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Castor Bean

  • Ricinus communis L.
  • Euphorbiaceae
  • Carmencita
  • Dwarf Red Spire
  • Spurge family

Common Names

herbsCastor bean plant
herbsCastor oil plant
herbsMexico seed
herbsOil plant
herbsPalma Christi

Parts Usually Used

Seed oil

Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Large, rank, annual or perennial (in the south), 5-12 feet tall. Leaves large, palmate, with 5-11 lobes up to 3-5 feet across. Flowers in clusters; female ones above, male ones below; July to September. Seed capsule has soft spines. The flowers have no petals and grow in upright panicles covered with dark brown spines. The fruit which follows is a capsule containing 3 large seeds. The dark shiny seeds are extremely poisonous if swallowed, but can be easily removed from the plant when they first begin to form.

Because castor bean is extremely sensitive to frost, seed must be started indoors in early spring in cooler climates, or outdoors only in warm ground. Space plants 3-4 feet apart in full sun. Adaptable to most soils; adding fertilizer will give brightest color and faster growth. Plants like lots of water, which mulching will help conserve. Do not pinch or tip-prune castor bean; this may kill the plant. While spider mites may be a problem on indoor seedlings, they usually disappear when the plants are set outdoors. Prefer good drainage, lots of water, will grow in clay or sandy loam.

Varieties Carmencita and Dwarf Red Spire have attractive red foliage.

Ricinus africanus has very large green leaves; R. macrocarpus has purple-red foliage: R. cambodgensis has blackish-purple stems and leaves; R. sanguinea is red-leaved; and R. gibsonii, a lovely dwarf, has dark red leaves with a metallic luster.

Where Found

Native to tropical Africa and India, where it may grow to a 40-foot tree.

Castor bean plant is often cultivated for ornamental effect in the southern United States. Cultivated in China.

Medicinal Properties

Laxative, purgative, cathartic, demulcent (soothes mucous membranes).

Only the oil is non-toxic.

Biochemical Information

Contains the poison ricin, toxalbumin, chelidonine, chelerythrine, coptisine, protopine, chelidonic and other acids, saponin, carotenoid pigments, enzymes and traces of an essential oil.

Legends, Myths and Stories

The castor oil plant has long enjoyed the reputation as a fly and mosquito repelling plant and will also rid the garden of moles and gophers.

The plant has a very long history. It is cultivated as a quick growing ornamental; as a barrier and as a sand-binder on dunes. South Americans grow the plant as a mosquito repellent. In West Africa, natives believe the plants protect them from lightning and they are referred to as "thunder trees."

The book "Old Ways Rediscovered" tells a story; "For several years I have been told that a castor bean plant in the garden would to some extent control grasshoppers. Last spring I put a seed at the edge of my compost pile. Result--a plant 16 feet 4 inches tall and 14 feet 2 inches in diameter. Result--no grasshoppers."


Taken internally, it treats constipation. Externally, a castor oil fermentation is rubbed over the liver and other areas of the abdomen. A thick towel that has been wrung out in ginger tea is then applied over the entire abdomen and a heating pad or hot water bottle is placed over the liver. This will draw toxins into and through the liver. This treatment is excellent for liver disorders, cysts, growths, warts, and other excrescenses. Applied to sties around the eyes, or on pimples, etc., results are seen in just a couple of days.

In Ayurveda, castor oil is used in the treatment of epilepsy, paralysis, insanity and many other nervous system disorders. Although the leaves are poisonous, they may be steamed and directly applied externally to relieve pains from bruises, injuries and stiffness, aches and pains, rheumatism, arthritis, lumbago, bursitis.

Seed oil famous since ancient Egyptian time as a purgative or laxative; folk remedy used to induce labor. Nauseous taste may induce vomiting. Oil is used as a laxative in food poisoning or before X-ray diagnosis of the bowels. Used externally for ringworm, itch, tapeworms, piles, sores, abscesses, hairwash for dandruff. Oil even suggested as a renewable energy source. When the patient cannot strain the stool as in colitis, prolapsus, weakened structural tissue, the oil is given in very small doses. Can be used as an enema with soap suds and water. Poulticed boiled leaves is a folk remedy to produce milk flow.

Combined with baking soda and applied to skin cancers, the treatment takes a long time but is very effective, with no scars after healing.

Oil is used in industrial lubricants, varnishes, plastics, etc. Used in the manufacture of soap, furniture polish, flypaper, artificial leather and artificial rubber, some types of cellulose, and candles.

Formulas or Dosages

Laxative: 1 or 2 tbsp. before sleep.

How Sold

Castor Oil


The prickly reddish seed pods of castor bean contain beautiful gold, silver, and black seeds. These temptingly attractive seeds are quite poisonous, so you must be sure to keep them away from children and unknowing adults. Three seeds are sufficient to kill an adult.

Seeds are a deadly poison. One seed may be fatal to a child. After oil is squeezed from the seeds, the deadly toxic protein, ricin, remains in the seed cake. May induce dermatitis.

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