Castor oil is a wonderful remedy for a wide variety of health complaints. It's likely you've heard about castor oil for inducing labour – and that is indeed something I have experience with! Unfortunately, I drank so much of it while I was overdue with Finn that I can no longer look at castor oil without gagging. Still, it does have some great therapeutic health benefits and my personal aversion shouldn't stop you from trying it!
Castor oil comes from a plant and used to be one of my go-to items that were always by my bed and in my bathroom. I used it for everything skin- and immune-related and it can be viewed as an alternative to cortisone or antibiotic creams. The ricinoleic acid in castor oil prevents the growth of bacteria, yeast and viruses, plus it is anti-inflammatory. Here is how I used to use it:
- On sore joints.
- On swollen glands in the neck/gland area.
- On my belly for constipation (massaged in a clockwise direction – the same direction things move through the large intestine).
- For a cold or congestion – I'll mix in a little comfrey and eucalyptus and massage it into my chest.
Health Benefits of Castor Oil
Castor oil has many beneficial uses in health and beauty products when taken both internally and externally.
Internal castor oil benefits
I am not a huge advocate of taking castor oil. It is not something we effectively digest therefore most of the 'health benefits' are due predominantly to its laxative effect – basically your body saying, "WTF is this? I want it out and I will expel anything in its path too." If you are working with a qualified practitioner who recommends it, ensure you are consuming the cleanest brand you can find that is free of harmful pesticides and processing chemicals.
- Has a laxative effect. (Anyone who grew up in the West Indies, India or some South American countries will likely have vile memories of lining up with their siblings to take down a spoonful of this bitterness.)
- Has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties.
- Destroys mucous to relieve runny noses and congestion.
- Can help with colon cleansing.
- Can help with symptoms of osteoarthritis.
- Can help to induce labour in pregnant women.
Some people really do not like drinking castor oil because of both the taste (it's quite strong and bitter) and the consistency. Thankfully, there are also a number of benefits when you use castor oil topically.
Topical Castor Oil Benefits
These are applications I can get behind wholeheartedly.
- Helps with wound healing and reduces inflammation and infections. (The best way to use this as a topical 'cream' is to pre-soak the infected area with Epsom salt to soften the skin, then wrap the area with a cotton cloth soaked in castor oil – this works like a charm for me on sunburns.)
- Castor oil ointments can help with ulcers.
- Can be used topically to help relieve joint pain, muscle aches, headaches and backaches.
- Castor oil is great in beauty care products – it helps to moisturize the skin and nourish hair.
- Castor oil packs can help to relieve constipation and stomachaches.
- Massaging the body with castor oil prior to a bath once a week will help the skin retain its natural healing properties as well as stimulate the body’s muscles and internal organs.
- Rubbing castor oil on hands and feet at night will help maintain healthy and soft skin, as well as reduce callouses and dry skin.
Note: Castor oil will stain your clothes so be careful while using it, or wear old and ugly clothes that you don't care about!
Castor Oil Warnings
Some cautions about using castor oil:
- It can be very powerful, particularly the laxative effect. If you take too much you may find yourself spending a lot of time in the bathroom.
- Castor oil can induce labour so be especially careful if you are pregnant. Work with a natural health practitioner if you are trying to induce labour.
- Use good quality castor oil. Oils undergo a lot of processing so you want to ensure you use an oil that still maintains its nutrients if you want to reap the benefits.
How to Make and Use Castor Oil Packs
A castor oil pack is one of the most common ways people apply castor oil for its health benefits. Here's how to do it:
- Take a cotton flannel or cloth and soak with castor oil.
- Apply the cloth to the skin area that needs the benefits of castor oil, cover with a little plastic wrap and then lay on a hot water bottle or heat pack on top. If you are avoiding plastic, you could use an old t-shirt or towel to lay on top.
- Leave the pack on for anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour. Castor oil packs soak through the skin and improve the body’s ability to assimilate nutrients, eliminate toxins and stimulate circulation.
- The castor oil pack can be repeated many times – save your soaked cloth and store it in a container for re-use.
- Castor oil packs can be done daily, several times a week, once a week, once a month – depends on what health issues you are working on and what you need.
There are a lot of woowoo health practices recommended. Though some may not have the most supportive evidence – many do have centuries of tradition and come from the ancient practices of Ayurveda – I do feel there is some benefit to using castor oil. Now how much of the benefit comes from the oil and how much comes from the act of massaging warm oil on the body is a question that I can't answer. The reality is that if a treatment does no harm, and brings relief, then go forth.