The castor is a small annual plant. It ranges from I to 7 metres in height. It has well-developed roots, with green and reddish stems which become hollow with age. The fruit is a spherical capsule with small grey seeds with brown spots.
Castor seeds were an important item of commerce in ancient Egypt. It has been found in tombs dating from 4000 BC. In India too, castor has been used since ancient times. In the Susruta Atharvaveda, dating back to 2000 BC, it is referred to as indigenous plant and that its oil was used for lamps. Two varieties--the red and the white seeded--are mentioned. The oil was, and is still, used extensively in local medicines mainly as a laxative, but also to soften dry and coarse skin. The Chinese have used the oil for medicinal purposes, for centuries.
The castor plant appears to have originated in eastern Africa, especially around Ethiopia. It now grows throughout the warm-temperate and tropical regions and flourishes under a variety of climatic conditions. It can be grown almost anywhere and this is one of castor's greatest virtues.
The seeds of the plant contain alkoloid ricinine and toxalbumine ricin. They yield a fixed oil, which is used chiefly for medicinal purposes. Though castor plant or its oil is not a food, yet it is one of the most commonly used oils all over the world as a safe purgative and drug for reducing irritation of the skin and alleviating swelling and pain.
Castor oil chiefly consists of ricinoleate of glycerol or triricinolein with a small quantity of palmitin and stearin. Unlike most fixed oils, castor oil possesses the remarkable property of mixing with absolute alcohol and glacial acetic acid in all proportions. The glycerides of ricinoleic acid in castor oil are mainly responsible for its purgative effect.
Castor is used very effectively in the treatment of rheumatic and skin disorders. It is a harmless purgative.
A poultice of castor seeds can be applied with beneficial results to gouty and rheumatic swellings. A decoction of the roots of castor plant with carbonate of potash is useful in the treatment of lumbago, rheumatism and sciatica. A paste of the kernel without the embryo, boiled in milk, is also given as a medicine in these conditions.
A poultice of castor leaves is useful as an external application to boils and swellings. Coated with some bland oil such as coconut oil and heated, the hot leaves can be applied over guinea-worm sores to extract the worms. A poultice of castor seeds is also applied to scrofulous sores and boils due to tuberculosis of lymph nodes.
Castor oil massaged over the breast after child-birth increases the flow of milk, as it stimulates the mammary glands. Castor leaves can also be used to foment the breasts, for the same purpose.
If used regularly as hair oil, it helps the growth of the hair and cures dandruff.
Castor oil is a simple, harmless purgative and can be used without any rigid consideration and limitation of weather and the physiological nature of the patient. Generally, spring is the best season to administer purgatives, but castor oil, can safely be used round the year. It simply passes out after completing its purgative action, making the patient feel a mild irritation in the anus at that time.
Administration of castor oil as a purgative is very simple. About 30 to 60 grams of pure odourless castor oil is given orally with 250 to 375 grams of lukewarm milk. It acts just after an hour.
Those who find its use nauseating and unpalatable, can take it with ginger water or aqua anisi in place of milk: This greatly reduces its unpleasantness, while destroying mucous and promoting healthy appetite.
Natural Birth-Control: According to Ayurvedic and Unani treatises, if a woman chews one castor seed daily for a period of seven days after the menstruation she becomes sterile. This has been interpreted by many that castor seed is a herb for birth control I and if the woman swallows one castor seed, after the menstrual cycle she will not conceive during that month. When pregnancy is desired, the practice can be given up and conception follows after a year.
Castor oil massaged over the body, before bath, keeps the skin healthy and imparts sound sleep. Such an oil bath may be taken once in a week. Applying castor oil over hand and feet before going to bed keeps them soft and similarly over the eyebrows and eyelashes keeps them well-groomed.
Precautions: Repeated use of castor oil as a laxative should ; be avoided as it causes secondary constipation, that is, recurrence of the condition after cure. Persons suffering from kidney infections should not take castor oil as a purgative. It should also not be used when there is abdominal pain or intestinal infections such as appendicitis, enteritis or inflammation of the small intestine and peritonitis. Large doses of castor oil during the early months of pregnancy may cause abortion.