Though it’s a bit messy, this practice is absolutely worth the inconvenience!
Castor oil comes from the castor bean plant. It is sometimes referred to as Palma Christi because of its palmate leaf structure and likely because of its miraculous healing powers. The earliest medicinal uses date back to Egypt – around 1500 BC. Castor oil has been part of Ayurvedic medicine in India for nearly as long and has been used therapeutically for centuries in other parts of the world.
Castor oil packs were popularized in the US by Edgar Cayce in the 1930s and 40s. In our current culture, they are sometimes recommended by Naturopaths, Functional Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists as part of a liver cleanse. My mentor, Dr. Rosita Arvigo, has taught her students to use them for healing all kinds of reproductive issues.
I tell my clients all the time that castor oil MOVES things! It moves your bowels and moves women into labor when taken internally. Applied externally, it moves and cleanses lymph and blood; it reverses inflammation and congestion. The movement helps break up adhesions and detoxify tissue.
Specific Benefits of Castor Oil Packs
1. Moving Blood:
When we bring fresh, oxygen-rich and nutrient-dense blood to the uterus, it helps create an ample, supportive lining (endometrium). A healthy lining sheds more easily… likely with less menstrual cramping.
A robust endometrium is also critical to a healthy pregnancy. Rosita Arvigo asks: “would you put your baby down in a dirty crib? … or one without enough cushioning or warmth?” Certainly not!
Fresh, oxygenated blood will also help build a strong coordinated uterine muscle. The uterus can then contract effectively (and less painfully) to release its lining every month or to push a baby out into the world.
Our fertility depends on appropriate hormone levels at every phase of our cycle. The pituitary gland in your head communicates with the ovaries in your pelvis via your bloodstream. With optimal blood circulation, they orchestrate the menstrual cycle and keep hormone levels in balance.
Of course, castor oil packs move the venous blood as well. Healthy venous and lymphatic flow keep the pelvic bowl clear of congestion and metabolic waste. This optimal environment supports a healthy womb.
2. Moving Lymph:
Lymph is a major component of our immune system. It bathes every cell in the body and removes bacteria, viruses and other foreign particles from the interstitial fluid.
Castor oil packs help with lymph circulation, and they have been shown to increase T-cell production in the lymph. T-cells are directly responsible for killing bacteria and viruses once they are transported to the lymph nodes.
The lymphatic system is easily congested because it does not have a pump as the circulatory system does. Most of us sit… a lot. Can you see how lack of movement and the bend in your legs for hours at a time could cause lymph to pool in the pelvic bowl?
We have as many lymph nodes in the groin as we do in the neck and armpits, and tons in the abdomen itself… all protecting our vital organs. With a sedentary lifestyle, these can get clogged and backed up – and our immune system becomes compromised.
Exercise is essential for lymphatic circulation, but lying with a warm castor oil pack on your belly is another way to help move it along.
3. Cleansing the Liver:
Our livers work so hard! They continually balance blood sugar, metabolize and synthesize fats, store vitamins and minerals, and more. The liver is also our detoxifier. Everything we swallow, breathe or absorb through our skin – food, medication, alcohol, airborne toxins and beauty products – gets filtered and broken down by the liver.
The liver is also critical for hormone balance. It regulates levels of estrogen and eliminates excess hormones from the bloodstream. If a person is doing hormone replacement therapy, using hormonal contraceptives or undergoing assisted reproductive technology, the liver has an additional load to carry.
A healthy liver is necessary to combat endometriosis and painful periods. And of course, balanced and well-orchestrated hormones are essential for optimal fertility.
A castor or pack over the upper abdomen will help decongest the liver to support optimal function and hormonal balance.
4. Breaking up Adhesions and Scar Tissue:
As I said: castor oil moves things! It reduces inflammation, cleanses, detoxifies and nourishes damaged tissue… that means it can help with repair and dissolve adhesions associated with endometriosis, abdominal surgery or trauma.
Adhesions are internal scar tissue. They are thickenings in the fascia in particular places resulting from some kind of trauma to the area. This thickened fascia can pull the uterus out of place and limit its ability to contract – causing pain. Adhesions can also inhibit effective ovulation and fertilization, so let’s get rid of them!
How to Use Castor Oil Packs
Basically, it’s the combination of castor oil and heat that makes this treatment so effective. Heat increases circulation and absorption of the oil into your tissues. Ample time is also essential; get ready to lie down for at least an hour to really let the castor oil do its work.
You can just rub the oil on your belly, cover with an old towel and a heating pad, but the traditional application is much more powerful.
- Organic, cold-pressed castor oil for topical use
- Wool or cotton flannel – approximately 8×30”
- A heating pad or hot water bottle
- Gallon ziplock bag or comparable piece of plastic (optional)
- Several old towels
- Make yourself a comfy spot – on your bed, your couch or on the floor. You will be here for at least an hour, so make it good – maybe with a pillow for under your knees and another for under your head. Then…
- Cover your comfy spot with old towels (or plastic and old towels) for protection. Reserve one towel to cover yourself with for additional warmth. Castor oil will stain fabrics, so chose your towels carefully and be sure you have enough.! Keep your heating pad and plastic within reach.
- Fold the flannel in thirds, so you have an 8×10″ pad – stitch the open sides together if you’re handy like that. This flannel can be used up to 30 times.
- Saturate the flannel with castor oil (pre-warmed if you like).
- Lie down, place the flannel over your lower or upper abdomen (lower for your womb, upper for your liver). Cover this with plastic to protect your heat source (optional).
You can use a thin towel if the idea of heated plastic against your body makes you uncomfortable. It will get stained, and it will absorb some of the castor oil intended for your belly, but that’s ok.
- Place your heat source on top, cover up and relax for at least an hour. Heat on your belly is deeply soothing to the nervous system. You can meditate, read, enjoy some mellow music, or nap. This is a time for mental self-care as well as physical.
- After your session, you can rub off any remaining castor oil or massage it into your skin. Drink plenty of water to support the detoxifying effect.
The effects of castor oil are cumulative, so it’s best to do a few days in a row. I like the rhythm of three days on and the rest of the week off. Do this for a month or more, except as indicated in the cautions below. You can taper off slowly as symptoms improve – maybe down to 3 days in a row once a month, or as part of a seasonal cleanse.
- Do not use castor oil packs during menstruation unless specifically instructed by a knowledgeable healthcare provider.
- Do not use after ovulation if you are trying to conceive. You wouldn’t want to move the maybe baby out!
- Do not use castor oil packs on your abdomen if you are pregnant.
Different heat sources: People typically use either an electric heating pad or a hot water bottle. The heating pad covers a larger area than a hot water bottle, and the temperature remains consistent. The advantage of a hot water bottle is you remain electricity-free. A rice bag will also work, but – like the hot water bottle – you may have to re-heat it before your hour is up.
Without heat: If you simply don’t have time to lie down for an hour, or if the heat is a complicating factor for you, you can apply a castor oil pack, bind it to your belly with plastic wrap or something else and go to bed or go about your day. In this case, leaving it on for several hours or overnight is advised. Here is an example of a handy, heatless solution from Etsy.
Reusing your flannel: Refrigerate in a mason jar or plastic container. Bring it to room temperature, apply a little more oil and use it again. Discard when the cloth becomes discolored or after a few months of regular use.
Disposable option: Not quite as effective, but acceptable… If the idea of keeping that flannel around is keeping you from doing castor oil packs, you can use a plastic-backed underpad cut or folded to fit. Saturate this as you would the flannel pad.
Laundry: Wash towels and anything else that has been stained separately from other laundry. Dampen soiled areas and rub baking soda in before washing. Use a hot water cycle.
Like perfecting a promising recipe, you will make this practice your own. It may even become an anticipated ritual, and I hope it becomes an integral part of your self-care.
If you have learned abdominal self-massage, do that too! Either before or after the castor oil pack is a fine time. These two practices combined promote movement and healing in the belly like nothing else!