At a teacher training I recently attended, we were given the task of deciding what we would take with us if we were to go to a deserted island. While other people chose things like hatchets, food, water (and a boat), I automatically thought: castor oil! Sometimes I forget that the rest of the world isn’t living under the naturopathic bubble.
The truth is, however, that castor oil is one of the best kept secrets in the world of natural health. Taken from the bean of the castor plant, this oil is rich in ricinoleic acid, which exerts powerful therapeutic effects.
Originally, castor oil was taken as an oral laxative. However, now it isn’t recommended that castor oil be ingested; its powerful laxative effect can disrupt normal digestion and healthy intestinal flora. Castor oil best exerts its powerful effects when applied topically, directly to the skin. It proves to be a simple, cheap and effective remedy for a variety of common health complaints.
Here are six important uses of this powerful therapeutic oil.
1) Skin health. Castor oil has a low molecular weight, which means it is absorbed readily into skin and hair, providing nourishment and moisturizing effects. When applied to the ends of dry hair, it can add moisture, preventing split ends. It has been used for years to reduce the risk of dark under-eye circles and even to aid in the treatment and prevention of wrinkles and fine lines. It’s a common ingredient in natural lip balms and glosses to add shine and moisture to dry lips. It is also added to natural mascaras to encourage lash growth.
2) Antimicrobial. Ricinoleic acid contains antimicrobial properties and, when applied to open wounds, can act as a disinfectant. It is effective at treating fungal infections, such as ringworm, as well as minor cuts and scratches. An added bonus to using castor oil on wounds and infections are its anti-itch and pain-relieving properties.
3) Decreasing stagnation. Because of its low molecular weight, castor oil has the ability to not only penetrate the skin, but to reach the deeper organs of the body. According to ayurveda, the ancient Indian healing art, castor oil has heating properties and the ability to warm the body, which decreases stagnation of fluids and lymph. This stagnation can cause blockages in the body’s tissues, leading to water retention and weight gain. In ayurvedic medicine, it is common to apply a mixture of castor oil and powdered turmeric to masses and lumps found under the skin in order to dissolve them. It is an excellent oil to use in full-body self massage for people of Kapha constitution, whose bodies need warmth and invigoration. Its warming and moisturizing benefits are suitable for individuals of Vata constitution as well.
4) Pain relief and joint health. Ricinoleic acid also has powerful pain-relieving properties. Not only does this aid in relieving the pain of cuts and scrapes, it also makes castor oil ideal for lubricating the painful and cracking joints of arthritis or other musculoskeletal conditions. When applied to joints that feel sore, or even just stiff and creaky from repetitive use, castor oil penetrates to help lubricate the joint, reduce pain and increase circulation. To further increase circulation, cayenne or turmeric powder can be added to castor oil to create an ointment. This can be massaged into stiff or painful areas and left overnight.
5) Alleviating constipation and encouraging detoxification. In naturopathic medicine, castor oil is a popular remedy for common constipation and a necessary accompaniment to any detoxification program. Patients are instructed to massage the oil into the skin of their entire abdominal region (from rib cage to below the belly-button), making sure to cover the area over the liver. For best results, patients are then instructed to cover the oiled area with a towel and a hot water bottle. The heat from the hot water bottle aids the penetration of the abdominal organs, allowing the oil to promote elimination of waste and to decrease stagnation in the liver and intestines. Because castor oil has the ability to stimulate the contraction of smooth muscle, it has also been used to induce labour.
6) Promoting self-care. 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 self-care routine. Self-care is important, not just for promoting health, but for getting in touch with the body’s natural healing processes. 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 and decreases stress, which helps improve health, not only on the physical level, but on the mental level as well.