Castor oil. Most of us recognize it from stories we have heard from the past, when mothers would force a spoonful of it down a child’s throat. While those days are long gone and the internal use of castor oil is controversial, it is still used today in external forms including a castor oil pack. A castor oil pack is a method of applying a castor oil soaked cloth to an area of the body to promote healing through stimulating the lymphatic and circulatory systems in that area. For this Self Care Sunday, let’s learn about how castor oil is effective in our bodies and how to make a castor oil pack for yourself!
First, let’s gain an understanding of the body’s two key systems that are impacted by the use of a castor oil pack: the lymphatic system and the circulatory system.
How Our Lymphatic System Works
Our Lymphatic system is a network of vessels and tissues throughout our bodies that transport a fluid called lymph. The lymphatic system is responsible for metabolic detoxification. The lymph fluid goes throughout the body and pulls out the waste, which is then filtered through the lymph nodes to remove debris, pathogens (bacteria, viruses and things that cause disease), and abnormal cells. Our lymph nodes work as traps and filters for foreign particles.
There are three organs that work within the lymphatic system: the tonsils (the bodies first line of defense for the immune system), the thymus gland (produces T cells to fight specific pathogens) and the spleen (filters our blood to remove unwanted red blood cells and triggers the release of pathogen fighting white blood cells).
The liver produces 1/3-1/2 of the lymph. So, if our liver is not performing well, then our lymphatic system will be suffering too.
Our lymphatic system’s main goals are to transport the lymph through our bodies, filter the lymph through the lymph nodes, use the associated organs to fight infection and disease and return body fluids to the blood through the cardiovascular portion of the circulatory system. The lymph is an intermediate between the tissue and blood.
Our lymphatic system is not a closed system. It flows in one direction, towards the neck and heart. It is very slow moving. It actually relies on our body movement in order to flow. The contraction of our muscles through exercise and movement are what move the flow of the lymph. A sedentary lifestyle does not promote the necessary lymph movement that our bodies need for an optimally functioning immune system.
How Our Circulatory System Works
Our circulatory system is the network of organs and vessels that is responsible for our blood flow. It is the transportation system for hormones, nutrients, oxygen and other gases to and from cells.
It is a closed system that is comprised of three systems. The cardiovascular system is the heart and its arteries and vessels. The pulmonary system is the loop that carries the blood to the lungs for oxygenation. The veins and vessels in the rest of the body are the systemic circulatory system.
The heart functions as the constant pump that keeps the circulatory system active and the blood flowing to all parts of the body.
The blood is the media of the circulatory system. It is what the system uses for transporting the necessary items to our cells. Our blood is made up of plasma, red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets.
For an adult, the system of blood vessels measures about 60,000 miles.
How Do Castor Oil Packs Work
Castor oil comes from the castor seed, which is native to Eastern Africa and India. The oil is high in ricinoleic acid, which is generally recognized as its main healing component. The plant is also known as Palma Christi, or the palm of Christ.
The seed also contains ricin, a water soluble toxin. Raw castor beans are considered to have a high toxicity level from the ricin, and a lethal dose for humans is 4-8 seeds. However, cold-pressed, commercially available castor oil is not considered toxic for external use. Many do not feel that it is toxic for internal use either, but you can do your own research there to be your own judge.
Castor oil is a very thick, almost sticky oil. It is light yellow in color. Externally, castor oil is commonly used for skin and hair care.
Many, that includes me too, also believe that a castor oil pack is a great way to use castor oil externally to receive internal healing benefits. For a castor oil pack, the castor oil is in contact with the skin, which absorbs it. The idea is to put the pack directly on the area where you want the castor oil to make an impact. Castor oil packs are used on different parts of the body, including joints; but the most common use for a castor oil pack is the liver and reproductive organs for women.
Now, we are getting in to how our research on the functions of the lymphatic and circulatory systems apply to castor oil. When applied to the abdomen, the potential benefits of a castor oil pack are as follows:
- Stimulates liver function to process more healthy lymph (helps with hormonal balance)
- Stimulates the lymphatic system to detoxify the area where it is placed and remove metabolic waste (pathogens, old cells, unhealthy tissues, etc.)
- Promotes digestion and digestion of fats
- Cleanses our body & boosts immunity
- Stimulates circulation (brings in fresh, oxygenated, nutrient-rich blood to the area)
- Supports ovarian & uterine health
- Reduces inflammation
How to Make a Castor Oil Pack
You can purchase the castor oil & flannel at a local health food store or online. The rest you will probably already have around your home, or RV :).
To make the pack, the first step is completely saturate the flannel in the oil. The easiest way is to put the flannel in a mason jar, and then pour in a bunch of oil. As the flannel soaks up the oil, continue to add more oil until the flannel is completely full. You can use your hands to turn the flannel and make sure that it becomes completely saturated. Then, just use your hand to wring any excess off the flannel.
Next, change clothes. Castor oil is very difficult to launder out of clothing, so just wear something that you don’t mind if you get a spot on it. If you are having a hard time getting the oil off of your skin, some baking soda should do the trick.
Then, take the saturated flannel and apply directly to the abdomen, or area of choice. Layer a plastic bag over the flannel. Then, layer a towel.
At this point, most people add a heating pad on top of the towel. The heat supposedly allows the oil to absorb quicker and deeper.
BUT, I want you to be very careful if you are like me, and have endometriosis. In our case, excessive heat is actually a bad idea. I can explain more later, but just trust me that while heat may feel good initially for endometriosis sufferers, it will end badly as excessive heat can add to your pain and hardening of adhesions down the road. You can use a heating pad, but keep it at a low setting. Or, you can skip the heat altogether. The beneficial properties of the oil are present, heat or not.
And that is it! That is how to make a castor oil pack! A little messy, but simple and cost effective.
How to use a Castor Oil Pack
The instructions for how long and how often to use one vary greatly depending on the source. Usually, it is recommended to use it for at least 20 minutes, and up to one hour. Generally, it is recommended to do three days on and three days off.
When doing a castor oil pack (or packing, as I like to call it), ideally, you should be in a quiet room with no distractions. Best to be thinking about healing and focusing your mind on positive, wellness boosting thoughts. No TV, no phone allowed. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that if I am truly serious about healing, then I need to be focused on it.
Just apply your pack, lie down and spend some time in prayer, meditation, etc.
Also, some recommend that you do not use it during your cycle. Since it increases circulation, it will increase blood flow at that time. Personally, I avoid it at that time.
You can reuse a castor oil pack for up to two years, if stored properly. I keep my saturated flannel in a mason jar in the refrigerator between uses. Now you know it is valuable, if I give up some very limited space in my tiny RV fridge for it.
I add more oil as needed, and I pull it out of the fridge before use to allow it to come to room temperature before applying.
I have been using castor oil packs for several years now, and I have personally experienced a big difference. I typically do a set of packs 3-4 days in a row each month. I use them on my abdomen, and also on my low back.
I have even talked Chris in to doing one on a few occasions over the years for the digestive benefits. First it was the diet, then the castor packs, what can I possibly have in store next for the man?!
Haven’t we talked about other ways to support our lymphatic system?
Yes, reader, we have. Thank you for noticing my lymphatic obsession. Learn how to dry brush to promote lymph flow and add it to your wellness routine.
Don’t forget to protect your lymph nodes with my homemade deodorant recipe. Sweat it & forget it!
And, as I mentioned earlier, you can improve your lymph flow simply through exercise too! Check out my workout videos and get moving!
I show how much I love you, reader, by caring about your lymph. Strange, but true.
Thanks so much for joining me for another Self-Care Sunday! I hope that you give a castor oil pack a try!
For further reading…