Ricinus communis: Castor bean

Family: Euphorbiaceae
Common name: Castor bean, Castor oil plant, Palm of Christ

Castor bean plant is a prolific grower, that can fill an empty plot of land in no time, and can be classified as an invasive plant. But the leaves and the seeds have many uses, the primary one being the production of castor oil, made from castor seeds. The name Ricinus also means ‘ticks’, the name coming from the shape of the seeds. In fact, the seeds look curiously like the Coronavirus.

The plant is also called the ‘Palm of Christ’, because of castor oil’s ability to treat cuts, wounds and other diseases. Castor bean plants can reach a height of 12 meters, as high as a small tree. Their palmate leaves start off in a light purple color, and become dark green in most species of plants.

The plants produce both male and female flowers, each looking different and lacking petals. The flowers can self-pollinate or also pollinate by means of wind or insects. These flowers then form small, green, circular, spiny fruits that are very poisonous. Their toxicity is due to Ricin; overdosing of which can cause nausea, stomach cramp, hypo tension, seizures and even death, if left untreated.

Castor oil has a wide variety of medicinal and industrial uses. It is used as a lubricant for metals, latex and fuels. Castor oil is also used in cosmetics due to its capability to prevent skin dryness. In Ayurveda and traditional medicine, castor oil is used as a laxative; for treatment of arthritis and worm infections.

Propagation is from seeds or stem cuttings.

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