The irony is that castor oil has a long history of use throughout the ages in food, industrial, cosmetic, and medical industries. This unique oil demonstrates its versatility in medicine, as it can be used both internally and topically for a multitude of purposes. The research behind its chemistry, eclectic, and anecdotal usage, as well as the modern-day scientific evidence that supports its use, is abundant.
Pharmacognosy of Castor Oil
The castor oil plant, which belongs to the Euphorbiaceae family, is known by its Latin name, Ricinus communis. Ricinus is the Latin word for tick, named as such because the seeds resemble a blood-filled tick. Could this perhaps be a sign, according to the doctrine of signatures, of its medicinal effectiveness in tick-borne diseases such as Lyme? Just a thought, but an interesting one, as castor oil packs are often used to support this condition.
The bean itself is poisonous, due to the lectin protein ricin, which is used in both chemical and biological warfare. Ricin is toxic to humans because it attaches to the cell membrane of human erythrocytes, which contain specific protein receptors for the lectins of Ricinus communis. Fortunately, the oil extracted from the bean is completely ricin-free and therefore non-toxic. This is highly important to note, because much controversy surrounds the possible presence of the lectin in the oil, and some people assume that it is the lectin component that produces laxation via intoxication and poison!
Castor oil does cause laxation if taken internally, but it does so via stimulating nitric oxide that creates an electrolyte shift in your intestine. As with anything, it can be dangerous if you take too much. A little bit is good, but too much is bad.
Medicinal or therapeutic-grade castor oil should be “first quality,” otherwise known in the oil world as “extra virgin,” meaning that it has been cold-pressed without the use of solvents such as hexane. First-quality oil is virtually colorless, odorless, has a very low acidity, and very high nutrient and antioxidant profile.2
As castor oil is the only oil that can penetrate the dermis (the second layer of skin) it can bring essential oils and other nourishing skin oils deeper into the body. This characteristic makes it the master carrier oil, due to its structure. molecular weight, and ricinoleic acid. Because of this amazing capability to transport and transfer substances into the body, it is of the utmost importance to only use a high-quality.
Because of this powerful carrying ability, it’s essential to always buy organic castor oil, and always in a glass bottle. If packaged in plastic, castor oil will absorb chemicals from the plastic bottle and then carry them into the body when the oil is applied to the delicate skin of the human body.
Even bisphenol A (BPA)-free plastic does not suffice, as there are many more plastic chemicals present than BPA, they can leach out into the oil. There are also ultraviolet (UV) filters in plastic bottles, such as benzophenones, that are endocrine-disrupting.