The Health Benefits and Practical Uses of Castor Oil
It may have a reputation as an old-fashioned home remedy, but castor oil is worthy of a fresh look. Not only is it an effective, natural treatment for many human ailments, it can be a quick fix to common household problems, and even help out the family pets, too.
What is Castor Oil?
Castor oil is derived from Ricinus communis, a plant native to India and also cultivated throughout the Mediterranean. The extracted oil is a triglyceride composed of 90 percent ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid with beneficial healing properties. When ingested, ricinoleic acid latches onto molecules in the smooth muscle cells along the walls of the small intestine, causing it to contract. This creates the laxative effect that the product is probably best known for; in fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had declared castor oil safe and effective for the treatment of constipation.
Ricinoleic acid will behave similarly in the uterus, so if you are pregnant, do not take castor oil without first consulting your physician. However, researchers claim that further study of this effect could lead to new medications down the road.
The Health Benefits of Castor Oil
Castor oil is also beneficial when applied topically. Evidence has shown it helps boost immunity by triggering an increase the production of lymphocytes, a type of cell that plays a role in immunity. These disease-fighting organisms attack and remove perceived threats, such as harmful toxins or bacteria. This cleansing effect can help flush toxins from sore muscles, properly remove wastes from tissues, and aid in recovery of disease.
Another widespread topical use is to moisturize dry skin, scalps, fingernails, or minor cuts and scrapes. It soothes the surface of the skin and penetrates to add moisture. Like many other seed and vegetable oils, it can be used as a carrier agent for essential oils before applying, and can be slightly warmed for added comfort.
Castor oil has a long history of application as a pack, often with added heat. While scientific evidence is inconclusive as to this benefit, many feel that using a castor oil pack enhances its powerful immune boosting qualities. Organic packs can be purchased here or made at home, and are applied to the skin for 30 to 60 minutes, while at rest.
Aside from people, households can benefit from castor oil, too. It’s an effective lubricant for hinges, runners, sockets, or home and garden tools. It tolerates temperatures well, making it effective for use everywhere — from those tools stored year-round in the backyard shed, to the squeaky hinge on the refrigerator.
It’s also a humane way to relocate nuisance moles; when mixed with water and poured in and around mole holes in the yard, the critters are repelled without being harmed.
Finally, don’t overlook the family pet — a topical application will moisturize dry skin, treat minor abrasions, or even soothe cracked paws on your furry best friend.
There are many other uses for castor oil worth exploring. If you aren’t familiar with it — or if it revokes negative memories — it may be time to pick up a good quality bottle to add to your stash of home remedies.
Debbie Swanson is a freelance writer, published in numerous national and local outlets. An avid vegetarian, animal lover and reader, she loves learning about healthy eating and finding natural cures for everyday ailments.