Castor oil (ricinus communis) comes from the castor seed, native to India. It is extremely high in ricinoleic acid, which is thought to be responsible for its health-promoting abilities. In fact, it was once called palma christe because its leaves resembled the hands of Christ. It is important to note that while castor oil is said to have health benefits, the castor seed itself can be deadly. Internal use of castor oil can be safe, but warrants caution.
Used in ancient Japanese healing arts and other ancient cultures, castor oil enjoys a long and distinguished history. One of the oldest medical textbooks in existence, the Ebers Papyrus, mentions that the early Egyptians applied castor oil topically as early as 1550 B.C.
While it is considered “Generally Regarded As Safe” by the FDA and up to a tablespoon per day is considered approved for internal use, it can cause extreme digestive upset in some people. I am not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet, so talk to yours before using castor oil or anything else internally.
What It IsThe idea is to keep castor oil on a piece of cloth on the skin for at least an hour with a heat source to stimulate lymph and liver function. Unlike some “detox” methods, this is not said to have any negative side effects and the there are many accounts of people who noticed immediate better sleep, more energy, and clearing of skin symptoms.
NOTE: Even for external use, I’d consult with a doctor or naturopath to make sure that this natural remedy is OK for you. It should not be used if pregnant or struggling with a medical condition. I also test any new oil (or any substance) on a small part of my arm before using on a larger area of the body.
The beauty of a castor oil pack is you can place it where benefits are needed:
- Using on the right side of the abdomen or the whole abdomen is thought to help support the liver and digestive system.
- Place directly on strained joints or muscles to reduce inflammation. (Note: This is not as a substitute for medical care but to speed healing of minor injuries that don’t need medical attention)
- Or try on the lower abdomen to help with menstrual pain and difficulties.
What It DoesCastor oil packs harness the anti-inflammatory and lymph stimulating benefits of castor oil but allow safer external use. From a 1999 study:
With a minimal 2-hour therapy period, this study found that castor oil packs produced a “significant” temporary increase in the number of T-11 cells that increased over a 7 hour period following treatment and then returned to normal levels within 24 hours later.In short, castor oil packs have been said to help detoxify the liver naturally, support uterine and ovarian health, improve lymphatic circulation, and reduce inflammation.
The T-11 cell increase represents a general boost in the body’s specific defense status. Lymphocytes actively defend the health of the body by forming antibodies against pathogens and their toxins. T-cell lymphocytes originate from bone marrow and the thymus gland as small lymphocytes that identify and kill viruses, fungi, bacteria, and cancer cells. T-11 cell lymphocytes supply a fundamental antibody capability to keep the specific defense system strong.
There aren’t any conclusive studies on the use of castor oil packs externally (though there are some preliminary ones), but a long history of traditional use in many cultures. There is some evidence that it can have a suppressive effect on tumors and a positive effect on arthritis when used externally.
Castor oil packs also provide time of quiet relaxation, which also has health benefits, so I thought they were worth a try! Anything for that!
How to Do a Castor Oil PackCastor oil packs are simple to do at home and I like them because they require me to be still and relax and read a book for at least an hour (not always easy to accomplish). They can be messy, but with proper preparation are not.
- high-quality castor oil (hexane free)
- unbleached and dye free wool or cotton flannel (like this) – can be reused up to 30 times
- a wrap-around pack (or large piece of cotton flannel) or plastic wrap (not optimal)
- hot water bottle or heating pad
- glass container with lid – I use a quart-size mason jar for storing the oil soaked flannel between uses
- old clothes, towels and sheets – castor oil does stain!
- patience (most difficult to find!)
NOTE: I highly recommend carefully prepping the area where you’ll be doing the castor oil pack to prevent mess. Try using an old shower curtain, covered with a sheet under under you to make sure nothing stains. I don’t often have to wash the sheet, and I just fold and store in the bathroom cabinet for the next use.
How to Use a Castor Oil Pack
- Cut a large piece of cotton flannel and fold into thirds to make three layers. My original piece was 20 inches by 10 inches and when folded it was roughly 7 inches by 10 inches. Yours could be larger or smaller, depending on where you are planning to place it.
- Thoroughly soak (but not completely saturate) the flannel in castor oil. The easiest way I found to do this was to carefully fold the flannel and place in a quart-size mason jar. I then added castor oil about a tablespoon at a time (every 20 minutes or so) to give it time to saturate. I also gently shook the jar between adding more oil so that the oil could reach all parts of the cloth. Ideally, this should be done the day before to give it time to evenly soak. I save the jar since this is where I keep the flannel between uses (it can be used about 30 times).
- Carefully remove and unfold the castor oil soaked cloth.
- While lying on an old towel or sheet, place the cloth on the desired body part.
- Cover with the wrap-around pack or cotton flannel, and place the heating pack on top of this. Less optimally, a plastic grocery bag can be used prevent any oil from getting on the heating pad. A hot water bottle, electric heating pad, or rice heating pad can be used, but hot water bottles and rice packs may need to be reheated several times.
- Lie on back with feet elevated (I typically lie on the floor and rest my feet on the couch) and relax for 30-60 minutes.
- Use this time to practice deep breathing, read a book, meditate, or pray (or whatever you find relaxing).
- After the desired time, remove the pack and return the flannel to the glass container. Store in fridge.
- Use a natural soap or a mix of baking soda and water to remove any castor oil left on the skin.
- Relax and rest. Make sure to drink enough water and stay hydrated after doing this to support detox.
Other Ways to Use Castor OilCastor oil is handy to have around the house for other uses as well. Use castor oil externally to:
- Apply to dry skin, rashes, boils, age spots, warts, and any undesirable skin defects
- Treat toenail fungus
- Soothe a sprain, injury, or sore joints
- Apply to areas of back pain
- To cleanse and soothe abdomen when having digestive or reproductive trouble
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