How does one approach healing without the sole reliance on medication and surgical means?  There are many approaches to healing, naturally.

The methods most taken while pursuing the holistic route are diet, exercise, and nutritional supplements.  These approaches are powerful; however, there’s only so much you can exercise away or ingest. There are many other natural modalities available that unlock your maximum healing potential. It is helpful to look at the wisdom of the past for nearly forgotten methods for healing.  One such method has been in practice for centuries:  the castor oil pack.

Castor oil is derived from the castor bean which is native to India.  This medicinal oil can stimulate lymph and liver function and reduce inflammation.  Many of the healing properties of castor oil are attributed to its high percentage (about 90%) of the molecularly unique fatty acid ricinoleic acid.   

Castor beans are quite toxic due to a chemical called ricin that is in the pulp of the bean, but ricin is not contained in the oil.  When castor oil is extracted under heated conditions, the ricin is removed, and any ricin left behind is deactivated. 

When castor oil is used topically, it is non-toxic and can be a great addition to a healing program.  A castor oil pack is a method of saturating cloths in castor oil for healing through topical application. This pack is placed over the problem area to stimulate organ flow and function and as an anti-inflammatory measure.

Healing castor oil packs can be helpful for the following situations:

  • Constipation
  • Digestive problems
  • Abdominal cramps or bloating
  • Gallbladder discomfort
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Sore muscles
  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Lymph congestion
  • Injuries
  • Fibroids
  • Ovarian cysts

Items Needed:

  • 1-quart glass jar with lid (mason jar)
  • Organic, Hexane-free Castor Oil
  • 1 cotton flannel or unbleached wool cloth*
  • A long, wide piece of cotton flannel to tie around the abdomen
  • A heat source (hot water bottle, hot rice pack, heating pad, etc.)
  • Protective covering for bed or couch (old sheets, towels, cloths, etc.)**

*You can buy a set of castor oil with a pack already made.  These premade packs are expensive but convenient.

**Some sources recommend using plastic bags or wraps.  I do not recommend using plastic as the chemicals contained therein have the potential to be absorbed with the castor oil, especially once heat is applied.


  1. Fold the cotton/wool into a square large enough to cover the area you are addressing (Example: for liver/gallbladder, about 7”x10”)
  2. Put about 2 tablespoons of castor oil onto the cloth and fold in different directions to get the oil to saturate the full surface of the cloth. The cloth should be saturated but not dripping
  3. Apply the cloth “pack” over the desired area
    • Right upper abdomen for liver/gallbladder
    • Left upper abdomen for spleen/lymph
    • Middle of abdomen (or right upper abdomen) for general bloating and constipation
    • Lower abdomen for menstrual issues
    • Directly to joints or injured areas 
    • Mid to lower back for kidneys
  4. Cover the pack with the larger strip of cloth and wrap or tie it around the area
  5. Place a heat source (hot water bottle or heating pad) over the pack
  6. Lay down and elevate your feet if possible and relax for 30 minutes to an hour*
  7. Remove the pack and cleanse the skin with a mixture of warm water, gentle unscented soap, and baking soda
  8. Place the used pack into the glass jar and seal the lid for storage until the next use.  You can typically get 30 uses out of one pack.  Throw away the cloth sooner if it becomes discolored or has a bad odor
  9. Rest and hydrate

*You can apply the castor oil pack overnight.  If you do this method, the heat source is not necessary.

Castor oil is very safe and well tolerated when used topically; all the same, there are a few things to keep in mind when using castor oils packs:

  • Castor oil packs can stimulate bile flow, which can lead to additional, and sometimes urgent, bowel movements after use.  It is a good idea to do your pack at the end of the day when you are staying in, relaxing, and close to a bathroom.
  • Castor oil packs can stimulate lymph flow, which can lead to an increase in urination.
  • Some individuals may notice increased gut gurgling, gas, or discomfort after doing a castor oil pack; especially if placed on the abdomen.  These sensations should pass within an hour.  If you experience this, try doing the pack for a shorter amount of time until your body adjusts.

When working on a holistic healing plan, it is good practice to look at many avenues of support for your body, even beyond what you ingest. History can be a powerful teacher. Centuries of use in at least 50 countries across the world, and a fantastic safety profile, make castor oil packs a desirable adjunct to your healthy habits.  Topical castor oil also has the additional advantages of being affordable, easy to use, and able to offer quick relief in many situations.

Dr. Amanda Childress, PharmD

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