December 2006
The Herb Lady

Castor Oil and Fingernails

Castor Oil and Fingernails

Recently someone said "castor oil" in my presence. Hearing the word made a light come on in my head. I had recently applied polish to my fingernails. I must be allergic to it because when removed my nails were in sad shape. They were thin, brittle and flaky.

Some years ago my nails had been in more or less the same condition. At that time they were constantly exposed to harsh solutions such as alcohol, ether and x-ray developing solutions. (This was during my years as an office nurse and before the common practice of wearing surgical gloves.) A co-worker suggested that I apply castor oil to my nails each night. I did so and my nails soon showed a marked improvement.

Once again I’ve followed this simple treatment. As before, my nails are much improved.

The Castor Bean or Castor Oil Plant is an easily grown annual plant which sometimes reseeds. It is a commonly grown ornamental here in this part of the world. I have grown this herb myself. My plants reached a height of six or eight feet. In more tropical climates, some varieties are considered perennial trees which grow to a possible 30 to 50 feet.

The beans I planted produced a fast growing plant with large leaves. The leaves had five to nine, toothed, pointed lobes. Some reached a width of over 12 inches. Young leaves usually had a purple tint. Mature leaves were a mixture of gray-green and dark purple.

In midsummer, flower clusters (both male and female) formed termina1 spikes on this herb. These were followed by clusters of spiny burs containing a slick, grayish seed which was about the size of a large peanut. Once I gathered a shoe box full of these seed clusters and put them on top of my refridgerator to dry. I planned to use them in my own garden as well as share them with friends for the coming year. Soon I started finding seed on my kitchen floor, which posed a mystery. No children were in the house and I knew my husband had not bothered my seed. Final1y I realized that as the burs dried, they popped open and seed were thrown in all directions. I solved the problem by covering the shoe box with a towel. If my grandchildren had been visiting, this might have caused a severe problem because castor bean seed are poisonous–very poisonous! The swallowing of one seed could kill a child.

While the seed are poisonous, the oil which is derived from them is not. That’s good because this oil is very beneficial to us in a number of ways.

When I was a child, castor oil was a common cure-all. Children who grunted often received a dose of the nasty mess. Of course, parents tried to be sure the child was not grunting because of appendicitis. (I’m sure that most people reading this know that it is not advisable to give any laxative to a person with appendicitis.) All ages took it occasionally for constipation. Then as a young nurse I had to give this to some of my patients. It was the laxative of choice preceding certain tests which required the intestinal tract to be thoroughly cleansed.

Castor bean seed have been found in 4000-year-old Egyption tombs. The ancient Greeks, as well as the Egyptians, knew how to extract the oil which was used as a linament and lubricant. By the Middle Ages, Europeans were using the oil for the same purposes. Finally, in the eighteenth century, it gained a reputation as a laxative. Someplace I read that castor oil will remove warts. For this you should rub a drop of oil into the wart several times a day. Most likely it will take a few weeks, possibly a few months, for this to be successful.

This oil base has been an ingredient in facial creams and make-up for a long time – possibly since civilization began between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. It is said to help prevent or remove wrinkles. We women will go to any extreme to be pretty. Thank goodness they can take the smell and taste out of castor oil today. I’d hate to have the old stinking kind on my face.

This oil is useful as a lubricant in machinery such as airplanes and boats. My reference book states it is especially useful for this since it remains thick and sticky over a wide range of temperatures. It is also used in soap, in dyes, in artificial leather, in treating leather, in paints and in many other ways.

This native of India is now grown over a large part of the world and serves us well. It is especially pretty when planted along a fence row or across a garden. While providing beauty, it just might also repel rabbits, moles and mosquitos.

Please check with your doctor before taking any herbal remedy.

Nadine Johnson is a resident of Goshen, a member of the Goshen Farmers Co-op, and a long time user and promoter of wise herb use. Her telephone number is 334-484-3580. Her email is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..