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Castor Oil: The Old-Timer’s ‘Cure-All’ That Should Be In Every Stockpile

Castor Oil: Why Grandma’s Miracle ‘Cure-All’ Should Be In Every Stockpile

If you have ever watched old cartoons or movies, you may have seen more than one reference to castor oil. The scene usually involves someone’s grandmother pushing a huge spoonful of castor oil down a sick person’s throat — with funny faces ensuing due to its horrible taste.

How did castor oil get its start? Does it really do anything for the body? And does it actually taste that terrible?

Let’s take a look at that old-fashioned cure-all.

What Is Castor Oil?

Castor oil is extracted from the seeds, sometimes called “beans,” of castor plants. These seeds are unique in that they contain a fatty acid triglyceride, most of which is ricinoleic acid. Although this type of fatty acid is found in other types of plants, such as cottonseed, it is only found in minute quantities. Castor oil is about 90 percent ricinoleic acid.

It’s important to remember that eating the seeds themselves will cause death. Depending on your size, as few as five seeds are considered a fatal dose. There is no antidote. The oil, though, has no trace of the poison (called ricin) in it.

Native to India, this plant has been mentioned in written history since ancient times, and was used very regularly by our ancestors for a wide variety of health problems.

How Did Our Ancestors Use Castor Oil?

The fact that there were few actual physicians — coupled with the hard truth that there were not very many pharmaceutical drugs 150 to 200 years ago — left our ancestors with very few choices. Anything from Mother Nature was pressed into service in hopes that it would at least provide relief from symptoms while the body healed, or that it might actually do something to cure the problem.

One thing that is well-known about castor oil is that it is an irritant to the colon. So, why would someone take it? Simple: It cured constipation within hours. Many a grandmother was concerned with her family’s bowel movements, which is why just about any kind of tummy ache or nausea usually resulted in a big tablespoon of castor oil “just to be sure.”

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Indigestion and dysentery were very common in pioneer times, often due to poor food quality or cleanliness. Again, it was castor oil to the rescue.

Castor oil also has an interesting property in that it doesn’t freeze. That made it valuable to keep around in the winter months, as it could be used to oil sticky or frozen machinery parts.

Image source: Wikimedia

Image source: Wikimedia

This oil has a stimulating effect on the body. New mothers who had a difficult time producing enough milk for their baby were often told to rub castor oil on the breasts to increase milk flow. This same remedy was also suggested for sore breasts and blocked milk ducts. If a baby was late in coming, a few tablespoons of castor oil were the general recommendation to induce labor. Although there is no scientific evidence to back this up, there are plenty of personal stories which relate that folk remedy actually worked.

Midwives and other women also suggested that rubbing castor oil on the abdomen each morning and night would relieve menstrual cramps.

Castor oil is also known for improving skin health. Pioneer women used it for everything from preventing stretch marks to healing diaper rash, as well as other types of skin problems, including killing lice, preventing hair loss, and stopping dandruff. Since castor oil does contain antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-fungal compounds, it is very likely that this can work quite well.

One pioneer woman left some advice for those preparing to travel out West: “No one should travel without medicine, for they are sure to suffer from a complaint. Every family should have a quart of the best rum, a quart of castor oil, and a large vial of peppermint essence.”

Growing Your Own Castor Plant

Castor plants (Ricinus communis) are beautiful, with leaves as large as a dinner plate. However, they are difficult to grow in areas that receive snow or hard frosts. New seeds would need to be nurtured every year. In the South and West, castor plants can grow to be small trees, approximately 15 to 20 feet high.

The seeds are safe to handle, but, again, not to eat. If you have toddlers, this is probably not the plant for you.

Otherwise, castor plants grow nicely in full sun in average or compost rich soil. They appear to need very little care and are quite beautiful.

Making your own castor oil is a bit complicated. The seeds need to be dried, then hulled. The hulled seeds are then boiled to remove the ricin. After boiling, the seeds are then pressed to extract the oil. This is extremely labor intensive, so you might want to consider simply stocking up on a good supply since it is, currently, rather inexpensive and, unlike other oils, does not go rancid when stored out of sunlight.

Other Uses … Oil Lamps?

Thomas Jefferson placed castor plants around his property in hopes that it would kill the gophers and moles that plagued his garden. It didn’t work. The oil does repel moles, but not the plant itself. Jefferson suggested this remedy to George Washington. Jefferson, it is said, loved to invite Washington to visit his garden, where he somehow managed to nurse one plant to a staggering 22 feet in height.

In a pinch, castor oil works great in oil lamps. It burns very cleanly and was used for this purpose by the ancient Egyptians.

It was also called “Palma Christe” in ancient times, as the large leaves were said to look like Christ’s hands. It is possible that after people found out about its medicinal qualities, they believed the plant was sent from God.

*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to diagnose or cure any particular health condition. Please consult with a qualified health professional first about this method.

Have you ever used castor oil? What advice would you add? Share your tips in the section below:

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10 comments

  1. If you have dry, maybe cracking feet, put castor oil on them, then socks, then go to bed. i wait until I’m in bed to put the oil on because they are slippery. This really does work.

  2. A few years ago my husband was diagnosed with bi-lateral DVT’s from groin to bottom of his feet. During his 17 day (15 of which was in intensive care with 5 surgeries) stay. His Dr. told me to go to a sprouts store and get “cold pressed” Castor Oil. When I got back to the ICU the Dr. proceeded to show me what she wanted done-we soaked ABD Pads with it and laid them over his extensive/massive hematoma’s. Within 3 days most of the bruising was almost gone. We where amazed it worked!! His Dr. is not a fly by night she is world re-known, we just lucked out and she was on-call in the ER when we got there. Saved his life.

  3. Some years ago, doing a detox and produced a cyst over my spine in the middle of my back. A magnesium based ointment was used but not happening quickly enough for me, maybe tried other natural ways, then I read about castor oil. A piece of woollen fabric soaked with castor oil was placed over the cyst and heat applied with the use of a hot water bottle. It didn’t take very long to effect a change and my spouse wanted me to go to the doctor and have it lanced. I said no. I got him to apply some pressure and remove the contents. It healed and I have a depression about a half inch wide as a reminder of that incident.

  4. I thought the kids in the cartoons and movies were being given cod liver oil, not castor oil.

    • Good question. We found a Tom & Jerry cartoon with a castor oil reference. But perhaps cod liver oil is used in some old cartoons, too.

  5. WOW I LIKE WHAT I SEE HERE, IM JUST STARTING TO HAVE A KEEN INTEREST IN PHARMACY, THINK STUFF LIKE THESE WILL BE WORTHWHOLE
    THANK YALL

  6. I tried a new barber near where we shop, noticed she didn’t seem to have a way of dsinfecting combs. About a week later I had multiple itchy bumps on the back of my neck. Generously applied Castor oil over affected scalp a couple of times when I didn’t have business requiring me not to wear a cap. Most of the bumps were healed up within 2 weeks, the itching disappeared within hours.

  7. Castor Oil is great for a lot of things. One thing to remember, it unclogs ANYTHING. This is why women were told to rub it into the breasts to increase milk production or reduce the swelling. It also works to unclog sinuses and even the appendix! When someone is having a bought with the appendix, Castor oil compresses with alternating heat and cold work to unclog the organ (the reason for appendicitis.)

    I’ve used it for sinus/stuffy noses and also to ‘dump’ the liver. Now, THAT’S as weird feeling!

  8. Awesome article, very informative and I learned even more about uses for castor oil. Just thought to add, the seed hull (capsule containing 3 seeds) contain a different type of toxin unrelated to ricin that causes rash, irritation, and loss off sensation in exposed skin areas. I learned this the hard way one year harvesting a small field of castor and handling the seed racmes without gloves or mask, pretty stupid in retrospect. I lost feeling in my hands for about a week and experienced a constant pain similar to frost bite but luckily there was no long term damage. Other tid bits-castor oil has the highest chemical iodine value of all vegetable oils, cannot oxidize or polyermrize without catalyst/heat, and makes great bio-diesel fuel-very low gel point and high btu. Also is a fantastic carbon fixing plant and ive used it around garden perimeters to repel deer.

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