132. Ricinus communis, Linn.—The Castor-oil Plant or Palma Christi.

Botanical name: 

Fig. 296. Ricinus communis. Sex. Syst. Monoecia, Monadelphia.
(Oleum e semine calore aut vi comparatum, L.—Expressed oil of the eeede, E.—The seeds from which the oil is expressed; Oleum ricini, D. [U.S.]

History.—The castor-oil plant was known in the most ancient times. Caillaud found the seeds of it in some Egyptian sarcophagi, supposed to have been at least 4000 years old. [Dict. Univ. de Mat. Méd. t. vi.] Whether this is, as some persons imagine, [See Dr. Canvane's Dissertation on the Oleum Palmae Christi, 2d edit. Lond. 1769.] the plant called kikayon in the Bible, [Jonah, iv. 6.] and which, in our translation, is termed the gourd, I cannot pretend to decide. The pious fathers, Jerome and Augustin, differed so much in their opinions as to what was the particular plant meant in the passage just referred to, that from words we are told, they proceeded to blows! [Harris, Nat. Hist. of the Bible; also Kitto's Cyclopaedia of Biblical Literature, vol. ii. p. 203, art. Kikayon.]

The ancient Greeks were acquainted with the ricinus, for both Herodotus [Lib. ii. Euterpe, 94.] and Hippocrates [De Nat. Mulieb.. p. 573, ed. Faes.] mention it; the latter employed the root in medicine. Dioscorides [Lib. iv. cap. 164.] calls it the κίκι or κρότων. It was termed κρότων by the Greeks, and ricinus by the Romans, [Pliny, Hist. Nat. lib. xv. cap. 7.] on account of the resemblance of its seeds to a little insect bearing these names, which infest dogs and other animals, and whose common name in English is the tick.

Botany. Gen. Char.Flowers monoecious. Calyx 3—5-parted, valvate.

Petals 0. Filaments numerous, unequally polyadelphous; cells of the anther distinct, below the apex of the filament. Style short; stigmas 3, deeply bipartite, oblong, coloured, feathery; ovary globose, 3-celled, with an ovule in each cell. Fruit generally prickly, capsular, 3-coccous, with 1 seed in each cell.—Trees, shrubs, or herbaceous plants, sometimes becoming arborescent. Leaves alternate, palmate, peltate, with glands at the apex of the petiole. Flowers in terminal panicles, the lower male, the upper female; all articulated with their peduncles, and sometimes augmented by bi-glandular bracts (Lindley, from Endlicher).

Sp. Char.—Stem herbaceous, pruinose. Leaves peltato-palmate, in 7 lobes; the lobes ovate acuminate, serrated. Flowers in long glaucous racemes. Stigmas 3, bifid at the apex. Capsule covered with spines.

The stems of plants growing in this country are round, greenish or reddish-brown, and blue pruinose, and branched. Leaves on long round petioles, 8- or 10-lobed. A large scutelliform gland on the petiole, near its junction with the lamina. Filaments capillary, branched. Stigmas reddish. Capsules supported on stalks, which are somewhat longer than the capsules themselves.

Hab.—India. When cultivated in Great Britain, Ricinus communis is an annual, seldom exceeding three or four feet high; but in other parts of the world it is said to be perennial, arborescent, and to attain a height of fifteen or twenty feet. Dr. Roxburgh [Fl. Indica, vol. iii, p. 689.] says that in India several varieties are cultivated, "some of them growing to the size of a pretty large tree, and of many years' duration." Clusis [Exoticorum, p. 299.] saw it in Spain with a branched trunk as thick as a man's body, and of the height of three men. Belon [Observ. lib. i. cap. 18.] also tells us that in Crete it endures for many years, and requires the use of ladders to mount it. Ray [Hist. Plant, vol. i. p. 166.] found it in Sicily as large as our common alder trees, woody, and long-lived; but it has been a question with botanists whether these arborescent and other kinds are mere varieties of, or distinct species from, the ordinary Ricinus communis.

The following (varieties or distinct species) are enumerated by Nees and Ebermaier [Handb. d. med.-pharm. Botan.] as common in gardens, and as distinguished principally by the colour and pruinose condition of the stem—characters which, however uncertain in other cases, appear here to be constant.

1. Ricinus africanus (Willd.).—Stem not pruinose, green, or on one side reddish. The fruit-racemes abbreviated, the fruit-stalk longer than the capsule. Seeds attenuated on one side, marbled gray and yellowish-brown. [Arborescent. Cultivated in Bengal. [Hamilton, Linn. Trans, vol. xiv.] ]

2. Ricinus macrophyllus (H. Berol.).—Nearly allied to the foregoing: stem quite green, not pruinose. Fruit-racemes elongated, fruit-stalk shorter than the fruit.

3. Ricinus leucocarpus (H. Berol.).—Stem pale green, white pruinose. Fruit stalk as long as the fruit. The unripe fruit and prickles almost quite white.

4. Ricinus lividus (Willd.).—Stem, petiole, midrib purple red, not pruinose. Nearly allied to R. africanus, and, like this, more woody and perennial. [Arborescent. Cultivated in Bengal (Hamilton).]

5. Ricinus viridis (Willd.).—Stem pale green, blue pruinose, by which it is distinguished from R. macrophyllus. Seed somewhat smaller, more oval, marked with white and fine brown. [Herbaceous. Cultivated in Bengal (Hamilton).]

Description.—Castor seeds (semina ricini seu sem. cataputiae majoris) are oval, somewhat compressed, about four lines long, three lines broad, and a line and a half thick; externally they are pale gray, but marbled with yellowish-brown spots and stripes. The seed-coats consist, according to Bischoff, [Handb. d. bot. Term. pp. 508, 510, and 512, tab. xl. fig. 1875.] of a smooth external coat (epidermis seminalis). 2dly, a difform, hard testa, consisting of two layers—an external thick and dark brown one, and an internal one, thinner and paler. 3dly, a cuticle nuclei or membrana interna. The fleshy tumid cicatricula stomatis (also termed strophiola) is very evident at the upper end of the seed; beneath it is a small hilum, from which passes downwards the longitudinal raphé. [Bischoff, Ibid. p. 515, &c. tab. xli. fig. 1747.] The chalaza is colourless. [Ibid. p. 518, tab. xliii. fig. 1901.] The nucleus of the seed consists of oily albumen and an embryo, whose cotyledons are membranous or foliaceous.

Composition.—The only analysis of these seeds, as yet published; is that of Geiger. [Handb. d. Pharm. Bd. ii. s. 1671.] The following are his results:—

a. Seed coats.Tasteless resin and extractive1.91
Brown gum1.91
Ligneous fibre20.00total: 23.82
b. Nucleus of the seedsFatty oil46.19
Casein (albumen)0.50
Ligneous fibre with starch ? (hardened albumen?)20.00total: 69.09
Loss (moisture)total: 7.09
Castor seedstotal: 100.00

1. Volatile acrid principle (? ricinoleic acid).—This principle is not mentioned by Geiger, and its existence has been doubted or denied by others. But the following as well as other facts establish, in my opinion, its presence: First, Guibourt [Journ. de Chim. Méd. t. i. p. 111.] experienced a peculiar feeling of dryness of the eyes and throat, in consequence of having been exposed to the vapour arising from a vessel in which bruised castor seeds and water were boiling. Secondly, Planche obtained a permanent odorous principle by distilling a mixture of water and castor-oil. Bussy and Lecanu [Journ. de Pharm, t. xiii. p. 80.] ascribe the occasional acridity of the oil to the production of fatty acids, by the action of the air on it.

2. Fixed Oil.—(See Oleum Ricini.)

3. Acrid Resin?—Castor seed appear to contain a fixed acrid principle, probably of a resinous nature, as suggested by Soubeiran. [Ibid. t. xv. p. 507, 1829.] The acrid principle (whatever its nature may be) appears to reside in both the albumen and embryo of the seeds. Jussieu [Quoted by De Candolle, Essai sur les Propr. des Plantes, p. 203.] and some others have asserted that it resided exclusively in the embryo; while Boutron-Charlard and Henry, jun. [Journ. de Pharm, t. ] declared the albumen to be the exclusive seat of it. But any unprejudiced person may soon satisfy himself, by tasting separately the embryo and albumen, that both parts possess acridity. Dierbach [Quoted by Nees and Ebermaier, Handb. d med.-pharm. Botan.] states that in fresh seeds the innermost seed-coat contains the acrid principle. If this be correct, it is most remarkable that the same coat, when dry, contains none.

Calloud [Journ. de Pharm. 3me ser. t. xiv. p. 189, 1848.] found that castor cake (the residual cake left after the expression of the oil from the seeds), after having been deprived of all its principles soluble in alcohol, still contains an acrid principle, and excites vomiting when given in doses of about 7 ½ grains.

Physiological Effects.—Castor seeds possess considerable acridity. Bergius [Mat. Med. t. ii. p. 823, ed. 2nda.] states that a man masticated a single seed at bedtime: the following morning he was attacked with violent vomiting and purging, which continued the whole day. Lanzoni also states that the life of a woman was endangered by eating three grains of the seeds. [Marx, Die Lehre von d. Giften. i. 128.] More recently, a girl, 18 years of age, was killed by eating "about twenty" seeds: the cause of death was gastro-enteritis. [Lond. Med. Gaz. vol. xix. p. 944.]

Continued in Oleum ricini.

The Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Vol. II, 3th American ed., was written by Jonathan Pereira in 1854.