Written By: Dr. Julianna Englund, ND, LAc
Castor oil packs have long been used for healing. Using topical castor oil along with a pack was first documented in traditional Ayurvedic and Chinese medical texts. These healing packs are useful for strains, sprains, and arthritic joints. However, the most celebrated use of the castor oil pack is for aiding the abdominal organs for improved digestion, absorption, detoxification, and elimination.
*Note that when purchasing castor oil, you need to be cautious. A lot of the castor oil sold today is from castor seeds that have been heavily sprayed with pesticides. I recommend purchasing organic castor oil for its superior anti-inflammatory effects.
How Does a Castor Oil Pack Work?
(Image credit: Photo 109392109 / Castor Oil © Pipa100 | Dreamstime.com)
Castor oil’s main action is anti-inflammatory. It reduces pain,1 reduces edema by aiding lymphatic flow, improves microbial balance via nitric oxide stimulation and biofilm breakdown,2-4 stimulates peristalsis (movement of the intestines) via activation of smooth muscle5, and provides anti-inflammatory omega-6 and omega-9 fatty acids as well as vitamin E.6
Be aware that just rubbing the castor oil on the skin does not achieve the same effects. Applying the cotton flannel pack serves an important purpose. The softness of the pack stimulates c-tactile afferent nerves and the pressure of its light weight activates deep sustained pressure receptors such as Merkel’s discs.7 Using the pack along with the castor oil stimulates oxytocin,8 dopamine,9 and other areas of the brain that are stimulated when you feel the satisfaction from a fatty meal.10
(credit for this section's information: Dr. Marisol Teijeiro, ND: https://ndnr.com/gastrointestinal/castor-oil-magic-or-myth-part-4/)
How to Make and Use a Castor Oil Pack
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• Unbleached Flannel Cloth (cotton or wool, washed and dried, 20” to 40” x 24” to 48”)
• Plastic wrap (clear kitchen plastic wrap or plastic bag without printing)
• Glass dish (Pyrex or similar dish large enough to warm the flannel castor oil pack prior to use)
• Old bath towel
• Hot water bottle or hot gel pack
• Castor oil
• Large zip-lock bag
1. Fold the washed and dried flannel cloth so that it is 2-3 layers thick and fits over the affected area
2. Soak the flannel cloth in castor oil. Strip or loosely wring out the excess oil. There will be excess oil for the first few applications, after that the castor oil pack should not drip excess oil.
3. Put the castor oil pack in a heat-safe glass dish and place in oven or in microwave to heat to a comfortable temperature.
4. Sit/lay down in a comfortable position. You may want to place an old towel or plastic under you during the initial applications to avoid oil stains from getting on your bedding, upholstery or carpeting. Place the castor oil pack directly on your problem area.
5. Cover the pack with a sheet of plastic (again to avoid staining).
6. Wrap an old towel around the affected area to hold the castor oil pack in place, and secure. Place a hot water bottle or gel pack over the towel.
7. Leave the castor oil pack on for 45-60 minutes.
8. It is fine to fall asleep with the castor oil pack on, as long as you are not using an electrical heating source.
9. When you are done, store the pack in a large zip-lock bag in the refrigerator. The pack can be used repeatedly, adding more castor oil as needed. The castor oil pack can be used for several months.
Most common castor oil pack mistakes:
- Adding too much oil or adding oil too often. This treatment should not be messy: no oil dripping off, no pools of stickiness left behind, etc.
- Washing the cloth—this is not necessary. Use the cloth for several months, then toss and buy a new one.
Place the castor oil pack on your bare skin and cover it with a hand towel (to insulate it from your clothes). Then, pull a tight t-shirt or tank top over the top. Tuck the bottom of the castor oil pack (flannel and hand towel together) into your pajama bottoms or sweat pants. This technique secures the pack in place and minimizes any messiness.
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1. Vieira C, Evangelista S, Cirillo R, et al. Effect of ricinoleic acid in acute and subchronic experimental models of inflammation. Mediators Inflamm. 2000;9(5):223-228.
2. Andrade IM, Andrade KM, Pisani MX, et al. Trial of an experimental castor oil solution for cleaning dentures. Braz Dent J. 2014;25(1):43-47.
3. Badaró MM, Salles MM, Leite VMF, et al. Clinical trial for evaluation of Ricinus communis and sodium hypochlorite as denture cleanser. J Appl Oral Sci. 2017;25(3):324-334.
4. Salles MM, Badaró MM, Arruda CN, et al. Antimicrobial activity of complete denture cleanser solutions based on sodium hypochlorite and Ricinus communis – a randomized clinical study. J Appl Oral Sci. 2015;23(6):637-642.
5. Tunaru S, Althoff TF, Nusing RM, et al. Castor oil induces laxation and uterus contraction via ricinoleic acid activating prostaglandin EP3 receptors. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012;109(23):9179-9184.
6. Marwat SK, Rehman F, Khan EA, et al. Review – Ricinus cmmunis – Ethnomedicinal uses and pharmacological activities. Pak J Pharm Sci. 2017;30(5):1815-1827.
7. Rolls ET. The affective and cognitive processing of touch, oral texture, and temperature in the brain. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2010;34(2):237-245.
8. Walker SC, Trotter PD, Swaney WT, et al. C-tactile afferents: Cutaneous mediators of oxytocin release during affiliative tactile
9. Scheindlin S. Transdermal drug delivery: PAST, PRESENT, FUTURE. Mol Interv. 2004;4(6):308-312.
10. Löken LS, Wessberg J, Morrison I, et al. Coding of pleasant touch by unmyelinated afferents in humans. Nat Neurosci. 2009;12(5):547-548.