Castor Oil Plant

(Ricinus communis) It once had some very odd properties ascribed to it, affecting the very name of the plant and its by-product. It was thought to be proficient in assuaging the natural heat of the body, and it had the reputed power to "soothe the passions", so it was called by the French Agnus Castus, Spanish agno casto, a name now reserved for Vitex agnus-castus, the Chaste Tree (Maddox). So 'castor' was originally 'casto', solely because of a dubious reputation, which, given its undoubted laxative virtues, may very well have been justified.

The plant's dissemination must have taken place very early, for it was cultivated as a drug plant by the ancient Egyptians. It was sacred enough to have been put in sarcophagi by 4000BC, so that the dead would have use for the bean in the other world. There is a whole list of medicinal uses in the Ebers Papyrus and other lesser known ones. They used the seeds as a purge, taken with beer, or as a painkiller, particularly for sores, in the form of an ointment, which was also used for a disease tentatively identified as alopecia. Again, the seeds, mixed with beans, were used as a fumigant, and employed "to drive away the influence of a god or goddess, a male poison or a female poison, a dead man or a dead woman" (Dawson. 1929).

Castor oil is a vermifuge, and, of course, a laxative, and a particularly valuable one, though the smell and taste have made it "a by-word for offensiveness" (Maddox). In Haiti it is used for colic, for eye trouble and headaches, or, in America, to put on a wart (Thomas & Thomas). African peoples like the Mano, of Liberia, use it for headaches, too, by rubbing the leaves in water, and bathing the head with the infusion (Harley), while in the southern states of America a similar practice merely involves wrapping the forehead with the leaves, which will treat a fever as well (Puckett). Kentucky practice was to carry a castor-bean about on the person, for indigestion (Thomas & Thomas). There is, too a certain amount of ritual use, which probably includes the Shona (Zimbabwe) habit of smoking the leaves like a cigarette, ostensibly to cure hiccups, it is said (Gelfand. 1956). Certainly, the Brazilian curanderos used it ritually, as a fumigant, and as an ingredient in ritual baths in their healing ceremonies (Williams. 1979). Palma Christi is a name sometimes used for this plant. It is at least as old as Turner (1548), and means Christ's hand (palma is the palm of the hand). It is a reference to the palmately divided leaves. The open hand, as well as the fist, is a potent instrument for dispelling ill-wishing or the evil eye, and it is interesting to find that castor oil plant leaves have been worn round the neck to ward off devils, because the leaf is like that open hand (C J S Thompson. 1897).

Catalpa bignonioides > LOCUST BEAN CATARRH

was cured at one time by taking the powder made from CONKERS as a snuff. The Pennsylvania Germans used it that way (Fogel), but this was quite an early habit (Thornton), and the idea was to grate them up and use the powder to make one sneeze. Apparently it was recommended not only as a powder, but also as an infusion or decoction to take up the nostrils. SANICLE can be used to treat catarrh (an infusion of the astringent leaves) (Conway). Smoking the crushed berries of VIRGINIAN JUNIPER is an American domestic remedy for catarrh (H M Hyatt). The fern known as POLYPODY was made in Scotland into a medicine for catarrh (Beith), and FENUGREEK is also used as a traditional treatment for the condition (Schauenberg & Paris), who also suggest that the infusion of the flowers of SMALL-LEAVED LIME was used.

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