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Castor

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  • Botanical: Ricinus communis
  • Family: Euphorbiaceae
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Castor

Botanical

Ricinus communis

Family

Euphorbiaceae

Known as

Castor Oil Plant, Ricinus communis, Castorbean,

Old Use

culinary; medicinal;

Collection Times

September to November

Parts Used

seed

Medicinal

abscess, abdominal pain, antiseptic, boils, bowel cleansing, constipation, digestion, eye inflammation, laxative, indigestion, infections, insect repellend, skin rashes, ulcers, warts, worm, erysipelas

Infection & Inflammation

infections, skin inflammation

Mind & Nerves

headache

Stomach & Intestinal

abdominal pain, bowel cleansing, constipation, digestion, flatulence, gastrointestinal, laxative, intestinal parasites

Skin & Hair

allergies, bruises, chapped skin, dermatitis, eczema, erysipelas

Properties

antibacterial, antiseptic, anti inflammatory, expectorant

Description

It is a fast-growing, suckering perennial shrub that can reach the size of a small tree (around 12 metres or 39 feet), but it is not cold hardy.

The glossy leaves are 15–45 centimetres (5.9–17.7 in) long, long-stalked, alternate and palmate with 5–12 deep lobes with coarsely toothed segments. In some varieties they start off dark reddish purple or bronze when young, gradually changing to a dark green, sometimes with a reddish tinge, as they mature.

The leaves of some other varieties are green practically from the start, whereas in yet others a pigment masks the green colour of all the chlorophyll-bearing parts, leaves, stems and young fruit, so that they remain a dramatic purple-to-reddish-brown throughout the life of the plant. Plants with the dark leaves can be found growing next to those with green leaves, so there probably is only a single gene controlling the production of the pigment in some varieties at least. The stems (and the spherical, spiny seed capsules) also vary in pigmentation.

The fruit capsules of some varieties are more showy than the flowers. The green capsule dries and splits into three sections, forcibly ejecting seeds

The flowers are borne in terminal panicle-like inflorescences of green or, in some varieties, shades of red monoecious flowers without petals. The male flowers are yellowish-green with prominent creamy stamens and are carried in ovoid spikes up to 15 centimetres (5.9 in) long; the female flowers, borne at the tips of the spikes, have prominent red stigmas.

The fruit is a spiny, greenish (to reddish-purple) capsule containing large, oval, shiny, bean-like, highly poisonous seeds with variable brownish mottling. Castor seeds have a warty appendage called the caruncle, which is a type of elaiosome. The caruncle promotes the dispersal of the seed by ants (myrmecochory).

Properties & Uses

he oil from the seed is a very well-known laxative that has been widely used for over 2,000 years. 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. It is so effective that it is regularly used to clear the digestive tract in cases of poisoning. It should not be used in cases of chronic constipation, where it might deal with the symptoms but does not treat the cause. The flavour is somewhat unpleasant, however, and it can cause nausea in some people. The oil has a remarkable antidandruff effect. The oil is well-tolerated by the skin and so is sometimes used as a vehicle for medicinal and cosmetic preparations. Castor oil congeals to a gel-mass when the alcoholic solution is distilled in the presence of sodium salts of higher fatty acids. 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. It is rubbed on the temple to treat headache and is also powdered and applied to abscesses and various skin infections. The seed is used in Tibetan medicine, where it is considered to have an acrid, bitter and sweet taste with a heating potency. It is used in the treatment of indigestion and as a purgative. A decoction of the leaves and roots is antitussive, discutient and expectorant. The leaves are used as a poultice to relieve headaches and treat boils. 

Other Uses

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. It is also used as a lubricant and for lighting and as an ingredient in fuels for precision engines. 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. The dehydrated oil is an excellent drying agent which compares favorably with tung oil and is used in paints and varnishes. The hydrogenated oil is utilized in the manufacture of waxes, polishes, carbon paper, candles and crayons. A fibre for making ropes is obtained from the stems. The growing plant is said to repel flies and mosquitoes. When grown in the garden it is said to rid it of moles and nibbling insects. The leaves have insecticidal properties. Cellulose from the stems is used for making cardboard, paper etc

Cautions

The whole plant is very poisonous, even one seed has been known to be lethal to children. The seedcoat contains an extremely lethal poison that was once used by the KGB to dispose of their enemies. The leaves are only mildly poisonous. The toxic principle is water-soluble so is not found in the oil. Abdominal discomfort, cramping, nausea, loss of fluid and electrolytes. Possible allergens present. Do not use during pregnancy as may induce premature labour and miscarriage 

Distribution

Africa. Original habitat is obscure. Naturalized in S. and S.C. Europe.

Constituents

Alkaloids, essential oil, bitter, fatty oil, glycerides, pyridine alkaloid, ricin, ricinoleic acid, toxalbumin, Tririzinolein