Global castor seed production is around 1 million tons per year. Leading producing areas are India (with over 60% of the global yield), China and Brazil, and it is widely grown as a crop in Ethiopia. There are several active breeding programmes.
Other modern uses
In Brazil, castor oil (locally known as mamona oil) is now being used to produce biodiesel. In rural areas, the abundant seeds are used by children for slingshot balls, as they have the right weight, size, and hardness.
The attractive castor seeds are used in jewelry, mainly necklaces and bracelets. This practice is highly dangerous, due to the extreme toxicity of the seeds, especially if the seedcoat is drilled for stringing.
Castor oil in a processed form, called Polyglycerol polyricinoleate--or PGPR, is currently being used in chocolate bar manufacture as a less expensive substitute to cocoa butter.
Castor seeds have been found in Egyptian tombs dating back to 4000 BC; the slow burning oil was used mostly to fuel lamps. Herodotus and other Greek travelers noted the use of castor seed oil for lighting, body ointments, and improving hair growth and texture. Cleopatra is reputed to have used it to brighten the whites of her eyes. The Ebers Papyrus is an ancient Egyptian medical treatise believed to date from 1552 BC. Translated in 1872, it describes castor oil as a laxative.
The use of castor bean oil in India has been documented since 2000 BC in lamps and in local medicine as a laxative, purgative, and cathartic in Unani, Ayurvedic and other ethnomedical systems. Traditional Ayurvedic medicine considers castor oil the king of medicinals for curing arthritic diseases.
Castor seed and its oil have also been used in China for centuries, mainly prescribed in local medicine for internal use or use in dressings.
It was used in rituals of sacrifice to please the gods in early civilizations.
Castor oil is known to have been used as an instrument of coercion by the paramilitary Blackshirts under the regime of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Dissidents and regime opponents were forced to ingest the oil in large amounts, triggering severe diarrhoea and dehydration, which could ultimately cause death. This punishment method was originally thought of by Gabriele D'Annunzio, the Italian poet and Fascist supporter, during the First World War. (See also: Castor oil: Use as a means of intimidation in Fascist Italy)
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