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.
Historically, castor oil was taken as an oral laxative. Today, however, taking castor oil this way it is not recommended because its powerful laxative effect can disrupt normal digestion and healthy intestinal flora. When it comes to treating chronic conditions, sometimes it is more effective to treat our bodies gently. 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.
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 moisturizes and prevents split ends. It has been used for years as a face cream to reduce the risk of dark under-eye circles and to aid in the prevention and treatment of wrinkles. Castor oil is commonly added to natural lip balms and glosses to add shine and moisture to dry lips and it’s also frequently added to natural mascaras to encourage lash growth.
2. Antimicrobial. Ricinoleic acid contains antimicrobial properties, which, when applied to open wounds, can act as a disinfectant. It is effective for treating fungal skin infections, such as ringworm, as well as minor cuts and scratches. An added bonus to using castor oil as a first aid treatment are its anti-itch and pain-relieving properties, which help ease symptoms as minor skin infections heal.
3. Decreasing stagnation. Because of its low molecular weight, when applied to the skin, 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 the ability to warm the body, which can decrease the stagnation of excess bodily 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 typically accumulate fluids and need stimulating warmth and invigoration. Its warming and moisturizing benefits are suitable for individuals who have drier skin, such as those of Vata constitution, as well.
4. Pain relief and joint health. Ricinoleic acid, in addition to being an antimicrobial, has powerful pain-relieving properties. Not only does it aid in relieving the pain of cuts and scrapes, it also makes castor oil ideal for lubricating the painful, 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 a warming, stimulating 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 the elimination of waste and to decrease stagnation of the entire digestive system, including the liver. Its ability to stimulate the liver aids the body’s natural detoxification processes.
6. Promoting self-care. Rather than popping a pill to treat pain or constipation, performing a self-massage with castor oil helps establish a self-care routine. Self-care is important, not just for promoting health, but for developing a relationship with the body and getting in touch with the body's natural healing abilities. Setting aside time 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, helping to improve physical, mental and emotional health.
This article is not meant to serve as medical advice. For a more individualized assessment, please see a licensed naturopathic doctor.
Talia Marcheggiani has a bachelor of science in Life Sciences from Queen’s University and is graduate of the naturopathic doctor program at the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (CCNM) in Toronto. Talia is passionate about health: clean eating, balanced living and creative self-expression: painting, photography and writing. She loves snowboarding, practicing yoga,hiking with her dog and traveling the world. She also loves curling up with a book and an espresso and sharing the wealth of knowledge of naturopathic medicine with the world!