I was first introduced to castor oil as my due date approached with my first child. Like any mom, I was eager to meet my little one so I turned to the expansive wisdom that is Google to find ways to speed up my body’s natural process of going into labor.
I found many folk remedies for inducing labor that I tried (walking, spicy food, bouncing on a medicine ball, pineapple, dancing, raspberry leaf tea, and others). I also found a few I didn’t work up the courage to try… especially castor oil! (And I’m glad I didn’t… I’ll tell you why.)
What Is Castor Oil?
Castor oil (Ricinus communis) comes from the castor seed, native to India. It is extremely high in ricinoleic acid, which is thought to be responsible for its health-promoting abilities. In fact, it was once called Palma christe because its leaves resembled the hands of Christ. It is important to note that while castor oil is said to have health benefits, the castor seed itself can be deadly. Internal use of castor oil can be safe, but warrants caution.
Used in ancient Japanese healing arts and other ancient cultures, castor oil enjoys a long and distinguished history. One of the oldest medical textbooks in existence, the Ebers Papyrus, mentions that the early Egyptians applied castor oil topically as early as 1550 B.C.
While it is considered “Generally Regarded As Safe” by the FDA and up to a tablespoon per day is considered approved for internal use, it can cause extreme digestive upset in some people. I am not a doctor and don’t play one on the internet, so talk to yours before using castor oil or anything else internally.
Does Castor Oil Really Start Labor?
Castor oil is sometimes used internally for inducing labor, but the available research doubts its helpfulness. In fact taken internally it can cause raging diarrhea (the idea is this will also stimulate uterine contractions).
I chose not to try this and wouldn’t suggest it since there is some evidence that it can increase the chance of baby passing meconium before birth. It is also sometimes used to reduce constipation (again with the raging diarrhea).
I much prefer it for external use and would not personally use it internally. It is one of the two oils I use in my daily oil cleansing routine, which has greatly improved my skin.
Castor Oil Packs (& Why to Do One)
To support my body when I discovered my MTHFR mutation, I decided to try another way to use castor oil — castor oil packs!
What It Is
The idea is to keep castor oil on a piece of cloth on the skin for at least an hour with a heat source to stimulate lymph and liver function. Unlike some “detox” methods, this is not said to have any negative side effects and there are many accounts of people who noticed immediate better sleep, more energy, and clearing of skin symptoms.
NOTE: Even for external use, I’d consult with a doctor or naturopath to make sure that this natural remedy is OK for you. It should not be used if pregnant or struggling with a medical condition. I also test any new oil (or any substance) on a small part of my arm before using it on a larger area of the body.
The beauty of a castor oil pack is you can place it where benefits are needed:
- Using on the right side of the abdomen or the whole abdomen is thought to help support the liver and digestive system. Some gallbladder specialists recommend castor oil packs as part of a holistic regimen.
- Place directly on strained joints or muscles to reduce inflammation. (Note: This is not as a substitute for medical care but to speed healing of minor injuries that don’t need medical attention)
- Or try on the lower abdomen to help with menstrual pain and difficulties.
What It Does
Castor oil packs harness the anti-inflammatory and lymph stimulating benefits of castor oil but allow safer external use. From a 1999 study:
With a minimal 2-hour therapy period, this study found that castor oil packs produced a “significant” temporary increase in the number of T-11 cells that increased over a 7 hour period following treatment and then returned to normal levels within 24 hours later.
The T-11 cell increase represents a general boost in the body’s specific defense status. Lymphocytes actively defend the health of the body by forming antibodies against pathogens and their toxins. T-cell lymphocytes originate from bone marrow and the thymus gland as small lymphocytes that identify and kill viruses, fungi, bacteria, and cancer cells. T-11 cell lymphocytes supply a fundamental antibody capability to keep the specific defense system strong.
In short, castor oil packs have been said to help detoxify the liver naturally, support uterine and ovarian health, improve lymphatic circulation, and reduce inflammation.
There aren’t any conclusive studies on the use of castor oil packs externally (though there are some preliminary ones), but a long history of traditional use in many cultures. There is some evidence that it can have a suppressive effect on tumors and a positive effect on arthritis when used externally.
Castor oil packs also provide a time of quiet relaxation, which comes with its own set of health benefits!
How to Do a Castor Oil Pack
Castor oil packs are simple to do at home. I like them because they require me to be still and relax for at least an hour. That’s not always easy to accomplish! They can be messy, but with proper preparation are not.
You can also buy a complete castor oil kit rather than assemble all of the items below. See the end of this post for ones I’ve tried and like.
- high-quality castor oil (hexane free)
- unbleached and dye-free wool or cotton flannel (like this) – can be reused up to 30 times
- a wrap-around pack (or large piece of cotton flannel) or plastic wrap (not optimal)
- hot water bottle or heating pad
- glass container with lid – I use a quart-size mason jar for storing the oil-soaked flannel between uses
- old clothes, towels, and sheets – castor oil does stain!
- patience (most difficult to find!)
NOTE: I highly recommend carefully prepping the area where you’ll be doing the castor oil pack to prevent mess. Try using an old shower curtain, covered with a sheet under you to make sure nothing stains. I don’t often have to wash the sheet, and I just fold and store it in the bathroom cabinet for the next use.
How to Use a Castor Oil Pack
- Cut a large piece of cotton flannel and fold into thirds to make three layers. My original piece was 20 inches by 10 inches and when folded it was roughly 7 inches by 10 inches. Yours could be larger or smaller, depending on where you are planning to place it.
- Thoroughly soak (but not completely saturate) the flannel in castor oil. The easiest way I found to do this was to carefully fold the flannel and place in a quart-size mason jar. I then added castor oil about a tablespoon at a time (every 20 minutes or so) to give it time to saturate. I also gently shook the jar between adding more oil so that the oil could reach all parts of the cloth. Ideally, this should be done the day before to give it time to evenly soak. I save the jar since this is where I keep the flannel between uses (it can be used about 30 times).
- Carefully remove and unfold the castor oil-soaked cloth.
- While lying on an old towel or sheet, place the cloth on the desired body part.
- Cover with the wrap-around pack or cotton flannel, and place the heating pack on top of this. You could also use a plastic grocery bag to prevent oil from getting on the heating pad. A hot water bottle, electric heating pad, or rice heating pad can be used, but hot water bottles and rice packs may need to be reheated several times.
- Lie on back with feet elevated (I typically lie on the floor and rest my feet on the couch) and relax for 30-60 minutes.
- Use this time to practice deep breathing, read a book, meditate, or pray (or whatever you find relaxing).
- After the desired time, remove the pack and return the flannel to the glass container. Store in the fridge.
- Use a natural soap or a mix of baking soda and water to remove any castor oil left on the skin.
- Relax and rest. Make sure to drink enough water and stay hydrated after doing this to support detox.
Where to Buy a Castor Oil Kit
You can buy castor oil kits complete with cotton flannel, and a non-messy wrap-around pack that removes the need for plastic wrap.
- I’ve used this one from Radiant Life with great results (it didn’t leak at all).
- This castor oil kit by Dr. Marisol Teijeiro is similar to Radiant Life in price and quality, but the design of the flannel wrap is a little more contoured and ties on easily. My podcast interview with Dr. Marisol is a great place to learn more about castor oil and digestion.
Other Ways to Use Castor Oil
Castor oil is handy to have around the house for other uses as well. It is rich in fatty acids and it contains antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit the body in many ways. Use castor oil externally to:
- Apply to acne, dry skin, rashes, boils, age spots, and warts to improve complexion and boost moisture
- Treat toenail fungus
- Soothe a sprain, injury, or sore joints
- Apply to areas of back pain
- To cleanse and soothe abdomen when having digestive or reproductive trouble
For best results, apply castor oil packs for 60-90 minutes as soon as trouble starts. Do this about 3 times a week for a 3 week period. Consult with a doctor to rule out more serious causes.
This article was medically reviewed by Madiha Saeed, MD, a board certified family physician. As always, this is not personal medical advice and we recommend that you talk with your doctor.
Have you ever used castor oil? I’ll be sharing some of my other favorite uses soon, but please share yours below!
Discussion (209 Comments)
I was so desperate to bring on labor that I tried castor oil (mixed with orange juice.) The result was far worse than simple intestinal upset; I could not leave the bathroom for hours… YET, in that time, labor began. My daughter was born about 19 hours later.
Do you know that castor oil was used as torture? In Italy, during the fascist dictatorship (1922-1943) political opponents were captured by the local equivalent of SS and forced to swallow copious amounts of castor oil. That would cause pain and humiliation. Some of the victims died, others were sick for long time.
For this reason I would be extremely cautious with using castor oil internally. In fact I never did and I never will. I’m however ok with external use.
I suppose that you will not know upon the details of the forced swallowing of castor oil in Italy at the times of Mussolini, so I shall notice some remarks to this subject:
– Without any saying I am against any form of the forced swallowing of castor oil.
– At the times of Mussolini the regular dosage of castor oil available in the pharmacy has been a bottle containing 75 milliliters castor oil:
– The Russian Popular Medicine recommends the dosage 1 milliliter (ml) castor oil pro 1 kilogram (kg) of the human weight.
– The average weight of adult people may be calculated with 75 kg, so the dosage of swallowing 75 ml castor oil is absolutely correct for this group of people.
– In your country the recommended dosage for adults is 2 oz (= 60 ml) castor oil – this is not far away of the dosage used in Italy.
– So it is absolutely incomprehensible that an adult will die by swallowing 75 ml castor oil.
– I suppose that all these persons died being afraid of the effects of the forced swallowing castor oil.
– In the case that a person will be experienced in swallowing castor oil this one will never die by swallowing a bottle containing 75 ml of this oil.
Same for me! I thought I was just sick from the castor oil and threw up within an hour or two of taking it. Then I was on the toilet all night. 7 hours of that before I realized I was in labor. Midwife gave me the “recipe”. 1st baby and I was 2 weeks late. Worked like a charm. But I would never do it again. Like one long contraction for about 10 hours
Do you have a recommendation for an electric heating pad? Also, in your podcast episode with Dr. Marisol she mentioned doing them overnight. What are your thoughts on doing it that long? Thanks!!
Hi Katie, I can’t seem to find any information on breastfeeding and whether castor packs can taint milk supply. My daughter is a toddler and still nurses nights/mornings only. I finally did my first pack yesterday (out of desperation for some liver and bladder issues im having) and haven’t allowed her to nurse since. I’d like to start doing them more often.
There isn’t any research on the effect of castor oil on breastmilk so this would be a good question to ask your midwife or other qualified healthcare practitioner to see if they recommend it for you.
My Naturopathic doctor DID NOT recommend overnight. 20-40 minutes, tops.
Many years ago I was past due delivery for my first baby. The doctor told me to take an enema and also to take castor oil. I did both. Then I had no idea if I was in labor or had to poop. Hours later, after spending g time on the pot, I was taken to the hospital and went into labor. After I woke up,(this happened many years ago), I told the nurse that I needed the bedpan, she said, no, you just think so, later I called for the head nurse and told her the same thing. She assured me that everyone thinks that,but that there no way I needed to poop. A few minutes later I proved them all wrong. Poop went all over me. The head nurse came in and apologized and said it was her fault. No kidding….sure was
I had seen this blog post linked in FB where you had mentioned the treatment might help with hair. I read through your post and there is no mention of how it could help thicken hair- did I miss it or read something wrong?
It’s in a separate post: https://wellnessmama.com/35706/castor-oil-hair/
How often do use castor oil packs?
She lists it above – 3 times a week for about 3 weeks. Each session about 60-90 minutes.
So funny this posted today when I was thinking about looking up how to do it just yesterday! Gonna give it a try Thanks for your timely post!
How do you wash castor oil out of your hair?!
I give several methods here: https://wellnessmama.com/35706/castor-oil-hair/
I noticed you mentioned drinking lots of water after a Castor Oil Pack treatment. Why is that? Thanks
It is a gentle detox, but a detox nonetheless. Drinking lots of water helps the process!
Is castor oil safe for pregnant women if being used for oil cleansing?
I would ask a doctor.
Can you use it as an armpit detox? And can it be used externally if you’re nursing?
I have experimented with it as an armpit detox and it seemed to work well. I’d ask a doc to be sure but I have felt comfortable using it while nursing.
Castor oil is safe in pregnancy. However, it is recommended only in the third trimester to assist in stimulating labour.
For armpits or mastitis of the breast a charcoal poultice is extremely safe and effective. moisten the charcoal place on gauze and apply directly to the area. Leave on overnight. Not to apply on open wounds.
Is it ok to use as pain relief over the back while nursing? I am having bad sciatic pain on my right side and am currently nursing my 5 month old son.
I wanted to know about the “wrap” from Radient Life. I found that vinyl is plastic. 44.00 is a lot; it it because of the design of it? Mostly I was originally interested because you said it was not plastic. See below.
Vinyl is not a natural substance but is a synthetic man-made material. It is a type of plastic that is made from ethylene (found in crude oil) and chlorine (found in regular salt). When processed, both the substances are combined to form Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) resin, or as is commonly referred to – Vinyl.
What Is Vinyl?
How many days to use castor packet?
Katie, you continue to amaze me.
I hate the idea of chronic pain, and chronic pain relieving meds…however, inflammation/ pain is really a problem here in the Western cultures, because of fast foods, gut issues, poor posture, not enough excercise, too much driving ,old mattresses, etc. etc. etc.
So grateful for your research and thoughtful presentation… I’m off to find my heating pad, an old baby receiving blanket and castor oil ( which I also use in soap making ) We need a new shower curtain anyway !!! I’m going to order a few wrap around packs…Now THAT would make a great gift in a teenagers easter basket, don’tcha think? We have alot of tennis elbows and knee twisters here.
laurie in st louis
I’m wondering if the flannel cloth is a necessary item for applying the Castor Oil? I’ve been applying Castor Oil to my abdomen and liver area without the cloth, and then placing a small space heater close to my body for the heat therapy to promote absorption if the oil. I can’t seem to find any information on my internet searches. Does the cloth itself have any benefit other than holding the Castor Oil?
My naturopath told me to just spread some oil on myself and then use the heating pad. I was surprised, because my mother used to do it the way Katie describes.
I had the same question! Still can’t find an answer. Haha
My husband is a cyclist and one time he sprained his ankle really badly. If you know any cyclists, you know that they are absolutely obsessed with their sport, so when this happened, it was so devastating to him because it meant he couldn’t go cycling. Anyhow, a friend of ours suggested castor oil packs, in addition to alternating hot and cold water on the sprain for about 15 minutes. I can’t remember how many times he did this, but needless to say, he was back on the bike in two days. He couldn’t believe how quickly he healed.
Thank you for this blog. I used to use castor oil packs many years ago but had forgotten about them. Yes, they are very good for tummy aches and sore joints, a very gentle but safe remedy, especially for the children.