If your pantry is already stocked with natural superstar ingredients like apple cider vinegar and coconut oil, there’s another multi-purpose staple that should be on your radar (and on your shelf): castor oil.
Castor oil, which hails from Africa and India, has been used for health and well-being—especially for hair, skin, and digestion—for hundreds of years. The oil contains high concentrations of a hard-to-find fatty acid called ricinoleic acid that experts believe is responsible for many of its benefits, explains Traditional Chinese Medicine specialist Elizabeth Trattner, A.P.
Want to reap the benefits of this ancient oil for yourself? Here are five ways castor oil can do your body good, inside and out.
1. Boosts Lymphatic Function, Detoxification, And Immunity
Our lymphatic system, which consists of a network of hundreds of connected lymph nodes, is responsible for dispersing immune-boosting white blood cells throughout our body and filtering out waste and toxins. But if our lymph nodes don’t drain and transport their lymph fluid properly (which can be caused by high doses of medication, lack of activity, and certain diseases), they can affect our liver’s ability to detoxify our body.
To boost lymphatic function, Trattner recommends applying DIY castor oil packs. Research published in the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine shows that castor oil triggers our body’s production of lymphocytes (a.k.a. white blood cells), and thus can support proper lymphatic drainage and immunity. “I used to use castor oil packs to support my liver through all the asthma medication I was on,” she says. “I would soak old rags in castor oil, wrap them around my midsection over my liver, cover them with towels, plastic wrap them, and apply heat.”
Research suggests castor oil packs need to be applied for two hours, so try wrapping yourself up before your next weekend Netflix session.
2. Supports Regular Toilet Time
Castor oil has long been used to ease constipation, and now researchers know how it works: The oil’s ricinoleic acid binds to certain receptors in the muscles throughout our digestive system and causes them to contract, which helps move waste through and out of our system. (Fun fact: Because of this effect, castor oil was also traditionally used to induce labor!)
If you’ve never taken castor oil before, start with just an eighth of a teaspoon, and gauge how your system reacts, recommends Mariana Daniela Torchia, Ph.D., R.D., M.P.H. Otherwise, take up to half a teaspoon to help you go.
3. Nourishes Skin
Want dewy, soft skin? Consider adding castor oil to your skin-care regimen.
Because it’s made up of fatty acids—especially that ricinoleic acid—castor oil helps to soothe and lock moisture into the skin, explains Trattner. In fact, castor oil is a popular ingredient in tons of cosmetic products already on store shelves—it may even be in a lotion or moisturizer you already use! (It’s typically listed as ‘Ricinus Communis.’)
Since castor can be allergenic for some people, apply a small amount to the back of your hand to test for any allergic reaction or sensitivities before slathering it all over your body. If you’re good to go, mix a little castor oil into your moisturizer or massage the oil into your skin before bed (rinse off any excess in the morning).
4. Conditions Scalp And Hair
Castor oil can also be used as a natural conditioner, and can bring moisture back into dry locks and nourish your hair follicles. “Castor oil and its benefits for scalp, hair, and eyebrow health have been believed and followed for ages,” Trattner says. In addition to its moisturizing fatty acids, vitamin E also contributes to the oil’s conditioning effects.
To use castor oil as a scalp treatment, wet your hair, massage a few teaspoons into your scalp for about two to three minutes, and rinse. To condition your strands, you can either add a few drops of castor oil to your usual conditioner or deep condition by rubbing the oil directly into your hair. If deep conditioning, let the oil work its magic for about 30 minutes and then rinse.
Intrigued? Pin this infographic for future reference!