Ricinus communis or castor oil plant, is a species of perennial plant widespread throughout tropical regions (and widely grown elsewhere as an ornamental plant).
The origin of the name is curious. “Castor” is “beaver” in Spanish and Latin. It is said that in the beginning the plant was named like that because it provided a substitute for a substance that was used for making perfumes and that was extracted from beavers´glands. And why “oil”? Because of the lubricant substance that is inside the seeds, (around 50% of the seeds is oil). Strangely, the seeds are poisonous but not this oil that comes from them.
In some places it is called Palma Christi (Palm of Christ), due to its amazing healing qualities. Like a rising hand that makes miracles.
This special oil inside the seeds has many uses in medicine : it contains very high levels of Vitamin E, so it is recommended for hair and skin care. Its use as a laxative is widely spread. Some decades ago, parents used it as a punishment for children, as the taste is really awful. It has also antihistaminic and anti-inflammatory properties. The oil and the plant’s roots and leaves are used in Ayurveda and Chinese medicines for various diseases.
The world famous lubricant Castrol takes its name from the abbreviation of “castor oil” and this has been a synonym of car lubricants since 1909.
Vegetable oils are typically unattractive alternatives to petroleum-derived lubricants because of their poor oxidative stability. Castor oil has better low-temperature viscosity properties and high-temperature lubrication than most vegetable oils, making it useful as a lubricant in jet, diesel, and racing engines
With years of continuous research, castor oil has turned into an environmentally friendly biodiesel fuel, with technical and ecological benefits. It is also a promising agricultural activity because it can be grown in very arid impoverished areas of the world.
Allergenic potential – Ricinus is extremely allergenic. The plant is also a very strong trigger for asthma.
The castor oil plant produces abundant amounts of very light pollen, which easily become airborne and can be inhaled into the lungs, triggering allergic reactions. The sap of the plant causes skin rashes. Individuals who are allergic to the plant can also develop rashes from merely touching the leaves, flowers, or seed.
The raw seeds are poisonous. Anyway, an adult should EAT AND CHEW around 8 seeds to get poisoned. In fact, reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare. We can say that the poison contained in the seeds (ricin) should be extracted in big quantities and synthesized to become an actual poison (Remember “Breaking Bad?)
When I was doing this research about castor oil and saw the photo of the dangerous seeds, I realized that the shiny beads of those lovely necklaces that my sweet grandfather used to make for me and that I wore for hours in my early childhood were ….guess what! He certainly had no idea.
So, summing up: Just handle it with care in case you have this kind of allergy. If not, simply remember not to eat (and chew) 8 seeds and enjoy its wonderful and generous prints!