Castor Oil Plant

Synonyms: Castor bean, castor oil bush, palma Christi
Scientific Name: Ricinus communis L.
Family: Euphorbiaceae (Spurge family)

Habitat

Tropical Africa, Egypt or India

Constituents

Seeds: fatty oil and proteins, including the extremely poisonous ricin
Castor oil: ester of ricinoleic acid

Description

Whether shrub, annual herb or perennial tree bearing red or green leaves, depending upon its location, the castor oil plant comes in many guises and shapes. Approximately 20 varieties are known - and the shubs and spines of their seed capsules all differ in form, color and size. Yet despite the diversity of its appearance, the castor oil plant is easily recognizable by its large, seven- to eleven-lobed, star-shaped, dark-green leaves and its elongated inflorescences. From August to October, or even until March depending on when it was sown, the inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers open in clusters along the stem, strictly segregated according to sex. Only female flowers occupy the tip of the inflorescence. They are distinctive for their red pistils at the flower's center. Lower down, we find exclusively male flowers, recognizable by their yellow stamens. The spiny or sometimes spineless fruits each contain three seeds with black-brown markings; they resemble beans but are deadly poisonous. However, the oil obtained from the seeds is not only safe for human consumption, but extremely useful for medical and cosmetic purposes.

Uses

Even though the seeds are deadly poisonous, the castor oil they provide is free of proteins and therefore harmless. Taken internally, Iit is remains a very helpful laxative to treat constipation or for worm treatments. Castor oil releases its powers during the digestive process in the bowel where ricinoleic acid stimulates peristalsis and causes an increase in the uptake of water and electrolytes in the intestinal lumen, probably via stimulation of prostaglandin synthesis. This leads to a greater volume of stools.

When used in skin care products, castor oil enhances the moisture content of the skin, making it smoother. It also lends a soft, supple texture to make-up products.

Interesting Facts

Castor oil seeds resemble ticks (Lat. ricinus) that have gorged themselves on blood. This is thought to be the derivation of the scientific name Ricinus. The Latin word "communis" means common, ordinary. The name "palma Christi" is sometimes mistaken as a reference to the palm tree, but actually means "the hand of Christ."

The association with Christ probably comes from the mention of the plant in the Old Testament Book of Jonah (chapter 4, verses 6 to 10). A plant variously translated as a vine or gourd, but in Hebrew called "kikayon" or castor oil plant, plays a central role in this story. God had given Jonah the task of delivering a warning to the sinful people of the city of Nineveh (geographically present-day Iraq), but Jonah ran away and boarded a ship going to Tarshish (most likely present-day Spain). God sent a great storm to put a stop to Jonah’s flight, and the ship was in danger of breaking up. The sailors drew lots to discover who was causing the storm, and when the lots showed Jonah to be the problem, they threw him overboard. A large fish swallowed the drowning man but three days later spit him out on land, where God was waiting for him with a renewed mission to preach in Nineveh. This time, Jonah obeyed the word of God and went to Nineveh. After he had given a sermon prophesying the imminent destruction of the city, all the people fasted and covered themselves in sackcloth and

ashes. Then God took pity on the city and forgave the people their sins. Jonah was so angry that God had forgiven them so quickly that he wanted to die. He built a booth for shelter outside the city and waited in a state of resentment to see what would happen. Within one day, God made a tall, shady castor oil plant grow, which made Jonah very happy. However the next morning, God made a worm which chewed the plant and caused it to wither, which angered Jonah -- which was exactly what God wanted so Jonah would learn a lesson:

‘You are concerned about a vine that you did not plant or take care of, a vine that grew up in one night and died the next. In that city of Nineveh, there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell right from wrong, and many cattle are also there. Don’t you think I should be concerned about that big city?’
(Jonah chapter 4, verses 10 and 11, from the Contemporary English Version)

The worm referred to in the bible story is likely the larva of Olepa schleini, a moth native to Israel. Its larvae feed exclusively on castor oil plant leaves, which is remarkable, since castor oil plant leaves have insecticidal properties.

The Greek historian, geographer and ethnologist Herodotus (490/480 BCE to c. 425 BCE) called the plant "kiki" and describes it as being from Egypt,

where it was recorded around 1552 BCE in the oldest preserved medical text, the Ebers Papyrus. Its seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs. The Egyptians used the oil as a purgative, hair-restorer and for the treatment of ulcers. The list of ailments alleviated by the castor oil plant according to the Greek physician Dioscorides (1st century CE) was a lot longer. It included scurf, scabies, scars, earache, uterine conditions, constipation and worms. Knowledge of the castor oil plant only came to Central Europe in the 16th century, where it is mentioned in herbals as a purgative and vermifuge.

Castor oil is used for more than just medical and cosmetic purposes. After deactivation of the poisonous ricin by heating, the residues from pressing castor oil provide good organic fertilizer and nourishing fodder for animals. For a long time the oil was a sought-after fuel, especially in Europe.

The Plant at Dr. Hauschka Skin Care

The castor oil contained in Dr. Hauschka Skin Care products comes from India where Dr. Hauschka Skin Care collaborates with a non-governmental organization of farmers who, encouraged by
Dr. Hauschka Skin Care, have applied for and received organic certification for their castor oil plant production. Dr. Hauschka has also spoken with an Indian oil press owner who has been processing castor oil seeds for around 20 years. At Dr. Hauschka Skin Care’s request he has established a second processing line which he has had certified. He purchases the seed from the organic farmers at an above-market value price and from it has created the first organic castor oil available worldwide. This high-grade oil is a base ingredient in Eye Balm, Liquid Eyeliner, Lipstick, Sheer Lipstick, Lip Gloss, Defining Mascara, Volume MascaraCoverstick, Rose DeodorantSage Deodorant and Revitalizing Leg & Arm Tonic. In sulfated form it forms the base for the Dr. Hauschka Bath Essences.

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