Castor oil, referred to as "kiki" and used by the ancient Egyptians and Greeks to treat many conditions, is a vegetable oil obtained from the castor seed (Ricinus communis). The name "castor" was given to the plant by English traders who confused its oil with the oil of another shrub called "agno-casto" in Jamaica.
Castor oil may be taken by mouth or applied to the skin or eyes. Castor oil packs, which are applied to the skin, are traditional holistic treatments for many conditions.
Castor oil is used as a folk remedy around the world. In India, it is massaged into the breasts after childbirth to encourage milk flow. In Ayurvedic medicine, a plaster-like mixture of castor oil seeds is applied to swollen and tender joints. In China, the crushed seeds are used to treat weaken or paralyzed muscles in the face. Castor seeds have been used in traditional medicine as an oral birth control agent among tribes from Nigeria.
When taken by mouth, clinical trials have shown that castor oil may act as a laxative or promote bowel movements before a colonoscopy or related procedures. Castor oil typically promotes bowel movement activity within 3-5 hours after ingestion. Castor oil may also induce labor in late pregnancies.
Castor oil is thought to potentially relieve aches and strains by drawing lactic acid out of the muscles. A rub composed of hot castor oil massaged into an infant's belly has been used to relieve colic and expel intestinal gas.
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Select combination products: AllanDerm-T™, Granul-derm™, Optase™, Revina™, Trypsin Complex, Xenaderm™, Balsa-Derm®, Granul®, and Granulex® are brand names for a topical spray composed of trypsin, balsam of Peru, and castor oil.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Early evidence has shown that a single dose of castor oil given by mouth may help cleanse the bowels. Some research suggests that castor oil is more effective at causing bowel movements than a high-fiber diet or milk of magnesia and cascara. There is disagreement about whether castor oil is better than a commercial kit composed of magnesium citrate oral solution, phenolphthalein, and bisacodyl.
Childbirth (labor induction)
Early evidence suggests that castor oil may promote cramping of the intestines and uterus, causing labor in late pregnancies when taken by mouth. Its activity may be as effective as oxytocin but with fewer associated risks. Limited research suggests that leakage of amniotic fluid into the mother's bloodstream and signs that the baby has had a bowel movement while still inside the womb may occur after taking castor oil by mouth. Further studies are needed before conclusions are made.
Early evidence suggests that castor oil may help prepare the digestive systems for a radiological exam, endoscopy, or colonoscopy. Some research suggests that although a single dose of castor oil given by mouth may be effective, its oily texture, unpleasant taste, and adverse effects limit its appeal. Additional research is needed in this area before a strong conclusion can be made.
Limited research suggests that applying eyedrops made from castor oil and water may promote tear formation and reduce tear evaporation for individuals with dry eye. Additional research is needed in this area before a strong conclusion can be made.
Castor seeds have been used in traditional medicine as an oral form of birth control among tribes in Nigeria. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.