Castor-Oil Plant (Ricinus communis)

Common Name Latin Name Plant Family
Castor-Oil Plant
Ricinus communis
Euphorbiaceae

The seed contains 35 – 55% of a drying oil. As well as being used in cooking, it is an ingredient of soaps, polishes, flypapers, paints and varnishes[2, 4, 7, 14, 57]. It is also used as a lubricant and for lighting and as an ingredient in fuels for precision engines[7, 17, 100]. The oil is used in coating fabrics and other protective coverings, in the manufacture of high-grade lubricants, transparent typewriter and printing inks, in textile dyeing (when converted into sulfonated Castor Oil or Turkey-Red Oil, for dyeing cotton fabrics with alizarine) and in the production of ‘Rilson’, a polyamide nylon-type fibre[269]. The dehydrated oil is an excellent drying agent which compares favorably with tung oil and is used in paints and varnishes[269]. The hydrogenated oil is utilized in the manufacture of waxes, polishes, carbon paper, candles and crayons[269].

A fibre for making ropes is obtained from the stems[7].

The growing plant is said to repel flies and mosquitoes[7, 14, 18, 20, 171, 201]. When grown in the garden it is said to rid it of moles and nibbling insects[14, 20, 201]. The leaves have insecticidal properties[171].

Cellulose from the stems is used for making cardboard, paper etc[61, 171].

  • Medicinal Use

    The oil from the seed is a very well-known laxative that has been widely used for over 2,000 years[222]. It is considered to be fast, safe and gentle, prompting a bowel movement in 3 – 5 hours, and is recommended for both the very young and the aged[4, 254]. It is so effective that it is regularly used to clear the digestive tract in cases of poisoning[254]. It should not be used in cases of chronic constipation, where it might deal with the symptoms but does not treat the cause[4]. The flavour is somewhat unpleasant, however, and it can cause nausea in some people[4]. The oil has a remarkable antidandruff effect[7]. The oil is well-tolerated by the skin and so is sometimes used as a vehicle for medicinal and cosmetic preparations[254].

    Castor oil congeals to a gel-mass when the alcoholic solution is distilled in the presence of sodium salts of higher fatty acids[240]. This gel is useful in the treatment of non-inflammatory skin diseases and is a good protective in cases of occupational eczema and dermatitis[240].

    The seed is anthelmintic, cathartic, emollient, laxative, purgative[4, 7, 21]. It is rubbed on the temple to treat headache[218] and is also powdered and applied to abscesses and various skin infections[218]. The seed is used in Tibetan medicine, where it is considered to have an acrid, bitter and sweet taste with a heating potency[241]. It is used in the treatment of indigestion and as a purgative[241].

    A decoction of the leaves and roots is antitussive, discutient and expectorant[218]. The leaves are used as a poultice to relieve headaches and treat boils[240].

  • Edible Use

    The seed contains 35 – 55% of an edible oil, used in cooking[2, 171]. The seed is a rich source of phosphorus, 90% of which is in the phytic form[218]. Some caution should be observed, see the notes above on toxicity

  • Cautionary Notes

    The whole plant is very poisonous[10, 19, 20], even one seed has been known to be lethal to children[65, 76, 200]. The seedcoat contains an extremely lethal poison that was once used by the KGB to dispose of their enemies[260]. The leaves are only mildly poisonous[76]. The toxic principle is water-soluble so is not found in the oil[76].

Cultivation & Habitat

Seed – sow early spring in a warm greenhouse in individual pots. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out after the last expected frosts[1]. The seeds retain their viability for 2 – 3 years[269].
Prefers a well-drained moisture retentive clay or sandy loam in full sun[14, 200]. Requires a rich soil and daytime temperatures above 20¡c for the seedlings to grow well[260], though the seed may fail to set if temperatures rise above 38¡C for an extended period[269]. The plant requires 140 – 180 days of warm temperatures in the growing season in order to produce good crops of seed, and is readily killed by frost[269]. The plant is reported to tolerate an annual precipitation in the range of 20 to 429cm, an annual temperature in the range of 7.0 to 27.8¡C and a pH of 4.5 to 8.3[269]. The castor-oil plant is a fast-growing shrub in the wild, reaching up to 12 metres in height, though it is much smaller when cultivated in the temperate zone[188, 260]. A very ornamental plant[1], although it is not winter hardy in Britain, it can be grown outdoors as an annual bedding plant for sub-tropical displays, and can flower and produce fruit in its first year in warm summers[1, 4]. It has been known to ripen a crop of seeds as far north as Christiana in Norway[4]. Providing the plants water needs are met, yields of around 1 tonne per hectare have been achieved, with exceptional cases of up t 5 tonnes per hectare[269]. It has a long history of cultivation as an oil-bearing and medicinal plant, having been grown in ancient Egypt[238]. It is still widely cultivated for its seed in tropical and sub-tropical zones[1, 61]. There are many named varieties, some developed for ornamental use and others for oil production[4, 269]. Plants may need support in exposed areas[188].
Africa? Original habitat is obscure. Naturalized in S. and S.C. Europe.

Become ungovernable, break the chains of the matrix; grow and forage your own food and medicine.

*None of the information on this website qualifies as professional medical advice. Take only what resonates with your heart and use your own personal responsibility for what’s best for you. For more information [brackets] [000], see bibliography.