I have always been a fan of using heat to relieve pain of various kinds, from back pain to sore muscles to menstrual cramps, and it does so remarkably well. As a kid I would get the absolute worst “growing pains” in my legs, and my Mom would always offer me a hot water bottle at these times, which was not only comforting but also really helped alleviate the pain.
Heat has long been known for its pain relieving properties. Traditionally, it has been delivered in the form of herbal remedies, while in our modern era we more often use hot water bottles and electric heating pads. While these are both great options, the heat source from these methods does not always permeate far enough into the body for it to be as effective as it could be. This where the use of castor oil plus a heat source can really make a difference, and offers some other, surprising benefits as well.
What Is Castor Oil?
Castor oil comes from the castor seed, which actually has a very unusual chemical composition. This triglyceride is comprised of fatty acids, 90 percent of which are ricinoleic acid. Native to India, the castor seed plant has long been used in Ayurvedic medicine to treat various ailments. Castor oil can be used both topically and internally, but throughout this article, we will be discussing the healing benefits of applying it topically.
The reported benefits of castor oil “packs” were made popular by the late psychic healer Edgar Cayce and then later researched by Dr. William McGarey, who was an avid follower of Cayce’s work and the author of The Oil That Heals. McGarey wrote that, when used properly, castor oil packs improve the function of the thymus gland and other components of the immune system. More specifically, he discovered that in two separate studies, patients using castor oil packs on the abdominal area saw significant increases in lymphocyte production compared to those patients that were given placebo packs with heat only.
Lymphocytes are the disease-fighting cells of your immune system and are stored mainly in your lymphatic tissue, including the thymus gland, spleen, and lymph nodes. The hundreds of miles of lymphatic tubes in our bodies allow waste to be collected from our tissues and transported to our blood to be properly eliminated, a process referred to as lymphatic drainage. When your lymphatic system is not working as it should, waste and toxins can accumulate, which can commonly lead to illness. In fact lymphatic congestion can be a major factor leading to inflammation in the body and disease. And this is where castor oil comes in. According to Cayce and McGarey, when castor oil is absorbed through your skin, your lymphocyte count increases, which in turn promotes healing because toxins can then be eliminated through the tissues more quickly.
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Other Reported Benefits Of Castor Oil Packs
A study conducted in 1999 determined that, with a minimal 2-hour therapy period, castor oil packs temporarily increased the number of T-11 cells significantly. The effect increased over a 7 hour period, following which levels returned to normal within 24 hours. The healing benefits of such an increase are impressive. According to the study:
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.
Castor oil packs have also been said to improve liver detoxification naturally, support uterine and ovarian health, improve lymphatic circulation, and as mentioned above, reduce inflammation.
While it is difficult to find conclusive studies on the reported benefits of using castor oil packs externally (there are some preliminary ones), there is a long history of traditional use in many different cultures. There is even some evidence that it can have a suppressive effect on tumors and a positive effect on arthritis when used externally.
Uses For A Castor Oil Pack
Traditionally, castor oil packs can be used in the following ways:
- On the right side of the abdomen or the whole abdomen. This is said to help support the liver and entire digestive system.
- On strained, achy, or tired muscles to speed up minor injuries that don’t need medical attention
- On strained and sore joints, hips, elbows, knees, etc.
- On the lower abdomen to assist with menstrual cramps
- On the lower back to assist greatly with the very common lower back pain
If any serious ailments are present or you are pregnant it would be wise to consult with a doctor or naturopath prior to starting this method of treatment. If you’ve never used castor oil before, as with any substance that is new for your body, I recommend testing a dab of the oil on a small part of the arm to ensure you are not allergic.
How To Do A Castor Oil Pack
What you’ll need:
- High quality castor oil that is hexane free
- A somewhat large piece of natural cotton or wool flannel, unbleached and free from dye
- A wraparound pack, or plastic wrap
- Hot water bottle, heat bag, or electric heating pad
- Storage container that fits your piece of flannel
- Old clothes, towels, sheets — castor oil does stain
- Cut a large piece of the cotton flannel before beginning. It can be about 60 cm by 30 cm and you will be folding it in thirds. The size can vary depending on where you are planning on using it.
You can lay out the piece of material on a garbage bag or a countertop provided it is non-porous and easy to clean with soap and water. Then pour the castor oil over top and rub it around; you want to thoroughly soak the piece of flannel, but not to the point where it’s dripping. You may need to flip it over and add some more oil to the other side. You can then fold it in thirds and store it in a mason jar with a tight fitting lid, or in another reusable container.
- Prepare the hot water bottle, electric heating pad, or other heat source.
- Lay down on the ground on top of an old towel or sheet while wearing old clothes you don’t mind getting stained. You should be near a couch or somewhere you can put your legs up (provided the specific body part you are treating allows you to do this).
- Place the castor oil cloth on the desired body part.
- Cover with the wraparound pack (these are specifically designed for castor oil packs; a complete kit can be found here) or plastic wrap.
- Place heating pad or hot water bottle on top.
- Relax for 30-60 minutes. Use this time to practice deep breathing, meditation, read a book, or just simply relax. I treat this time the same way I would treat bathtime, lighting candles and diffusing some lavender essential oils, possibly with some mantra music playing in the background.
- After the time is up, remove the heating element and place the flannel back in its container. Store in the fridge.
- Use a natural soap or a little bit of baking soda to wash any remaining castor oil off your skin.
- Relax and be sure to drink some water to rehydrate the body.
If you have achy muscles, cramps, stiffness, and soreness in the body, give this a shot and see how you feel. It’s a very simple, natural way to provide effective pain relief and, as an added bonus, gives you some well-deserved “you time.”
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