This section is from the "A Practical Treatise On Materia Medica And Therapeutics" book, by Roberts Bartholow. Also available from Amazon: A Practical Treatise On Materia Medica And Therapeutics
Castor-oil. Huile de ricin, Fr.; Castoröl, Ger. A fixed oil expressed from the seed of Ricinus communis Linné (Nat. Ord. Euphorbiaceae). Dose, 3 j — oz j.
Castor-oil has a pale amber-color, a rather nauseous taste, and is quite viscid. Cold increases the viscidity. It has a specific gravity of about 0·96. It contains several fatty acids—palmitic and ricinoleic—the latter peculiar to castor-oil. The seeds appear to contain a drastic constituent, which is more powerfully purgative than the oil. The purer the oil, the less active its purgative property.
Castor-oil is a mild but very certain and efficient laxative. It operates in from four to six hours, causing but little pain, and producing copious stools. It increases but slightly the intestinal secretions—hence the stools are not very liquid. Its purgative principle enters the blood, and the milk of the mother may in this way acquire a purgative property. It does not appear to have any effect upon the hepatic secretion. Röhrig's experiments, which demonstrated this point, have been confirmed by the subsequent investigations of Rutherford and Vignal. After the action of castor-oil has been completed, it may not infrequently be seen floating on the stool; yet Buchheim (Husemann) has been unable, after careful examination of the faeces, to discover in them castor-oil or any of its derivatives.
Castor-oil is justly held in great esteem as a laxative for children, for pregnant women, for the puerperal state. When hardened foeces and irritating substances are to be removed from the intestinal canal, castor-oil is the most efficient purgative compatible with safety. When inflamed haemorrhoids, fissures of the anus, or surgical operations on the pelvic viscera, require the use of a mild, certain, but unirritating laxative, castor-oil should be selected. Unfortunately, its taste is so repugnant to many palates, that no considerations will overcome the disgust which it excites. No remedy is more useful in the diarrhoea of children, induced and maintained by undigested aliment or irritating secretions. It is judicious practice, in these cases, to give a laxative dose of castor-oil to empty the canal, and follow it with an opiate or enema of laudanum. The dysentery of children, and sporadic dysentery of adults, especially after the more acute febrile symptoms have subsided, are generally very successfully managed by an emulsion of castor-oil: Rx Ol. ricini, oz j; mucil. acaciae, syrup, simplicis, āā oz ss; aquae cinnamomi, oz ij. M. Sig.: A table-spoonful every four to six hours. In cases of dysentery, when there are much pain, tenesmus, and frequent passages, ten to twenty drops of laudanum may be added to each dose; when there are much depression, a low state of the arterial tension, and a dry, glazed tongue, five drops of turpentine may also be added.
A poultice made of the leaves of the castor-oil plant applied to the breasts, it is said, has the power to promote the secretion of milk. Warm applications to the mammae undoubtedly stimulate their functional activity, but it is questionable whether castor-oil leaves have a special galactagogue property. It is said however, that the inhabitants of the Cape Verd Islands have long been acquainted with this supposed property. The internal use of a fluid extract of the leaves has also, it is supposed, the power to determine an increased secretion of milk. Jaborandi will probably prove to be more effective in this respect than the ricinus communis.