Ayurveda, which is often called National Medical Treatment of this country, recognizes castor oil to be a wonderful panacea for several health concerns. Botanically derived from the Ricinus communis, castor is an evergreen shrub, which grows wildly in warmer temperatures. In Ayurveda, castor oil is called Eranda taila or Gandharva hasta (hand of a celestial being) taila; in the West, it is known as Palma Christi (hand of Christ).
To extract oil, remove the tough outer cover of the seeds and cook the inner seeds in water; dry and powder coarsely. Add this powder to the boiling water. As the water boils, the oil from the seeds slowly separates out. Decant and store this oil in a glass jar.
According to Ayurveda, its actions are purgative, demulcent, analgesic and nervine. Applied externally, castor oil is non-irritating, protective, and somewhat emollient. When swallowed, it does not irritate the stomach, and the nausea induced is probably due to the odor and the persistence of the unpleasant clinging contact of the oil in the mouth. Upon entering the small intestines, it is split by the pancreatic juice into glycerin and ricinoleic acid, and the latter induces the purgative action. Rubbed into the abdomen castor oil will also cause purgation.
• Gastrointestinal concerns: Small amounts of pure and warm castor oil half to one teaspoonful for children above one year and one to two teaspoonfuls for adults with a glass of lukewarm milk act as a mild laxative. It acts just after one or two hours. Lactating mothers can take the oil if their babies are suffering from constipation. Those who find it unpalatable can take it with ginger or peppermint. (However, the following is the best method for administering castor oil: Squeeze into a suitable glass a small quantity of orange juice, and thoroughly rinse the inner surface of the glass with it. Place the dose of oil upon the juice and cover with more juice. Then having moistened the mouth completely with a portion of the orange juice, quickly swallow the mixture within the glass. If this is well carried out, the oil will not adhere to the mucosa and also will not be tasted.) Having castor oil once in three months cleanses the entire digestive system. A light diet or gruel is followed for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, this useful practice is being given a bad name and thought unscientific. However, castor oil is one of the mildest and most satisfactory cathartics; it has no irritant effect upon the stomach and is probably the best laxative for children to cleanse the intestinal tract of tainted or undigested food, poorly masticated nuts, and mucoid accumulations. It is very effective in dysentery to prepare the way for more specific medicines, especially when there is evident constipation of the upper bowel. For infants, internal administration of the oil is avoided, but the oil is applied over the navel. A betel leaf stalk dipped in castor oil is used as a suppository for children with constipation. The external application of castor oil provides relief and healing to anal fissures and will reduce the pile mass if applied along with aloe vera juice.
• Skin and hair concerns: Castor oil prevents fungal infections of the foot and reduces itching due to sweating between the toes. The regular application around the nail bed is beneficial in correcting crooked and cracked nails and making them strong and healthy. The application of castor oil after shaving enhances smooth, soft, lustrous skin; it is very effective in healing minor wounds, burns, bedsores and cuts. It is also beneficial in chilblain. Excessive dryness of the skin (hyperkeratosis) can be remedied with it. The frequent and regular application of castor oil on corns will soften and reduce pain, allowing for healing without surgery. It is a good soothing agent; the regular application on cracked heels and chapped hands and lips restores moisture and softens the skin. The application of castor oil to the scalp with gentle massage helps prevent hair loss and improves hair’s lustre. Applying similarly over eyebrows and eye lashes keeps them well groomed. Excessive dryness of the skin (hyperkeratosis) can be remedied with it. The external application of castor oil relieves diaper rash in babies. It reduces dark circles under the eyes.
• Musculoskeletal and neurological concerns: “Lion-like castor oil is an effective destroyer of elephant-like rheumatism, moving in the forest-like body” says Bhaava prakaasa, a classical treatise of Ayurveda. Take castor oil internally along with decoction of dried ginger in case of rheumatic pains and sciatica. The application of warm castor oil externally twice daily is beneficial in easing joint pains and arthritis pain. The regular and gentle massage of warm oil on the legs is beneficial in reducing varicose veins and is helpful in soothing burning in the soles of the feet. Massaging oil on the head brings relief from headaches and provides a sound night’s sleep.
• Women’s concerns: Castor oil applied to the navel and lower abdomen relieves premenstrual pain. Lactating mothers can apply castor oil in the breasts to enhance milk secretion. It also tones the breasts and prevents them from sagging. When applied to cracked nipples, it provides soothing relief and softens the nipples. Warm oil applied to stretch marks is proved to be beneficial in women who are trying to loose weight. A word of caution—large doses of castor oil as purgative during early months of pregnancy may cause abortion. Castor oil acts as a cleansing agent for the eyes; it is the main ingredient of kajal, which is traditionally made from lampblack obtained by lighting wicks that have been dipped in castor oil. Karpoor and ghee are added to this. It keeps the eyes healthy and with good vision.