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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Castor Plant (Ricinus communis): the Palm of Christ

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The castor plant which is taxonomically known as Ricinus communis is a species of flowering plants in the family Euphorbiaceae. Ricinus is a monotypic genus of sub tribe Ricineae. Its evolution and its relation to other species have been studied by various independent researches and institutes across the world.

The name Ricinus is a Latin word which means ticks. It has another name Palm of Christ, or Palma Christi which is derived from its ability to heal wounds and cure ailments. Ricinus is a fast growing suckering perennial shrub which can attain the size of a small tree measuring up to some meters in height. In tropics its height reaches up to 13 m with stem 7.5 to 15 cm in diameter. In temperate regions it is annual plant where it can grow up to the height of 1 to 3 m.

Image : 1 Ricinus communis (white variety) 

Image 2: Ricinus communis with fruits 

Image 3  Ricinus seeds

 Image 4: Red Castor

Castor is indigenous to Southeastern Mediterranean Basin, Eastern Africa, and India. Phillips et al. (1999) have reported that it is widespread throughout tropical regions. It adopts well in many types of surroundings and appears as native, however it is often found as wild in waste lands. It can be seen growing on the garbage dumps, along rail tracks and backyards. It is grown as a crop in Ethiopia and many other parts of the world. It has been reported that it was used in the parks of Toronto, Ontario, Canada as decorative plant during Edwardian times. It has two most common varieties – red and white. The red variety is often grown as ornamental plant.

Description of the plant
The plant is monotypic and it varies greatly in its growth habit and appearance. Leaves of the plant are glossy measuring 15 to 45 cm in length, long, peteolate, alternate, orbicular and palmately compound with 5 to 12 deep lobes having coarsely toothed segments. The colour of leaves varies from dark green, green with a reddish tinge, dark reddish purple to bronze. Stems are cylindrical and light green in colour. These are succulent and herbaceous.

The inflorescence is panicle like. It bears green monoecious flowers. Female flowers are stalked and are located above the male flowers. Both of these flowers are without petals. Sepals number from 3 to 5 and greenish. Male flowers are yellowish green with prominent creamy stamens. The panicle is usually ovoid in shape. The female flowers are born at the tips of the spikes. Stigmas are prominently red and ovary is superior, 3-celled with a short style and three stigmas. Stamens remain numerous, 5 to 10 mm long. Fruits are spiny, greenish capsules with large oval, shiny bean like poisonous seeds with variable brownish mottling. In modern cultivars, the fruit is dehiscent and usually contains three seeds. Reed (1976) reports that seeds of the fruits of this plant are ovoid, tick like, shiny, 0.5 to 1.5 cm long, carunculate, vari-colour with white base, grey, brownish, rd or black with the outer pattern grey or brown to black, the pattern varying from fine to coarse, veined or finely dotted to large splotches, poisonous and allergenic.

Duke (1978) has reported that castrobean or cvs thereof tolerate bacteria, disease, and drought; fungi, high pH, heat, insects, laterite, low pH, mycobacterium, nematodes, poor soil, salt, slope, smog, SO2, virus, weed, wind and wilt. However, many Indian varieties have been reported to be prone to viral diseases (Mishra, 2010).

Photochemical found in the plant
Per 100 gm of the leaf extract of Ricinus communis has been reported to contain 24.8 gm protein, 5.4 gm fat, 57.4 gm total carbohydrate, 10.3 gm fibre, 12.4 gm ash.Seeds are reportedly high in Phosphorus, dihydroxystearic acid, linoleic acid, oleic acid, and stearic acid. Seeds are also reported to contain 60mg/kg of uric acid and 7ppm of HCN. Besides, seeds are also reported to contain amylase, invertage, maltage,endotrypsin, glycolic acid, oxidase, ribonulease, and fat soluble zymogen.Sprouting seeds are reported to contain catalase, peroxidase and reductase.

Another source reports that the leaf extract of Ricinus communis contains Fatty oil, Protein, Lectins, Others ricin D (RCA-60. severely toxic), RCA-120 (less toxic), Pyridine alkaloids, Triglycerides: chief fatty acids ricinoleic acid (12-hydroxy-oleic acid, share 85-90%), Tocopherols (Vitamin E).
History of traditional and ethnoherbological uses of different products of Ricinus
Researchers have reported that the seeds of castor have been found in the tombs of Egypt dating back to 4000BC. The oil extracted out of seeds was considered as a slow burning oil and was used to fuel lamps in those days. Herodotus and other Greek travelers have noted that the oil of castor seeds was used for lighting lamps. It was also used as body ointment, and as an agent for improving hair growth and texture. It is reported that Cleopatra used the oil of castor seeds to brighten the whites of her eyes. Castor oil has been described as laxative in Ebers Papyrus, an ancient Egyptian Medical Treatise that was written in 1562 BC and translated into English in 1872.

In India, the use of castor oil has been reported since 2000BC when it was used for lighting lamps, and was also used in Ayurvedic, Unani and Ethnomedical systems as medicine in the form of laxative, purgative and cathartic. The traditional Ayurvedic practices consider castor oil as king of medicines for the treatment of arthritis.

China has been using castor seeds and its oil as local medicine for dressing and internal applications for centuries. In most of the civilizations it has been reported to remain in use to please different Gods.

"Castor oil is known to have been used as an instrument of coercion by the paramilitary under the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Dissidents and regime opponents were forced to ingest the oil in large amounts, triggering severe diarrhea and dehydration, which could ultimately cause death. This method of punishment was originally thought by Gabriela D' Annunzio, the Italian poet and fascist supporter, during the First World War".

The seeds, seed oil, leave and the roots of Ricinus communis  have great medicinal value. The plant is equally useful, both internally as well as externally. 

Externally, Ricinus is effectively used in the diseases of vata associated with pain and swellings. For this purpose, the seed oil massage or fomentation with its hot leaves relieves the symptoms in the diseases like arthritis, sciatica, rheumatism, gout, mastitis and skin diseases. The leaves or the pulp of the seeds, made hot and applied on abdomen relieve the flatulence. The massage with eranda oil purifies the breast milk in mothers. Eranda oil also acts as a cleansing agent for the eyes. It cleans the eyes and facilitates the removal of any foreign bodies in the eyes. It is also beneficial in conjunctivitis. Eranda oil massages soothens the dry and coarse skin. 

Internally, eranda is used as a potent drug in treating diseases of vata viz. arthritis, sciatica, facial palsy, paralysis, bodyache, tremors, headache etc. The drugs commonly used to treat these conditions contain eranda and guggulu. The preparations Simhanada guggulu and sadanga guggulu work well in alleviating these ailments. As a purgative, eranda oil is seldom given by itself because of its unpleasant taste. It is usually given with the decoction of sunthi or triphala or with tea, in the dosage 10 to 50 ml. depending on the constitution and grade of constipation. The decoction of eranda seeds, guduci and vasa, mixed with eranda oil, is a very effective remedy for raktapitta. 

Hepatitis can be effectively treated with the fresh juice of eranda leaves and sugar. The juice alleviates pitta and acts as a cholegogue also. In chronic arthritis and rheumatic conditions, the decoction of eranda roots, rasna roots and sunthi rhizomes is the best panacea to alleviate vata and pain. Guggulu and eranda is the best combination for the same. Eranda oil works well as a palliative treatment, given with the milk, in inguino – scrotal hernia. In ascites, eranda oil works well, with the decoction of dasamulas. Eranda oil relieves constipation and increases the appetite, hence is effective in treating piles. It is also benefical in cough, colds and asthma due to vitiation of kapha and vata dosas. It alleviates the cardiac pain and lumbago, caused due to aggravation of vata. The tender leaves of eranda ground in water are given orally and the pulp of its leaves is applied locally, in cases of serpant bite. The same remedy is effective in opium and vatsanabha intoxication. Eranda oil, by its hot, unctuous, heavy and laxative attributes, effectively alleviates vata dosa and hence remains the drug of choice in vata diseases. 

Raw castor seeds are well known due to presence of an active compound Ricin in it. However, there are rare reports of actual poisoning due to eating of the seeds of this plant. The lethal dose for adults has been considered to be 8 to 10 seeds. The Guinness Book of World Records mentions that this plant is “most poisonous.”

Castor seeds are produced in the world around 1 million tonnes per year. India produces 60 per cent of the total global yield og the castor seeds. China comes on the second and Brazil on the third place.

·         Phillips, Roger; Martyn Rix (1999). Annuals and Biennials. London: Mcmillan. P.106.ISBN 033374889.
·         Duke, J.A.1978.The quest for tolerant germplasm. P1-61. In: ASA special symposium 32, crop tolerance to sub optimal land conditions.Am. Soc. Agron. Madison, WI.
·         Duke, J.A. and Wain, K.K. 1981. Medicinal plants of the world. Computer index with more than 85000 entries. 3vols.
·         CSIR(Council of Scientific and Industrial Research). 1948 – 1976. The Wealth of India. II vols. New Delhi.

Key words: Ricinus communis, erand, India, CSIR

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