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Valentine.gr  

January 2009

Did you know that the Castor oil have been used as an instrument of coercion by the Fascist militia under the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini?

Castor Oil Plant - Ricinus communis

Castor Oil Plant - Ricinus communis

The castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, is a plant species of the Euphorbiaceae the sole member of the genus Ricinus and of the subtribe Ricininae. Castor oil plant can reach a height of 2–3 m in a year (if sown early, under glass, and kept at a temperature of around 20°Celsius/68°Fahreheit until planted out). The glossy leaves are 15–45 cm long, long-stalked, alternate and palmate with 5–12 deep lobes with coarsely toothed segments. Their colour varies from dark green, sometimes with a reddish tinge, to dark reddish purple or bronze. The stems and the spherical, spiny seed pods also vary in pigmentation. The pods are more showy than the flowers (the male flowers are yellowish-green with prominent creamy stamens and are carried in ovoid spikes up to 15 cm long; the female flowers, borne at the tips of the spikes, have prominent red stigmas). Terminating stems are panicle-like inflorescences of green monoecious flowers, the stalked female flowers above the male flowers below, both without petals. The fruit is a spiny, greenish capsule with large, oval, shiny, bean-like, highly poisonous seeds with variable brownish motling.

The name Ricinus is a Latin word for tick; the seed is so named because it has markings and a bump at the end which resemble certain ticks. The common name "castor oil" likely comes from its use as a replacement for castoreum, a perfume base made from the dried perineal glands of the beaver (castor in Latin). It has another common name, Palm of Christ, or Palma Christi, that derives from castor oil's ability to heal wounds and cure ailments.

Although castor is indigenous to the southeastern Mediterranean region, Eastern Africa, and India, today it is widespread throughout tropical regions. Castor establishes itself easily as an apparently "native" plant and can often be found on wasteland. It is widely grown as a crop in Ethiopia. It is also used extensively as a decorative plant in parks and other public areas, particularly as a "dot plant" in traditional bedding schemes. Of the red and white variety, the red is seen as an ornamental plant, the white is used medicinally.

Most gardeners grow castor bean plants in small groups as specimen plants to create a tropical look. This is a large, coarse textured plant that grows very fast in a single season to fill in a big area or serve as temporary landscaping or quick screening. In frost free areas they are grown in large borders or allowed to naturalize in the back of the landscape. In frosty climates, the castor bean plant is the best way to create a tropical effect around the swimming pool or patio.

Its seed is the castor bean which, despite its name, is not a true bean. 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 coat contains ricin, a poison, which is also present in lower concentrations throughout the plant, for which there is no known antidote. The toxicity of raw castor beans is well-known, and reports of actual poisoning are relatively rare, even though as few as one bean can kill any human and four could kill a horse.

Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC being used mostly to fuel lamps because of the slow burning oil. Herodotus and other Greek travelers have noted the use of castor seed oil for lighting, body ointments, and improving hair growth and texture. Cleopatra is reputed to have used it to brighten the whites of her eyes. The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian medical treatise believed to date from 1552 BC. Translated in 1872, it describes castor oil as a purgative.

The use of castor seed oil in India has been documented since 2000 BC for use in lamps and in local medicine as a laxative, purgative, and cathartic in Unani, Ayurvedic and other ethnomedical systems. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine considers castor oil the king of medicinals for curing arthritic diseases. Castor seed and its oil have also been used in China for centuries, mainly prescribed in local medicine for internal use or use in dressings.

The oil is known to have been used as an instrument of coercion by the Fascist militia (Camicie Nere) under the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Dissidents and regime opponents were forced to ingest the oil in large amounts, triggering severe diarrhoea and dehydration, which could ultimately cause death. This punishment method was originally thought of by Gabriele D'Annunzio, the Italian poet and Fascist supporter, during the First World War.

It was used in rituals of sacrifice to please the gods in early civilizations.

In Brazil, castor plants are abundant. The "fruits" are used by children as slingshot balls. Mamonas, as the fruits are called, serve perfectly as projectiles for slingshots since they have the right weight, size and hardness. Mamona oil is now being used to produce biodiesel in poor rural areas of the country.

Global castor seed production is around 1 million tons per year. Leading producing areas are India (with over 60% of the global yield), China and Brazil. There are several active breeding programmes.

The seed contains 35 - 55% of an edible oil, used in cooking. The seed is a rich source of phosphorus, 90% of which is in the phytic form. The seed contains 35 - 55% of a drying oil. As well as being used in cooking, it is an ingredient of soaps, polishes, flypapers, paints and varnishes. It is also used as a lubricant and for lighting and as an ingredient in fuels for precision engines. 

The oil has undecylenic acid, a powerful chemical for dermal fungus. It is used in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and perfumery including anti-dandruff shampoos. The oil is used in coating fabrics and other protective coverings, in the manufacture of high-grade lubricants, transparent typewriter and printing inks, in textile dyeing and in the production of 'Rilson', a polyamide nylon-type fibre. The dehydrated oil is an excellent drying agent which compares favorably with tung oil and is used in paints and varnishes.

The hydrogenated oil is utilized in the manufacture of waxes, polishes, carbon paper, candles and crayons. A fibre for making ropes is obtained from the stems. The growing plant is said to repel flies and mosquitoes. When grown in the garden it is said to rid it of moles and nibbling insects. The leaves have insecticidal properties. Cellulose from the stems is used for making cardboard, paper etc.


Source:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Castor_bean
http://www.floridata.com/ref/R/rici_com.cfm
http://www.pfaf.org/database/plants.php?Ricinus+communis

 

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