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Castor Seeds

The castor plant is the source of the castor seeds. The plant is grown, mainly, for its seeds which is used to make castor oil. This oil is used in lubricants, soaps, inks, varnishers, linoleum and a host of other areas. It is a commercially important crop and is grown largely in Western India, Brazil and China. This non edible oilseed is popular as it is biodegradable and does not cause any harm to the environment. Around 50-55% oil is contained in the castor seeds.

The tiny grey seeds of the castor plant, dotted with brownish spots are contained inside the fruit. Two varieties of the castor seeds are known, one, being the red seeded and the other, white seeded. The castor oil, chiefly, consists of ricinoleate of glycerol or triricinolein along with small amounts of palmitin

and stearin. Alkaloid ricinine and toxalbumine ricin are two other known components of the castor seed. Around 60% of the seeds are composed of triglycerides, largely ricinolein. The castor oil is useful for various medicinal and industrial purposes. It is used for treating various skin related disorders and can relieve swellings and pains. A lower concentration of the poison, ricin, is present in the plant. It is considered unfit for human consumption as it is highly toxic.

As early as 4000 BC, castor seeds were known to be used in Egypt. Additionally, it was used for lighting purposes and body anointments. The oil was reputed to be beneficial for improving hair growth and texture. Even queen Cleopatra was reputed to have used the plant parts as a beauty aid. Theophrastus describes the plant in his works and highlights its uses as an effective medicine. For a short period of time, it was cultivated in Europe but the yield was found to be of poor quality and the cultivation soon ceased.

Castor Plant
The castor plant is botanically termed as Ricinus communis and belongs to the genus Ricinus. Some attribute the origin of the castor plant to India and Africa, especially Ethiopia. The fast-growing plant is small in height and around one to two meters in height. The plant has strong network of roots and has green and reddish stems with purplish stalks. The fruit is rounded in shape and the leaves are glossy, long-stalked and green in color with reddish tints. The greenish fruit contains the oval shaped and poisonous seeds.


The castor crop is produced in the tropical regions and requires high amounts of heat and humidity to flourish well. It can grow reasonably well in a variety of climate types. It can sustain arid conditions and is, generally, sown in the hot summer months. Though it can thrive on all types of soils, it requires consistent rain to ensure optimum growth. India is the largest producer of castor seeds, accounting for nearly 60% of total production and the home grown variety contains the highest amount of oil. This annual kharif crop is first planted during the months of July or August and the harvesting season for the castor crop is done during the months of December or January. After drying, de-podding and several other processes, the seed pods are readied.


The oil from the seed has been used as lubricants in lamps and as medicines, since the ancient times. The earliest civilizations used the oil as part of rituals and sacrifices. It is useful in curing arthritis and related diseases and was credited with reducing skin irritations. Chinese medicine has been using the oil and the seeds for various purposes like medicines and dressings. These oil seeds are being used to make various types of efficient biofuels. The products of the castor seeds, including the oil are used in textiles, pharmaceuticals, plastics, paper, chemicals, greases, paints, varnishes, linoleum, soaps, cosmetics, electronics, telecommunication and other industries.


Castor Oil
To treat the seeds, the processes of expression or decoction are utilized to extract the oil. The castor oil is the best laxative and purgative. The purgative properties of the castor oil are enabled by the presence of the glycerides of ricinoleic acid. It can be used to treat constipation, colic and diarrhoea. The castor oil can be used to treat ringworms, itching and leprosy, This oil also functions as a cathartic, vermifuge and galactogogue. It was also used for skin care purposes. It acts as a carrier oil for alkaloids like atropine or cocaine.