pack, so these are simply my personal observations.
Castor oil packs should not be used during pregnancy. Anytime you increase circulation to the liver, you are potentially increasing the clearance of metabolites and even drugs. As always, talk to your ND for specifics regarding castor oil.
Reminder: this post is not meant to be construed as medical advice, but only as informational and based on personal experience. For more clarification on this please refer to the disclaimer at the bottom of this page.
1. Viera C et al. Effect of ricinoleic acid in acute and subchronic experimental models of inflammation. Mediators Inflamm. 2000; 9(5): 223-8.
2. McGarey, William A. (2003) The Oil That Heals: A Physician’s Success with Castor Oil Treatments. Virginia Beach, VA: A.R.E Press.