Additional notes (click to expand)

Medicinal

Purgative, oil extracted from the bean (Castor oil), being used as a laxative
Van Wyk, Wink, BE . (2017). Medicinal Plants of the World. CABI.

One of its earliest mentions appears in the Ebers papyrus, a document of 700 prescriptions penned by an Egyptian priest dating to 1500BC
Wee, Yeow Chin. (2005) Plants that Heal, Thrill and Kill, SNP Reference.

Nomenclature

Palma Christi
L'Obel, M, de Pena, P. (1571). Nova Stirpium Adversaria. Thomas Purfoot, London. p. 306

Other use

Food additive: flavouring, also for protective coating of tablets; Fuels: potential as petrol substitute/ alcohol; Invertebrate food: silk worms; Materials: beads, lipids.

This was known as Palma Christi, or Figuera di l’inferno (the fig from hell) according to Lobel. The coat of the seed of this plant from Southern Europe and North Africa is the source of the poison ricin, best known for the umbrella murder in 1978 when the Bulgarian secret service was alleged to have killed Georgi Markov with a pellet containing ricin (although none was found), using an air gun disguised as an umbrella, on Waterloo Bridge in London. The seeds also produce castor oil (which does not contain ricin), formerly used as a laxative. The leaves are used worldwide as a herbal remedy for stomach complaints. Woodville describes at length how castor oil is extracted, but neither he nor Lindley mention that the seeds are poisonous. Lyte says that the oil, then known as Oleum cicinum, was good for rubbing on the skin, and the leaves for swollen eyes and erysipelas, but that the seed makes one vomit ‘with much payne and greefe’. Two seeds ingested are said to be fatal, but vomiting as a reaction to poisons protects the unwary.
Oakeley, Dr. Henry. (2011). A Year in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, revised edition. Royal College of Physicians, London. p.61 link

Used currently as an industrial lubricant and in the manufacture of polymers
Van Wyk, Wink, BE . (2017). Medicinal Plants of the World. CABI.

Phytochemistry

Seed is high in ricinolieic acid Two toxins – ricinine and ricin, found in the seed coat
Van Wyk, Wink, BE . (2017). Medicinal Plants of the World. CABI.

Toxicity

Ricinus communis L. Euphorbiaceae Castor oil plant. Palma Christi. Distribution: Mediterranean, E Africa, India. The seeds themselves are pretty, brown, bean-like usually with gold filigree markings on them, and the interior of the seed is the source of castor oil. The outer coat of the seed is the source of the poison ricin, famous (infamous) for the umbrella murder of Georgi Markov on Waterloo Bridge in 1978. The KGB are alleged to have killed Georgi Markov, a dissident Bulgarian journalist, with a pellet containing 0.28mgm of ricin fired into his leg using a specially adapted air gun in an umbrella. While his symptoms were those of ricin poisoning, no ricin was ever found in the pellet that was extracted from his leg. Two seeds, chewed and ingested are said to be fatal, but most people vomit and get rid of the toxin. Ducks are resistant to ricin, and need to ingest more than 80 to be fatal! In Peru the leaves are used as a tea for stomach ache, although they contain small amounts of ricin. It is called Palma Christi in early herbals because of the five pointed leaves, which schematically represent a hand. It is a monotypic genus in the spurge family.
Oakeley, Dr. Henry F. (2013). Wellcome Library notes. link

Geographical distribution

  • Africa

Ricinus communis L.

Family: EUPHORBIACEAE
Genus: Ricinus
Species: communis L.
Common names: Castor Oil Plant, Palma christi
Distribution summary: Pantropic
Habit: Annual
Hardiness: H2 - Tender; cool or frost-free greenhouse
Garden status: Not currently grown
Flowering months: July, August, September
Reason for growing: Medicinal, other use, toxic


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