Castor oil has a rich history not only in the United States where grandmothers tout its health benefits but also across the world where it has been used for thousands of years. Castor oil is made by pressing the beans of the castor plant until the oil is produced. Today, for medicinal and beauty purposes, it is essential to choose organic castor oil to ensure you are purchasing the purest form.
What Is Castor Oil?
The castor plant, Ricinus communis, is native to India and belongs to the spurge family. Now cultivated in parts of Eastern Africa and Europe, South America, and the Mediterranean, the castor plant thrives in tropical, wet climates. Castor beans are a labor-intensive crop that is very sensitive to climate conditions.
Ancient cultures such as the Persians, Chinese, and Egyptians used the castor plant in skin-healing balms and as fuel for their lamps. Castor oil is very thick with a neutral scent and taste. Today, it is used in a wide range of commercial applications and pharmacology. It serves as a food additive and is an ingredient in nearly 1,000 cosmetic and beauty products. It is even considered one of the most promising alternative fuel sources—biodiesel.
Castor oil’s make up includes:
- 90% ricinoleic
- 4% linoleum
- 3% oleic
- 1% stearic
- Less than 1% linolenic fatty acids
Ancient cultures and Europeans in the Middle Ages recognized castor oil’s therapeutic benefits:
- Fighting skin infections
- Relieving constipation
- Stimulating hair growth
- Strengthening the immune system
Castor oil can be applied topically in castor oil packs or taken internally. If taken orally, castor oil should be taken in small doses for a short period of time.
Castor Oil Health Benefits
Castor oil is made from a medicinal plant that contains fatty acids, amino acids, phytosterols, phenolic compounds, and a variety of flavonoids. According to a recent review published in the Pakistan Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, castor oil demonstrates strong activities including:
- Free radical scavenging
Authors of the comprehensive review note that castor oil has been used in traditional medicine practices (Ayurvedic and Ancient Chinese Medicine) for the following ailments, and is in fact still used today for:
8 Organic Castor Oil Uses
As mentioned above, castor oil is cultivated around the world and to ensure the highest and purest form it is important to choose organic castor oil from a reputable manufacturer. This is the best choice for both topical castor oil applications and taking it orally. Here are our top 8 organic castor oil uses.
1. Relieves Constipation
This is one of the oldest and still most popular castor oil uses—relieving constipation. In a clinical examination of castor oil use in nursing homes, researchers found that castor oil packs are effective at decreasing symptoms of constipation. In the study published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found castor oil packs reduced straining and allowed for the complete evacuation of the bowels.
2. Induces Labor
In a recent observational case-control study over five years, pregnant women at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia in Italy were treated with castor oil to induce labor. In the study published in The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine, researchers gave women between 40 and 41 weeks in gestation a single 60-milliliter dose followed by 200 milliliters of water.
The result? The women who received castor oil had a higher incidence of vaginal delivery than the control group did. The authors of the study conclude that the use of castor oil is related to a higher probability of labor within 24 hours. It is important to note that self-inducing labor with organic castor oil is not recommended. Talk to your OBGYN before trying this technique while pregnant.
3. Stimulates Immune System
In a landmark controlled-study by the A.R.E. Clinic’s Fetzer Energy Medicine Research Institute, researchers identified that castor oil pack therapy stimulates the immune system in healthy adults. In fact, in this study published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, the experimental group had a significant increase in the number of T-11 lymphocytes. The authors of the study urge further research to determine how castor oil packs work when placed on different areas of the body, such as over the spleen or thymus.
4. Osteoarthritis Relief
In a randomized, double-blind comparative clinical study published in the journal Phytotherapy Research, after four weeks of supplementation with castor oil capsules, study participants reported significant improvement in arthritis symptoms with no adverse effects reported. This study focused on the safety and efficacy of castor oil in knee osteoarthritis, and participants were given 0.9 milliliters of castor oil three times a day for four weeks with the most significant improvements being noted at the four-week mark.
5. Wound Healing
Wound healing is another of the castor oil health benefits that have been recognized since ancient times. According to a study published in the journal BMC Complementary & Alternative Medicine, castor oil shows considerable activity against E. coli, P. aeruginosa, and Staphylococcus aureus.
The authors of the study note that Ricinus communis seed protein demonstrates strong anti-cancer activities too. In addition to fighting a variety of pathogens on the skin, castor oil is a rich moisturizer that can help relieve itching, improve rashes, and benefit overall skin health.
6. Heal Acne
Castor oil’s natural bacteria-fighting properties make it an excellent treatment for acne. It works similar to coconut oil in many ways by providing much-needed moisture to the skin while fighting any residual bacteria. One of the best ways to clear the skin of acne is to use the Oil Cleansing Method.
This is a method that seems counterintuitive at first glance—using oil to cleanse the skin to relieve acne—but many reports show it works. Simply mix 1 teaspoon of organic castor oil with 1 teaspoon of coconut oil, and rub the mixture in circles into your skin with your fingers.
This is truly a deep-cleansing method, and you’ll soon begin to feel little hard bits of dead skin sloughing off and your pores releasing trapped dirt. Continue to massage the oil mixture in for a few minutes, concentrating on trouble spots, and then remove the oil with a clean, soft washcloth soaked in warm—not hot—water.
7. Soothe Sunburns
Castor oil is rich in anti-inflammatory properties that make it ideal for treating sunburns. Mix 2 teaspoons with 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and rub gently into a sunburn. This combination will help to reduce pain and redness. Apply as often as desired.
8. Hair Growth
Castor oil for hair growth is one of the more popular modern-day uses of this rich vegetable oil. Hormonal imbalances, chronic stress, and the environment can cause significant hair loss. In addition to taking amino acids for hair loss, rubbing castor oil into your scalp may make your hair grow faster, thicker, stronger, and shinier.
Just a dab of castor oil for hair will do. Warm a couple of drops in your hands, and then massage the oil into your scalp using your fingertips. Continue the massage for three to five minutes to help improve blood circulation. Wrap your head in a towel or an old t-shirt, and leave it on a few hours, or preferably overnight. Wash, condition, and style as desired the next day. For an extra boost of hair-growing power, add a couple of drops of rosemary essential oil to the castor oil before using.
Using castor oil for eyelashes and eyebrows is also very popular. It is essential to use a pure, cold-pressed organic castor oil when applying so close to the eyes. Remove all makeup, and take just a drop and run it across your eyebrows and your eyelashes. Do this every night before bed and you should start to notice hair growth within a month or so.
What Is a Castor Oil Pack?
A couple of the castor oil uses above call for using a “castor oil pack.” A castor oil pack is simply a way to apply castor oil topically and seal it to the skin. This type of topical application of castor oil is said to improve lymphatic circulation, support liver detoxification, and reduce inflammation.
Castor oil packs should be used to treat symptoms over a short period—they are not recommended for long-term use. If you have troublesome or prolonged symptoms, speak to your naturopath or physician to determine if a more serious underlying health condition is at play.
Castor oil pack kits are available, but they really aren’t necessary. Here is how to create a castor oil pack.
- Soak a strip of dye-free wool or cotton flannel in a couple of tablespoons of organic castor oil.
- Have a large piece of natural fabric that is long enough to wrap all the way around the area of the body you will be placing the castor oil pack.
- Lay out an old sheet or towel where you will be reclining for 30 minutes to an hour.
- Get your heating pad or prepare a hot water bottle.
- Wring out any excess castor oil from the soaking cloth, and fold to the size desired.
- Recline on the old sheet or towel and place the castor oil pack in the location desired.
- Secure it with the large piece of fabric by wrapping it fairly tightly around the area.
- Place a heating pad or hot water bottle on top, and relax for 30 minutes to an hour, or longer as desired.
What Is the Best Kind of Castor Oil to Use?
Organic cold-pressed castor oil is recommended for castor oil packs, skin, hair, and oral application. Jamaican black castor oil is becoming more popular in some natural health circles. This castor oil is processed differently. The seeds are roasted before being pulverized and the oil extracted.
The result is a much darker oil with a very pungent smell and taste. It is said that the processing alters the pH level to more alkaline due to the residual black ash from the roasting of the seeds. There are currently no studies on Jamaican black castor oil in the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Library of Medicine.
Castor Oil Precautions
Castor oil is considered likely safe when taken by mouth in a single dose. However, it can cause digestive discomfort, cramping, nausea, and fainting in some individuals. It is considered possibly unsafe when taken orally long term or in large doses. This is because consumption of castor oil for an extended period can cause significant dehydration symptoms and potassium loss.
For children, castor oil is possibly safe in small doses given for less than a week. Avoid castor oil if you are pregnant, as it can induce labor too soon, or if you are breastfeeding. Castor oil is a strong laxative—do not take it with prescription or over-the-counter diuretic drugs as doing so can cause a dangerous decrease in potassium.
Ricin is found in the hull of the castor seed, and it’s used in weapons-grade ricin that has been tested as a chemical warfare agent. Organic castor oil does not contain ricin, as the heating process denatures and deactivates this highly potent toxin.