Fact or Myth: Is the Castor Bean Plant Poisonous?

This is a FACT.

According to the 2007 edition of Guinness World Records, the castor bean plant is the most poisonous plant in the world!

The castor bean plant, ricinus commanis, is an ornamental plant whose leaves range from auburn to green and whose flowers are infused with colors from red to pink. Inside the spiny fruit of the castor bean plant are mottled seeds containing ricin, poisonous when ingested. When castor beans are chewed and swallowed, ricin infiltrates the body’s cells, preventing them from manufacturing proteins. Without essential proteins, cells die. Injury spreads throughout the body and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Ricin is also made from the left over mash of processed castor beans. Inhale just one milligram of ricin and you could be signing your death certificate!

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Ban the Castor Bean!

Not so fast… many other popular plants, such as wisteria and oleander, are also poisonous but still thrive as popular houseplants.

The castor bean plant is praised for its beauty, glossy leaves and rapid growth. Rich in alkaloids that dissuade pests from pervading your garden, the castor bean plant is a natural insecticide. Truth be told, it’s rather difficult to kill yourself via castor bean poisoning. You’d have to chew four to eight seeds to ingest a lethal dose. (This amount, however, is much smaller for children and pets, so extra caution should be taken if you have young or furry members in your household.)

If you do fear you or a loved one has castor bean poisoning, look for the following symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Tachycardia
  • Hypotension
  • Seizures

It’s always best to be on the safe side. Castor beans poison within three to five days unless treated.

What About Castor Oil?

Castor oil has long been touted for its medicinal benefits. Imbued with antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal properties, castor oil has been shown to effectively treat skin conditions, alleviate pain and boost immune system function. And fortunately it can continue to do so!

The International Journal of Toxicology’s Final Report on Castor Oil declared castor oil safe both topically and when ingested because ricin does not parcel out into castor oil.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) set acceptable castor oil intake at 0.7 mg per kg of body weight, or one tablespoon for adults and one teaspoon for children. When taken orally, castor oil relieves constipation.

The International Castor Oil Association conducted a study that confirmed concentrations as high as 10% taken for 90 days result in no adverse reactions. However, castor oil does come with side effects, especially of the gastrointestinal kind. Because castor oil is digested in the small intestine and converted into ricinoleic acid, it irritates the intestinal lining. While this process alleviates constipation it can also induce stomach and digestive upset. If you are afflicted with cramps, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, diverticulitis, hemorrhoids, colitis, prolapse, or have undergone a recent surgery, avoid ingesting castor oil.

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