Information on Castor Oil Plant
The botanical name for castor oil plant is ricinus communis.It is also known by several other names such as bofareira, pei-ma, castor beanplant, palma Christi, mexico seed and oil plant. It is an avergreen shrub whichcan grow up to 10 meters high but not its cultivated form. It can becharacterized by large leaves, green flowers and red capsules that contain theseed.
Castor oil plant originates from eastern Africa but it is now cultivatedvirtually everywhere around the world, especially southern Asia and Africa. Thecastor oil plant seeds were found in the Egyptian tombs which are 4000 yearsold, so it is a fact that the plant had its purpose even in the times ofAncient Egypt. Nowadays it is cultivated in the States and in Europe, usuallyas a foliage plant. Wild castor oil plants can be up to 40 feet high and theybear broad leaves located on long stalks.
The leaves have a purple color whenthe plant is young, but as it matures they tend to have grayish-green color.The flowers are female and they have no petals. They are borne in clusters andthey are located right above the male flowers. The capsules explode and scatterthe beans once they become mature. Cultivation has brought the development ofplants with nonexplosive capsules and the plant itself grows only up to 5 feetin height.
Uses of Castor Oil Plant
The most commonly used parts of the plant are the seeds andthe oil which gets extracted from them. The seed contains up to 55 percent offixed oil and it is extremely poisonous. It takes only two to kill an adultperson, but the poison does not pass into the oil. Castor oil containsglycerides of ricinoleic acid, lectins, ricin and ricinin.
Ricin is an extremelytoxic types of protein, while ricinin is actually an alkaloid. Castor oil wasused as a purgative, an unguent and lamp oil in the Ancient Egypt. It was usedonly externally in Ancient Rome and Ancient Greece. Its laxative propertieswere discovered rather late in the 18th century.
The oil getsextracted from the seeds without the ricin by using precisely determinedtemperature and heat. The beans then yield the oil which is not poisonous.
Castor oil is commercially used in the lubrication of airplane engines,biodegradable laundry detergents and hydraulic brake fluids. Castor oil ismainly used as a potent laxative and purgative. It can also be appliedtopically on the skin for the treatment of certain medical conditions. It isalso widely used in homeopathy.