History of Castor Oil
We all know about castor oil but how many of us really know the history of castor oil. Castor oil also known as the wonder oil is one of the most ancient oils famous for its powerful therapeutic, cosmetic and medicinal properties. The history of castor oil goes back around to the 4000BC where ancient Egyptians used castor oil for their lamps.
In earlier centuries because of its effectiveness the castor plant was also called “Palma Christe” which translates into “Hand of Christ” because it is said that the shapes of the leaves resemble the Hand of Christ.
Castor oil, although native to the Ethiopian regions of East Africa and India, the castor plant known as the “Ricinus Communis” is now widely grown in tropical and warm temperate regions throughout the world. The name “Ricinus” is a Latin word for insect which stems from the form and markings of the seed.
Now, I’m sure we are familiar with the name castor oil, but it also has many other names such as:
“African Coffee Bean”
“Bi Ma Zi”
“Castor Bean Plant”
“Tangantangan Oil Plant”
“Ma Hong Liang”
“Aceite de Ricino”/ “Aceite de Castor”
Various countries such as China, Africa, Greece, Ancient Egypt, Rome and America have now adopted this oil for its cosmetic properties and it’s now widely used for medical uses, in addition to being in various cosmetic products meant to take a natural approach to your skin and hair care.
The castor plant made its way to Jamaica and the neighboring Caribbean countries via the slave trade, and when the cultivation in Europe in the eighteen (18th) century practically ceased, the small supplies required for European medicine were obtained from Jamaica. The name castor was originally applied about this period to the plant in Jamaica, where it had been originally called “Agnus Castus” giving rise to the production of Jamaican Black Castor Oil.
Content and Processing
Castor Oil is a plant derived oil obtained from the castor seeds. It is a mixture of triglycerides composed of several different fatty acids. Triglycerides are the chemical form in which most fat exist in food as well as in the body and is essential for energy in humans, while fatty acids are the building blocks of the fat in our bodies and in the food we eat.
Castor Oil is composed primarily of three fatty acids, ricinoleic acid, linoleic acid and oleic acid. The most abundant of the three is Ricinoleic acid and this makes up approximately 90% of the fatty acid content of castor oil.
Ricinoleic Acid is an omega-9 fatty acid and is known for its strong pain relieving, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. It also inhibits the growth of many bacteria, viruses, molds and yeasts.
Oleic acid and Linoleic acid are present in smaller portions. Oleic acid is commonly used in moisturizers for softening the skin while linoleic acid is used on the skin for retaining moisture. Other substances present in castor oil include carbohydrates, Omega-6 fatty acids, enzymes, mineral salts, vitamin E and water.
Processing of Castor Oil
So let’s say you’ve just heard about castor oil and you head to the pharmacy to pick up a bottle. Finally a long deserved hair treatment. You rush in and ask the cashier for castor oil and she points you to the right aisle. You find it and you’re beaming with excitement, but when you get there you see two different looking castor oils, one transparent to slightly yellow and the other a dark brown so would you know which one to choose right off the bat?
This difference in coloration is as a result of the different processing of castor oil.
Cold- Pressed Castor Oil
Natural castor oil is extracted from the seed using the cold-pressing technique. The outer layer of ripe castor seeds called the hull is first removed. This layer is what contains ricin, a toxic substance that can cause serious health complications in humans. It’s important to note that Ricin is not found in the extracted oil, so there’s no need to worry.
The hull-less seeds are subsequently cooked in order to prepare them for the extraction process. Cooking makes the seeds more flexible and thus easier for the oil content to be pressed out. The cooked seeds are later dried and then run through a cold press machine which applies high pressure to extract the maximum quantity of oil possible. The oil is then filtered to remove impurities. This procedure results in oil that is slightly yellow in appearance.
Jamaican Black Castor Oil
A variety of castor oil, commonly called Jamaican Black Castor Oil, uses a different extraction method. Instead of boiling, the seeds are first roasted and then passed through a grinder. This pulp is then boiled to extract the oil. This technique results in oil that is dark brown in color, a result of the presence of ashes from the roasting in the initial stage of production.
Last summer when I started the research for this book, I asked my grandmother if she knew how Jamaican Black Castor Oil is made and I was so surprised that she told me a method that was somewhat similar but different none-the-less than the process explained above.
In my research to verify her method, I found that the traditional Jamaican method of extracting the oil involves roasting the beans then mashing them in a mortar. Water is then added to the “mashed “beans, before being slow boiled on a wood fire. The finished result is pure, unadulterated, thick, pungent, dark brown oil, hence the term “Jamaican black castor oil”.