CASTOR OIL (RICINUS COMMUNIS):
The castor oil plant (Ricinus communis) is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. It belongs to a monotypic genus, Ricinus, and subtribe, Ricininae. Castor is indigenous to the southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India. Castor is widespread throughout tropical regions.
The castor oil plant can vary greatly in its growth habit and appearance. The variability has been increased by breeders who have selected a range of cultivars for leaf and flower colours, and for oil production.
Ricinus communis has another common name, palm of Christ, or Palma Christi, that derives from castor oil’s reputed ability to heal wounds and cure ailments.
Castor seed is the source of castor oil, which has a wide variety of uses. The seeds contain between 40% and 60% oil that is rich in triglycerides, mainly ricinolein. The seed contains ricin, a toxin, which is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant. It is a fast-growing, suckering perennial shrub that can reach the size of a small tree (around 12 metres). Plants with the dark leaves can be found growing next to those with green leaves, so there is most likely only a single gene controlling the production of the pigment in some varieties.
The fruit is a spiny, greenish (to reddish-purple) capsule containing large, oval, shiny, bean-like, highly poisonous seeds with variable brownish mottling. Castor seeds have a warty appendage called the caruncle, which is a type of elaiosome.
The toxicity of raw castor beans is due to the presence of ricin. Although the lethal dose in adults is considered to be four to eight seeds, reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare. Despite this, suicides involving ingestion of castor beans are unheard of in countries like India where castor grows abundantly on the roadsides.
The attractive castor seeds are used in jewelry, mainly necklaces and bracelets. Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC: the slow burning oil was used mostly to fuel lamps.
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