So what's the deal with "castor oil?"

I don’t know what it’s supposed to do. I only know it from old movies. Apparently it had only one property: it tasted awful. And I never saw it used as a “medicine.” It was more like “If you misbehave, you’ll get a dose of castor oil.”

Anyone ever had a dose???

It’s a very powerful laxative. Apparently parents of an earlier era thought that bad behavior was caused by irregularity. Either that or they were just cruel.

Parents might have been cruel, but I’ll tell you one thing… your act would straighten up big time if you knew that if you acted like an idiot you would get a dose.

We used to use the same strategy in a kennel I worked at when I was younger. Some dogs would come in and they were just uncontrollable. We gave them the canine version of castor oil (Dad’s canned dog food). After three days of eating it, the dogs calmed down amazingly well! (ok, they had the shits big time, but they weren’t trying to bite everyone, either) Cruel? Maybe… but it had no long-term ill effects… (except maybe for the guys who had to clean the kennels.)

During the 1930’s, Mussolini’s blackshirt thugs used to force people to drink entire bottles of castor oil if they spoke out against the Facist party. Not fun.
Did Cecil discuss this in a column?


Caster Oyl was Olive Oyl’s brother – you recall Olive, goil friend of Popeye?

And yes, there is a column by Cecil: Did Mussolini use castor oil as an instrument of torture?

There is a book to be written, if it hasn’t been already, about the nineteenth century’s obsession over the bowels. There is a good reason for this–it was about the only thing nineteenth century medicene could affect in a, um, decisive matter. Purging was seen by many doctors as a cure-all for all sort of disorders–pretty much all your chronic conditions, including psycological disorders.

A lot of this bled over into the early twientieth century, although w/ the advent of antibiotics that were a MUCH more effective way of treating a lot of the same diseases, laxative-obsession disappered.

I could see this in my Grandmother. She was born in 1910 in a region of the country that was about 50 years behind the rest of America, and she saw the bowels as the seat of all health. This was embarrising when I was young, but sort of facinating when I got older and realized that this was a remnant of her up bringing in a world very few people can remember.

<< There is a book to be written, if it hasn’t been already, about the nineteenth century’s obsession over the bowels. There is a good reason for this–it was about the only thing nineteenth century medicene could affect in a, um, decisive matter. >>

Let’s not forget that this was one of the four humours, going back to Aristotle. All those centuries when people did blood-letting because they figured it was a 1-in-8 shot, probably carried over to the notion of ridding the body of excess black bile, as well.

Well, some folks still find a great deal of “humour” in bowel movements. See the “Poop” thread in MPSIMS. But, seriously, my Mother used to subject me to this vile substance when I was too young and weak to fight back (late 50’s, early 60’s). She certainly did not do it to be mean, vengeful, or vindictive (I think, anyway). She had “learned” from her Mother that this was an effective “cure for what ails ya”. I learned that there was a heavy price to pay for faking illness to avoid school. My attendance through the 6th grade was pretty darned good, compared to grades 7-12.

Reality is for people who can’t handle drugs.

-Tom Waits

Maybe I’m mixing up castor oil with cod liver oil, but the purpose was to supplement the diet with Vitamin D. They both probably tasted like shit, though.

Yup, you’re thinking of cod liver oil, which is rich in vitamin D, somtimes known as the sunshine vitamin. We used to get it faithfully as kids in the winter time, CLO vitamin D compensated for lack of sunlight in winter.

When I was 16 I developed an intensely painful cyst on my ovary. The doctor told me to drink an ounce of castor oil mixed in with some juice. I doubted it would work, and it was only out of sheer agony I gave in and tried it, but be damned if it didn’t work. The cyst was gone within 2 days.

It’s also well used by women to induce labor at the end stage of pregnancy, as is exlax. It start the bowels contracting, which starts the uterus contracting, and within 24-48 hours (been there, done it) voila! You have your baby.

You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time.

An interesting side note about castor oil is the seeds are extremely toxic. It’s also an interesting tropical looking garden plant (or weed depending who you ask). The seeds have an interesting speckeled pattern, and the caruncle on the end makes it look like a fat, engogrged tick. The full name, Ricinus communis translates to (you botanical latin people help me here): “common tick”

And, if you want to read more in-depth about the castor plant (and the oil) go here:

It’s quite interesting, really.

From The Nurse’s PDR Resource Center

Castor oil, emulsified
Alphamul, Emulsoil, Fleet Flavored Castor Oil, Neoloid) (OTC)

Classification: Laxative, stimulant

Action/Kinetics: The active ingredient is ricinoleic acid, which is liberated in the small intestine. This substance inhibits water and electrolyte absorption, leading to fluid accumulation and increased peristalsis. Prompt (within 2-6 hr) and complete evacuation of the bowel occurs, often with a watery stool.

Use: Preparation of bowel for diagnostic procedures. Short-term relief of constipation.

Contraindications: Pregnancy, menstruation, abdominal pain, and intestinal obstruction. Common constipation. Concomitantly with fat-soluble anthelmintics.

Side Effects: Severe diarrhea, abdominal pain and colic, altered mucosal permeability in the small intestine, dehydration, and changes in electrolyte balance, including hyperkalemia, acidosis, or alkalosis.

I’m not a doctor, but I can hardly imagine an MD worth his or her salt recommending this powerful purgative as a cure for ovarian cysts. Nor can I envision any responsible nurse practitioner/midwife inducing diarrhea as a means to inducing uterine contractions during labor. Increased intestinal peristalsis does not translate into faster baby.

Take a close look at the side effects and contraindications. A good case of the Hershey squirts, dehydration and an altered electrolyte balance are probably the last things a woman in childbirth should have on her mind.

However, there are other good things to be said of castor oil - it’s undergoing a sort of technological rennaisance in the search for renewable, natural alternatives to petrochemicals:

It’s the main ingredient in Castrol motor oil. It seems that castor oil sticks well to mechanical parts under high heat.

Castor oil was the principal component of the lubricant used in aircraft rotary engines, i.e. the Sopwith and Piper planes of the First World War. External valve stems leaked pretty badly and the oil vapor slipstreamed into the cockpit.

Aviator’s dungaress were a somewhat darker brown than those of the infantry.