Medicinal plants


Information and botanical notes

Ascribed to the Euphorbiaceae family (the same family to which the Christmas star also belongs), castor is an arboreal plant native to Africa, but now present in much of the globe. Its scientific name is Ricinus communis, where the epithet Ricinus, deriving from the Latin, means «mint», due to the extraordinary similarity of the homonymous arachnid with the seeds of the plant. The stem has a leathery integument, green or brown in color, and often reaches even over 9 meters in height (in wild specimens). The leaves are large and have 5 or 12 lobes, with shades ranging from bright green to carmine red. The whitish flowers appear in summer and are gathered in full-bodied clusters; at the base of them are the male flowers, while at the apex the female ones. After flowering, fruits appear on the clusters, spiny reddish capsules containing three seeds; they will be released on the ground once the capsules open. The castor is an evergreen plant at least in warm areas or in mild temperatures, and it is often a pest in some areas.

Properties of castor and composition

Castor (like most Euphorbiaceae) is a poisonous plant; all parts contain a glycoprotein called ricin. The seeds are particularly rich in ricinoleic acid, a fatty acid found in nature only in this plant; if ingested in large quantities, the acid alters the intestinal mucosa causing severe poisoning and significant losses of fluids and mineral salts, together with tachycardia and excessive sweating. Studies have shown that about 15 castor beans are capable of killing an adult, while only 4 are enough for children. Ricin, on the other hand, can cause damage even if inhaled, acting on the respiratory system, resulting in pulmonary edema and death in a few days. Even in contact with the skin, ricin is absorbed,

Uses and uses

Although deadly in high or low concentrations, castor is exploited in many fields precisely for the properties given by ricin and ricinoleic acid. Known in Anglo-Saxon countries as «Castor Oil», it is used in the pharmaceutical industry for the production of the famous castor oil, which is yellowish in color and has little odor. It is a powerful laxative that has now fallen into disuse in much of the world. Also in the field of cosmetics it is used to produce ointments and balms intended for the care of the scalp, in addition to the use of oil in solid soaps and in some products for the treatment of skin diseases. In the metalworking industry, castor oil is used in the production of lubricants, motor oils, lamp oils and some synthetic materials such as dyes and nylon fabrics.

Castor: Wellness for the hair

As already mentioned, castor is also used for the production of cosmetics and hair products. Ricinoleic acid is a powerful restorer and softener, which interacts directly with the dry and brittle parts of hair and hair (it can also be used on eyelashes and eyebrows). Hair marked by previous dyes and damaged by dryness, have the central part and the apex almost free of fat: castor oil acts exactly in these points by balancing the percentage of fat and thus avoiding hair breakage, also contributing to regrowth . It is usually found in herbalists and drugstores in dark glass bottles. It keeps for a long time even at room temperature and it is recommended to use it added to other types of essential oils.

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