The Castor Bean plant (Ricinus communis) is a large, ornamental herbaceous shrub plant belonging to the Euphorbiacea (Spurge) family that is known for its bold green to red colored foliage. It is generally grown as an annual ornamental. In some tropical areas it will grow as a perennial reaching as much as 15’ tall.
The flowers are usually green and inconspicuous. The stalked leaves have eight
pointed leaflets that are slightly serrated on the edges. Castor oil comes from the beans (technically the seeds, not a true bean) of the Castor Bean plant (Ricinus communis).
The castor bean contains Ricin, a poison, which when chewed and swallowed can cause injury and death. The poison works by preventing cells from making proteins resulting in damage to the body. It is advisable to keep children away from this plant and its seeds. If you chose to grow this plant as an ornamental in your garden it should not be allowed to flower or seed. In other words “nip it in the bud” is a good practice to follow. In fact, the 2007 Guiness Book of World Records stated that this plant was the most poisonous in the world.
Castor beans are pressed to extract the oil. Ricin does not meld into the oil because it is water-soluble, so the resulting oil does not contain the poison. The oil is a mono-unsaturated fatty oil that is pale to dark yellow in appearance with a faint odor. It has a high density in comparison to other oils and a high ricinoleic acid content. Ricinoleic acid exerts an anti-inflammatory effect. It also contains oleic and linoleic acids.
The derivatives of castor oil are biodegradable and eco-friendly. Castor oil is used in manufacturing lubricants, plastics, synthetic resins, paints, and various chemicals. It is also used in food additives and flavorings. Over the years the oil has been used medicinally for tummy aches, a laxative, for various skin problems and as a labor induction aid.
Castor oil is also found in cosmetic items like soap and hair products. It acts as an emollient (softening and soothing) and as a humectant (promotes the retention of moisture) adding a protective barrier for the skin. Used in combination with other base oils castor oil creates a nice soap with extra creamy lathering ability. A Touch of Eden uses castor oil that has been processed without the use of hexane.