The purpose of this post is to examine the external application of Castor Oil Packs (COP). The following information is for educational information only and is not intended to be medical advice.
What is Castor Oil? Castor oil is derived from the seed of the Ricinus communis Ry-Sin-us Kum-Yew-nis plant. It has large, beautiful palmate leaves hence the name, Palma Christi, or Palm of Christ for its healing abilities. The Palma Christi has been used therapeutically for centuries in the folk medicine of ancient India, China, Persia, Africa, Greece, Rome, and the Americas. Edgar Cayce, a medical intuitive known as the “sleeping prophet”, introduced castor oil packs for the treatment of many conditions. In Cayce’s book The Oil That Heals: A Physician’s Successes With Castor Oil Treatments castor oil is presented as a marvelous source of natural remedies. As an external oil pack, it has been used to treat a variety of health conditions such as arthritis, liver and intestinal disorders, tumors, cysts, and skin conditions. Castor oil packs helped tremendously with my ovulation pain and fibrocystic breast!
How does castor oil packs (COP) work? Research has shown that castor oil has a unique chemical profile rich in ricinoleic acid, which is known to exist in nature only in castor oil. A double-blind study, entitled Immunomodulation through Castor Oil Packs published in an issue of the Journal of Naturopathic Medicine, examined lymphocyte values of 36 healthy subjects before and after topical castor oil application. This study identified castor oil as an anti-toxin, and as having an impact on the lymphatic system, enhancing immunological function. The study found that castor oil pack therapy of a minimal two-hour duration produced an increase in the number of T-11 cells within a 24-hour period following treatment, with an increase in the number of total lymphocytes. This T-11 cell increase represents a general boost in the body’s specific defense status since lymphocytes actively defend the health of the body by forming antibodies against pathogens and their toxins. 
Castor oil packs appear to have a balancing effect on the autonomic nervous system, increasing liver activity and improving digestion.
“Through its influence on the parasympathetic nervous system, or the “rest and digest” system, castor oil may produce a sedative state in the body. Individuals have reported that the castor oil pack relaxes them and helps them sleep when used before bed. One author suggests that this may be the result of placing the packs over the solar plexus, the largest accumulation of autonomic nerve cells in the lower body.” 
Another study found that COP “decreased the feces consistency score, straining during defecation and feeling of complete evacuation after a bowel movement, thus decreasing symptoms of constipation. We conclude that COP may be used for controlling symptoms of constipation.” 
What is a castor oil pack? The standard pack recommended by Edgar Cayce consists of several layers of unbleached wool flannel, (holds heat better), but cotton flannel is also used with excellent results. Castor oil is soaked on the material and applied to the area in need of healing. Soak the flannel in the oil to make it well saturated but not dripping. Place the pack over the area to be treated. Place a heat source, a heating pack or hot water bottle, on top of the pack and maintain constant warmth throughout the treatment. Secure this in place with a heavy towel. Make sure you wear something that you don’t mind getting oil on, as the oil will stain!
How do I prevent staining from the oil? Protect any bedding or clothing from staining since castor oil is highly penetrating. (old heavy bath towel are typically effective). Washing soda (sal soda) may be used during laundering to remove some of the stains on clothing. I find a dab of Dawn dish soap works wonders on lifting oil out of clothes. I put a small dab on the stain and let it sit for ten minutes before washing.
How are the packs maintained? To re-use a pack for multiple treatments, just re-saturate with oil. Packs can be stored in a glass jar for six months to a year as long as it does not become rancid. Packs should not be shared among persons. Never put your COP in the washing machine, the oil will coat the inside of the machine and ruin your clothes!
How often do I use the packs as a treatment? A typical regimen for non-acute conditions is three times a week, every other night for three weeks with the fourth week off. Repeat this for two more cycles, take a week off, and then continue once a week until symptoms subside. For acute situations, use for 60 minutes nightly for five nights, take two nights off, then repeat the cycle for two weeks or until the condition is resolved. In either case, the individual response may differ depending on the symptoms that are being treated, please consult with your health care provider.
Are there any contraindications to usage? Do not use the packs during times of heavy bleeding or during pregnancy. Again, consult with your health care provider. Do not use with surgical mesh present. Heat should not be used with diabetic neuropathy or appendicitis. Packs can be used without heat as well. There may be other times when a castor oil pack shouldn’t be used, so please consult your health care practitioner if you are unsure. On the rare occasion, a rash can occur at the site. To avoid this, you can wash the oil off after your treatment with a weak solution of 1 TBL baking soda to one cup of warm water.
Where to buy castor oil packs:
Whole Foods, New Seasons and probably your local health food store carries castor oil. The flannel cloth is usually sold right next to the oil. If you make your own, make sure you use unbleached wool flannel. Amazon also carries the Wool Flannel and Castor Oil. After using castor oil packs for a while, I now prefer the roll-on. No need to get your hands all goopy! Palma Christos Roll-On, Organic Castor Oil.
1. Grady, H. Immunomodulation through castor oil packs. Journal of Naturopathic Medicine. 1999;7(l): 84-88