BLACK CASTOR OIL IN HISTORY
The castor plant originated in Ethiopia, but early records shows that it was the ancient Egyptians who first documented its use. You can find castor seeds in Egypt as far back as 4000 BC. Greek historians, philosophers, and geographers such as Herodotus, Strabo, Dioscorides and Theophrastus whom have all traveled to Egypt and Kush in Africa have all recorded their observations on its usages. Herodotus have even recorded how it’s made, he cited that the Egyptians and Kushites roasted them first and then boil them down and collect which runs away from them. In other words black castor oil.
BLACK CASTOR OIL IN JAMAICA
The castor plant is not native to Jamaica, but it’s seeds arrived during the time of chattel slavery on the island. The slaves also brought thousands of years of traditional knowledge on how to make and use the oil for cosmetic and health purposes. Interestingly, the name “castor” was first applied to the plant in Jamaica. This occurred during the eighteenth century when Jamaica was basically the lone supplier of the seeds and oil to Europe. The plant at the time in Jamaica was called “Agnus Castus” (no resemblance to the European plant) or for short, castor. From that point onwards, the genus ricinus communis has been dubbed castor oil plant all over the world.
HOW IS BLACK CASTOR OIL MADE
The Art of Making Black Castor Oil: Keeping the Tradition Alive
To the average Jamaican living in the countryside, pure castor oil or what we generally call black castor oil, has a type of burnt nutty scent and is light to dark brown in color. Most will recall seeing the castor oil tree (oil nut tree) growing in their yards and how their mothers or grandmothers would make the oil from the seeds. They will also tell you about the several types of ailments they would use the black castor oil to remedy and the great results they got.
So what is Jamaican black castor oil and what’s good about it? Is the color due to the discovery of a castor seed that yields brown oil? Well first of all, Jamaican Black Castor Oil is light to dark brown due to the tedious age old traditional process by which it’s made. This process, inherited from our African ancestors, was briefly recorded by Herodotus in his travels to North Africa in the fourth century B.C. Herodotus cited how the Egyptians and the Kushites “roasted them first and then boil them down and collect that which runs away from them.” Today, only a few mainly elderly Jamaicans, that uses this ancient method to extract pure castor oil.
Black castor oil is made by first hand-picking wild organic castor beans and then allowing them to dry so that the seeds will pop out of the pods. After the seeds are gathered, they are roasted then pounded into mulch using a mortar. The mulch is later emptied into a large pot to which water is added. The pot and its contents are then laid on a slow burning wood fire. The contents are continuously stirred, and as the oil rises to the surface it is skimmed off.
The skimmed off oil is later subjected to further phases of skimming to ensure that it’s devoid of any speck of water. And to ensure that the oil is of the highest quality a simple ritual such as stirring in one direction and not looking away when the oil is rising to the surface may be observed. When the process is completed, all that is left is the ultra pure, light to dark brown, “Jamaican black castor oil.”
SOME TRADITIONAL USES
Talk to any Jamaican, especially those who live in the most remote areas of the island, and they will tell you that castor oil is an excellent “wash out” or purgative. They will also tell you that it is also used for aches and pain, boils, as a hair conditioner and as a skin moisturizer. A late eighteenth-century writer in Jamaica wrote the following:
“The oil of this nut purges strongly; and I knew one that would hardly give an ounce or an ounce and a half, in what they call the dry bellyache, which would go through the patient when nothing else would; outwardly, it’s good for cold aches and pains, or cramps and contractions.
The above traditional uses were even recorded by the Greeks who traveled into Africa. Strabo in 64 AD recorded that the Egyptians and Kushites use castor oil for wounds, burns, rashes and abrasions. Herodotus noted that in Egypt:
“The common people, both men and women anointed themselves with the oil of the kiki (castor oil).
It was also common knowledge that a woman could make her hair grow by rubbing black castor oil into it.
BLACK CASTOR OIL HAIR BENEFITS
Before there were fancy hair oils and pomades, black castor oil was one of the most popular hair moisturizer and conditioner used in Jamaica. Even the sophisticated cosmopolitan Jamaican would occasionally subject their hair to a black castor oil hot oil treatment. The truth is; the usage of black castor oil for the hair is deeply rooted in Jamaican culture. Jamaicans, time and time again would turn to black castor oil to help protect and restore their hair to its original state of good health.
- help with proper cleansing of toxins and parasites from hair and scalp
- aids moisturizing especially due to its natural glycerin content and it’s ability to seal in moisture with a protective coating
- help repair and prevent dry brittle hair and hair breakages
- stimulates hair growth and thickness
- adds sheen
- chemical free