Castor oil

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Vintage advertisement for Scott & Browne's Castor Oil.

Castor oil is a vegetable oil obtained from the castor bean.

Cold pressed castor oil has a long tradition in folk medicine, reaching its peak of popularity in the early 1900s. The best known application is to take it orally as a laxative, but it was, and is, also used in cold pressed form to treat skin problems, burns, sunburns and skin injuries, or as a rub or pack for various pains.

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[edit] Use as a domestic punishment

Given in small quantities such as a spoonful, castor oil was a very widespread (and naturally somewhat unpleasant) "home medicine" that children in the first half of the 20th century knew well and feared. Parents soon found out that this "medicine" cured not only digestion problems but could also be used as a punishment to cure bad behavior. Castor oil was believed to be healthy up to the point of a panacea, to have no negative side-effects, and the laxative effect it had on the child's body was considered a part of the deserved punishment. It was not uncommon that a child who was given the choice between castor oil or the cane would choose the latter (a reference to this is featured e.g. in the film Fanny and Alexander).

It could also be the other way round: a child refused to take his/her castor oil and was spanked for this - see for example the Fletcher's Castoria ads in the links below.

Warmed-up castor oil can also be given as an enema.

[edit] Use in torture

Castor oil was also used for torture in Fascist Italy. The blackshirts would force-feed overdoses of it to political dissidents. Victims of this treatment would experience severe diarrhea and dehydration, often resulting in death.

[edit] See also

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