Another Look at an Old Remedy

by Sandy Levy

Note: The following is offered as a report of my research and experience, and not as medical advice. Please check with your physician before using this product. Castor oil packs should not be used by pregnant women or where there is a malignant tumor.

You may know of castor oil as an old-fashioned, awful-tasting remedy for constipation and for bringing on labor, but there are many medical and cosmetic uses of castor oil, going back even to the ancient Egyptians.  In the early 20th century its medical use was promoted by Edgar Cayce, the so-called “sleeping prophet.” In my searches for better ways to treat pain, I decided to try it out on a stubborn problem I’d been experiencing.

As a pain reliever, castor oil is used topically, but simply rubbing it on the skin won’t do. It needs to be applied as a “pack,” composed of a piece of folded wool flannel (or other absorbent material) soaked in the oil (see instructions here) with heat applied to the flannel and placed on the painful area for at least an hour. In the case of the back, where my problem was located, one would lie on the pack, with the heating pad placed beneath the flannel, and the bed protected by a towel or sheet of plastic.

It is said that the flannel can be used up to 24 times, and kept in the refrigerator for a long time if need be. Locally MOM’s and Whole Foods carry castor oil of good quality (hexane-free) as well as the flannel. MOM’s version of the flannel is nicer and cheaper than the brand Whole Food sells, and even than the same brand at Amazon. If you purchase a 16-oz. bottle and one piece of flannel, your cost should be under $25.  A 4-oz. bottle, costing about $7, will more than saturate the flannel and allow for a few more applications, as a little more oil is applied to the flannel at each usage. A piece cut from an old woolen blanket also makes a good pack.

Generally one uses the pack for an hour or more for at least three consecutive days. My experience may be unusual, but after only one session my stiff, painful joint was dramatically improved and some months later has remained so. Further usage of the pack didn’t do much, but others find that improvement comes after repeated applications.

There are other dramatic stories of the use of castor oil packs, for instance, placed over the abdomen for the relief of digestive diseases, including hepatitis and irritable bowel syndrome. Two of our therapists have found it to be helpful in promoting healing, and softening of scar tissue, after surgery. Lynne, who applied the pack long after her surgery, reports that she is now comfortable at the surgical site and Bonnie says that “the castor oil reduced the inflammation which helped me healer faster. The scars are smooth and I have never had a problem with adhesion.”

I will add information to this post as clients share their experiences with me.

For further reading:

William A. McGarey, M.D., The Oil That Heals, 1993

Harold  J. Reilly and Ruth Hagy Brod, The Edgar Cayce Handbook for Health Through Drugless Therapy, 1975