To many, castor oil is simply a thick and messy liquid that is either used as a laxative or remembered as an emetic that parents gave to their children when they were sick. However, the herb also has many useful functions when used topically and it is a remedy commonly prescribed in my practice for its versatile use, easy accessibility and cost effectiveness.
What is it?
Castor oil is derived from the seeds of the Ricinis Communis plant. When used topically, it can increase circulation, promote healing of tissue and organs under the skin while also eliminating toxins in the body. In addition, it is absorbed into the lymph circulation, which can improve immune function, digestion and reduce swelling in injured joints and extremities.
How is it used?
I commonly recommend castor oil for patients suffering with muscle aches and pains. Because of its warming effects with the castor oil pack (see below), the herb help to relax smooth muscle while aiding in the healing process to an injured area. Many people hold stress and tension in their muscles, specifically those in the back and neck. Therefore, by relaxing these muscles and easing this tension, castor oil also helps to indirectly reduce stress. In addition to muscle aches, castor oil can be used for effectively supporting many conditions such as:
- Pre-menstrual cramping
- Pain and inflammation associated with fibroids or cysts
- Constipation (when applied over the abdomen or taken internally*)
- Skin conditions such as sunburns, dry skin, acne, liver spots and stretch marks
- Liver disorders
- Gallbladder stones
- Fungal infections (because of anti-fungal effects of undecylenic acid)
DIY Castor Oil Packs
So now that we know more about the versatility of castor oil, how do we apply this “wonder medicine”? Castor oil can be applied directly over an effected area, but its thick and oily properties can be very messy if not well covered. Therefore, castor oil packs are the best way to ensure a clean and effective treatment. You can buy pre-made packs that can be easily placed over common body parts or you can make them yourself!
- Castor oil
- Cloth large enough to cover the affected area (use an old cloth that you don’t mind getting rid of afterwards, as the castor oil will stain cloth materials)
- Plastic large enough to cover the flannel cloth (i.e., Saran Wrap)
- Heating pad with a low setting or a hot water bottle
- Fold the cloth to a size that fits over the affected area
- Pour a small quantity of the castor oil into a dish or pan. Soak the cloth with the castor oil (enough to saturate but not drip)
- Place the castor oil-soaked cloth over the affected area
- Cover the cloth with a piece of plastic to prevent staining of clothes or furniture and place the heating pad or hot water bottle on top
- Leave the pack in place for 45-60 minutes. Use this time to relax (practice visualization, meditation, or relaxed breathing)
- When finished, store the pack in an airtight storage container or zip-lock bag
- You can re-use the pack several times, adding more oil only when necessary
Frequency is important. For maximum effect, try to use the pack either daily or every second day for the period of time recommended by your health care professional.
*Always use caution when using internally, especially if you are pregnant or have intestinal blockage or inflammation. Always ask your health care professional before using castor oil.
Dr. Kristina Fallico is an Ontario licensed Naturopathic Doctor, who graduated from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine and is a member of the CAND and the OAND. Her practice focuses on both men and women’s health concerns, pediatric care, chronic diseases, pain management and sports injuries. Furthermore, she is currently training in Osteopathy. In addition to seeing patients, she will write articles for magazines, online health blogs and websites about trending health topics and she performs health seminars for competitive dancers.
Castor oil: ndhealthfacts.org . Retrieved January 8th, 2014.
Cayne E (1993) The Oil that Heals, a physician’s successes with castor oil treatments. A.R.E. Press.
Grady H (1998) Immunomodulation through castor oil packs. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine;7(1):84-89.
Klotter J (February/March 2003) Castor Oil Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients.