What is Castor Oil?
Castor oil is a type of vegetable oil that is extracted from the seed of a plant called Ricinus Communis, or more commonly, the castor bean. The plant itself is not, in fact, a bean, and grows indigenously in the southeastern Mediterranean as well as in East Africa. Once extracted from the seed, the oil is rich with a specific type of fatty acid called ricinoleic acid, which gives it some mildly anti-inflammatory characteristics. Castor oil has a huge multitude of uses despite being unknown to many people.
Much like how putting anything metal in oil will inhibit the progress of rust, submerging or coating food in oil can often help prevent it from going bad as quickly by preventing air and moisture from coming into contact with the surface of the food. This has the effect of preventing any mold spores in the air from clinging to the food and growing, and also serves to prevent foods such as fruits from oxidizing. Castor oil is a popular pick for this role in the regions where the castor bean is grown, including India, Pakistan, and Nepal. Rice, wheat, and some forms of legumes are commonly found coated with castor oil as a method of preservation.
Castor oil has been used as a possible remedy for some time to treat constipation. The US FDA has actually categorized castor oil as “generally recognized as safe and effective” for this purpose. Many people also believe it can help to induce labor, however, there is not yet a sufficient body of evidence to definitively say whether or not castor oil is, in fact, effective in these situations. In addition to use on its own as medicine castor oil has also been used as an additive in several medicines ranging from eye drops to organ transplants.
It is common to find castor oil in cosmetic applications that call for moisturizing of the skin or hair. Castor oil appears in many popular creams because of this and is also added to many shampoos or conditioners with the intention of fortifying the hair. It can also help when in a conditioner targeted towards treating a dry scalp or dandruff.
Castor oil appears in a number of industrial applications in addition to the more domestic applications listed above. Surprisingly enough, castor oil can actually make an exceptional lubricant and is actually where the well-known lubricants company, Castrol, took its name from. Before the use of petroleum-based lubricants, it was common to see some form of vegetable oil being used to lubricate engines or other moving parts. Many vegetable oils begin to exhibit undesirable characteristics as lubricants if the temperature isn’t just right for it, but castor oil had none of these problems and was used effectively in aircraft in the 20’s and 30’s.