Ricinus communis: Scientific classification, Origin, Discovery, Description and Uses
The castor bean or castor oil plant, Ricinus communis, is a species of perennial flowering plant in the Euphorbiaceae (spurge) family. Ricinus communis, also known as the “palm of Christ,” is a member of the Euphorbiaceae family and is also known by the names Jada (Oriya), Verenda (Bengali), Endi (Hindi), Errandi (Marathi), and Diveli (Gujarati).
Ricinus communis Plant
Common Names: “Palm of Christ, Jada, Verenda, Endi, Errandi, and Diveli,
Origin: The Ricinus plant, commonly known as the castor oil plant, is believed to have originated in Eastern Africa. It is now widely distributed throughout tropical and subtropical regions of the world, including India, China, Brazil, and the Mediterranean.
Discovery: The Ricinus plant has a long history of cultivation and use dating back thousands of years. It was known to ancient Egyptians and Greeks, and its medicinal and industrial properties were recognized in various cultures. The plant was introduced to Europe during the Crusades and spread to other parts of the world through trade and colonization.
1. The castor oil plant is a fast-growing, suckering perennial shrub or occasionally a soft wooded small tree up to 6 meters or more, but it is not hardy.
2. It has large, palmate leaves with serrated edges and bright red or greenish-red stems.
3. This plant was cultivated for leaf and flower colours and oil production.
4. Leaves are green or reddish and about 30-60 cm in diameter.
5. The leaves contain 5-12 deep lobes with coarsely toothed segments which are alternate and palmate.
6. The stems are varying in pigmentation.
7. The flowers are monoecious and about 30-60 cm long. The fruit is a three-celled thorny capsule. The capsule of fruit is covered with soft spins-like processes and dehiscing into three 2-valved cocci.
8. The seeds are considerable differences in size and colour. They are oval, somewhat compressed, 8-18 mm long and 4-12 mm broad.
9. The testa is very smooth, thin and brittle. Castor seeds have a warty appendage called the caruncle, which present usually at one end from which runs the raphe to terminate in a slightly raised chalaza at the opposite end of the seed.
10. The plant produces clusters of small, greenish-yellow flowers that develop into spiky, round fruits or seed capsules.
11. The fruits contain three seeds, which are the source of castor oil.
The Ricinus plant, also known as the castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), contains several phytochemical constituents. Here are some of the major ones:
Ricin: Ricin is a toxic protein found in the seeds of the Ricinus plant. It is a potent ribosome-inactivating protein and has been studied for its potential medicinal applications.
Ricinine: Ricinine is an alkaloid present in the seeds of the Ricinus plant. It is a relatively mild toxin and has been used as a marker for detecting castor oil plant ingestion in forensic toxicology.
Ricinoleic Acid: Ricinoleic acid is a monounsaturated fatty acid and is the primary fatty acid found in castor oil, which is extracted from the seeds of the Ricinus plant. It is responsible for many of the beneficial properties associated with castor oil.
Flavonoids: The Ricinus plant contains various flavonoids such as quercetin, kaempferol, and isorhamnetin. Flavonoids are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Tocopherols: Tocopherols, including alpha-tocopherol (vitamin E), are present in the seeds of the Ricinus plant. These compounds possess antioxidant activity and play a crucial role in protecting cells from oxidative damage.
Sterols: The Ricinus plant contains sterols such as beta-sitosterol and stigmasterol. Sterols are plant-derived compounds with structural similarities to cholesterol and are believed to have potential health benefits, including cholesterol-lowering effects.
Lignans: Lignans, such as secoisolariciresinol, are found in the Ricinus plant. These phytochemicals have been associated with various health benefits, including antioxidant and anticancer properties.
Castor Oil Production: The primary use of the Ricinus plant is for the production of castor oil, which is extracted from the seeds. Castor oil has various industrial applications, including manufacturing lubricants, soaps, paints, dyes, plastics, and cosmetics. It is also used in traditional medicine for its laxative properties.
Ornamental Plant: Due to its attractive foliage and striking fruit clusters, the Ricinus plant is often grown as an ornamental plant in gardens and landscapes. There are cultivated varieties with different leaf colours, such as green, red, and variegated, which add visual interest to outdoor spaces.
Biofuel Production: The seeds of the Ricinus plant can be used to produce biodiesel. The oil extracted from the seeds can be converted into a biofuel that can be used as a substitute for diesel fuel in engines. This makes the Ricinus plant a potential renewable energy source.
Medicinal Uses: While the plant contains toxic compounds, it has been used in traditional medicine for various purposes, including treating skin conditions, relieving constipation, and reducing inflammation. However, it is important to note that the plant and its seeds are highly toxic and should be used with caution or under professional guidance.
Industrial Applications: Apart from castor oil, the Ricinus plant has other industrial uses. The seed husks can be used as a natural mulch or fertilizer, and the plant fibres can be used for making textiles, paper, and other products.
It is worth mentioning that the Ricinus plant contains a toxic protein called ricin, which is present in the seeds. This protein is highly poisonous and can be lethal if ingested or injected. Therefore, caution must be exercised when handling the plant and its seeds, and it should not be consumed or used without proper knowledge and expertise.