CASTOR OIL: ANCIENT YET MODERN MEDIUM for SELF-CARE
Castor oil is derived from the plant Ricinus communis, with a global history of use reaching deep into our past. This is a story about how I used it to treat genital, vaginal, and abdominal scars. I learned about castor oil and scar tissue at the Shiatsu Massage School of California in the late 1990s. I was beginning to think about how to help women suffering from sexual pain after perineal tears, episiotomies, C-sections, and other injuries after giving birth.
Wondering whether castor oil could be used on internal scars, I jumped on the chance to ask my client trained in pharmacology. He was seriously old school, with a keen interest in traditional remedies, and cheerfully confirmed that castor oil is safe for internal vaginal and anal use. I had plenty of opportunities to observe castor oil’s efficacy firsthand as I began using it to work with postpartum scars. If you’re curious to know more about this work, my doctoral dissertation dives into it in excruciating detail J. During the next ten years, I accumulated substantial experience working with hundreds of people using castor oil for all manner of scars, both internal and external.
In 2010, in partial fulfillment of requirements for my doctoral program, I was invited by Joseph Kramer to co-teach the inaugural Sexological Bodywork training in Australia. During this training, I contributed a variety of new materials to the profession, including basic genital anatomy and treatment techniques for abdominal and pelvic floor scar tissue. Since then, feedback from hundreds of practitioners continues to confirm castor oil as a safe, effective, ancient-yet-modern medium for working with topical, genital, and intrapelvic scars.
Sexological Bodyworkers and many other practitioners across the global use castor oil for reduction of pain and alleviation of scar tissue restrictions in joints, genitals, the chest, abdomen, and pelvic floor. Not only is castor oil used locally on pelvic floor scar tissue to treat painful sex after childbirth, it is also helpful for alleviating pain and restrictions caused by injuries and accidents in the groin, genital confirmation surgeries, prostatectomy, hysterectomy, circumcision, and chest and breast surgeries. Having worked with people who are recovering from each of these conditions, I’ve found the results of working with castor oil to be nothing short of miraculous.
I remember one workshop where I was working with a trans-woman who had quite a lot of pain in her vagina after genital confirmation surgery. She described feeling as if shards of glass were poking her from inside during any attempt at self-pleasure or penetration. Mixed with coconut oil, I used castor oil as a lubricant, locating remnants of erectile tissue still present in her vaginal walls. As those remnants of tissue engorged, her face lit up as she re-connected her proprioceptive dots. She found out it was possible to feel pleasurable sensations again in those moments - and connect to memories of sexual life before genital confirmation surgery. I believe it was the anti-inflammatory and analgesic qualities of castor oil that enabled the alleviation of her painful scars. Using castor oil allowed her to stay present during gentle tissue manipulation long enough to rewire her ability to reconnect to pleasure.
CASTOR OIL: HISTORY & DISTRIBUTION OF HUMAN USE Castor oil has an impressive history of human use. Hieroglyphics describe the use of castor oil dating back to 1500 BCE in the Egyptian Ebers papyrus. In the Near East, pollen records verify the cultivation of Ricinus communis all the way back to the late Bronze Age! Castor oil has even been found on and near 4000-year-old mummies of Egyptian priests as an ingredient in their mummification balm. Other uses for castor oil in the ancient world include labor induction, skin healing, and as a laxative. In ancient Greece, castor leaf remedies were used to counter breast congestion.
In India, Ayurvedic texts refer to the cultivation of castor plants between 4000-3000 BCE, where its use was documented as a therapeutic agent for cleansing vaginal tissue. The classic Ayurveda text Sushruta Samhitha, dated between the first millennia BCE and 500 CE, mentions castor oil for neurological conditions such as rejuvenation, treatment, and improvement of memory and intellectual abilities, as well as inflammatory skin conditions, abscesses, headache, and middle ear infection. More uses in Ayurveda include healing vaginal lesions, promoting lactation, in enemas, and for treatment of vaginal infections.
The use of castor plants and oil has worldwide distribution - from Madagascar to China, Haiti, India, and Pakistan. Across Africa, Mexico, Central America, and Brazil, leaves of the castor plant have been used to treat chest inflammation. In addition to Chinese medicine, many global folk medicine traditions treat maladies such as bronchitis, colds, and asthma with tonics made of the leaves of Ricinus communis. In the laboratory, castor leaf extracts show activity against Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Aspergillus niger. Castor plant-based remedies are also used for bone deformities and pain, rheumatism, inflammation, sciatica, and lumbago. As in ancient Greece, castor leaves were known for their anti-inflammatory properties against mastitis and are still in use for this condition in India and the Canary Islands. Compresses containing Ricinus leaves are used to increase lactation and initiate milk letdown in poultices placed on infected milk ducts and inflamed breast tissue.
CASTOR OIL & MIDWIFERY Abundant research about the use of castor oil continues to accumulate in midwifery practice. From ancient Egypt to the present, castor oil has been used to induce labor when taken orally. Midwives currently report that it is used to ripen, or thin and soften the cervix before labor. Further research documents its use to soften scar tissue in the os (cervical opening) from scar-producing procedures, such as dilation and curettage (D&C) after C-section and cervical biopsy. The use of castor oil for radiation dermatitis has been shown to speed healing after radiation therapy. I have seen dramatic improvements in the aftermath of radiation treatments after anal cancer. As an ingredient in wound dressings, castor oil has been shown to prevent infection after mastectomy, oral surgery, and other procedures.
Ricinoleic acid is one of the active ingredients in castor oil. It has antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antioxidant, analgesic, and hepatoprotective (liver protective) properties. In 2012, cellular receptors sensitive to ricinoleic acid, an active compound in castor oil, were identified among the smooth muscle cells of the intestines and uterus. This research explained castor oil’s effects as a laxative, and for the induction of labor. The action of E3 and E4 prostaglandin receptors range from controlling blood clots to changing the structure of neurons, a potential explanation the analgesic effects of castor oil.
Castor seeds are reportedly used to prevent conception in the traditional medicines of East Africa, Mexico, Algeria, and India. Ricinoleic acid is shown to prevent implantation of fertilized ova in mice and rats, and the use of castor seeds and ricinoleic acid has been well studied and utilized for pest control. Medicine and poison are often two sides of the same chemical coin. Ricin, (a deadly nerve gas) is also derived from castor beans or seeds.
CASTOR OIL & EDGAR CAYCE In the first half of the 20th century, visionary healer Edgar Cayce recommended the use of castor oil frequently during his trance readings. Medical doctor and Cayce scholar William McGarey reports that during trance-states, Cayce suggested the use of castor oil packs to increase lymphatic and “lacteal” drainage. Casey was convinced that the lacteals (what we now know as gut-associated lymphoid tissue or GALT) required castor oil’s anti-inflammatory properties for decongestion. Cayce often told clients to use castor oil packs on the liver and gall bladder region of their abdomen. The liver is a giant lymphatic sponge, and when it becomes congested, is unable to successfully fulfill its function as a blood filter. Because of its fatty structure, castor oil is not taken up directly by blood, but rather by the lymph. It was through propagating the movement of stodgy, stagnant lymph that Casey understood castor oil to have a reliably potent effect.
There has been little medical study to substantiate health claims made for the work of Edgar Cayce, but the efficacy of his treatments and ensuing reputation were such that he is referred to as the father of American holistic medicine. What has been substantiated beyond question is that castor oil has a rich and extensive history of use. It helps a wide variety of health issues: as an anti-inflammatory, a laxative, an analgesic, a soother of irritated mucosal membranes, a treatment of uterine fibroid tumors, a treatment for vaginal lesions, and a treatment for genital and topical scars as well as intestinal strictures and adhesions.