Castor oil is one of the best kept secrets of naturopathic medicine. Taken from the bean of the castor plant, this oil is rich in ricinoleic acid, an important active constituent that makes castor oil so special.
The oil was originally ingested as a laxative. However, taking castor oil internally is now ill-advised, due to its strong, and often painful, cathartic effects.
Castor oil, in today’s practice of naturopathic medicine, best exerts its powerful effects when applied topically. The oil has a small molecular weight and can therefore penetrate easily into hair and skin, providing therapeutic effects to underlying organs and the skin itself. According to Ayurvedic medicine, castor oil is extremely heating and penetrating. Applying it to the body encourages the movement of lymph and helps decrease stagnation. It’s excellent to use for self-massage, especially for those suffering from Kapha aggravation. It’s warming and moisturizing benefits are also suitable for individuals of Vata constitution as well.
Castor oil contains antimicrobial properties and can be applied to open wounds, as a disinfectant, and to fungal infections, such as ringworm. Ricinoleic acid also has powerful pain-relieving properties, which makes castor oil ideal for lubricating painful and cracking joints, or alleviating the pain and inflammation of arthritis and other painful musculoskeletal conditions.
For inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis and creaking or painful joints, apply castor oil to painful areas. To increase circulation, add cayenne or turmeric to the oil and leave the ointment on over night. For further benefit, heat can be applied to areas of inflammation and stagnation. The oil is thick and slightly sticky when applied and, for some people, can take time to absorb into the skin. Castor oil has the potential to stain clothes, so those who apply it at night should use old pajamas, or cover sticky areas with an old towel.
For constipation, and to encourage detoxification, castor oil can be applied to the entire abdominal area, including the liver (the area under the right ribs). For best results, cover with a towel and apply a hot water bottle over top. The oil penetrates to the abdominal organs and encourages movement of the GI tract, releasing stagnation and promoting elimination. Doing this nightly can help relieve constipation and can help increase liver function.
Castor oil is also effective when applied to hair and skin as a moisturizer. It has been used for years as a beauty tonic to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and dark circles under the eyes. It is often an important ingredient in lip balms and glosses, to create a shiny look, while providing moisture to dry lips.
Some of my colleagues have provided me with numerous additional uses for castor oil, from things like using it to promote eyelash growth to reducing the appearance of “love handles”. Ayurvedic practitioners prescribe it for dissolving lumps and masses under the skin.
Rather than popping a pill to treat pain or constipation, performing a ritual like applying castor oil and heat to an area helps establish a routine in which we can develop a relationship with out bodies. When we take the time for self-care we not only save money, we become active participants in the promotion of our own health and healing. Setting time aside to perform a healing ritual like applying castor oil packs to inflamed joints or sites of stagnation, establishes the mind-body connection, improving our health on the mental level as well as on the physical.