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Castor oil

Information about the castor oil seed plant, a fast-growing shrub with leaves similar to pawpaw

1999 Available in French, English, Spanish and Portuguese

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From: Older people – Footsteps 39

Learning from and celebrating the contribution of older people to society

I am a regular reader who finds Footsteps stimulating and helpful. I found the information on moringa and neem very useful. Because of this, I am writing to ask for information about a plant called the castor oil seed plant. This is a large fast growing shrub with leaves similar to pawpaw. The seeds look like bugs with spotted skins and grow on seed heads with spiky coverings. Are there any uses for this plant that readers can share?

D Ishenge, PO Box 684, Makurdi, Benue State, Nigeria.

EDITOR: This large shrub is found in many parts of the tropics. The seeds are rich in oil and can be gathered when ripe from the large upright flower heads. However the seeds contain a deadly poison which is fatal to both humans and animals and must never be swallowed. The hard outer seed coat is removed and then the oil can be extracted with an oil press. The cake is again very poisonous. The pure oil has an unpleasant smell but several important uses. In very small doses it is used to treat constipation. It is very useful in engineering, mixing with paints and for making soap but because of its poisonous nature it may be better to use other oilseeds!

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