The oil obtained from the seed of this plant is one of the most useful plant oils. Interestingly, the seed is its most poisonous part.
The first time you will see them you’ll probably think they’re a bunch of nice looking fruits. The fruits look like rambutans, except that rambutans came from a tree and this one from a shrub. Sure, you can touch the leaves and even the fruits, but there’s no way you’re going to open the fruits and eat the seeds directly.
The castor oil plant (Ricinus communis), called tangan-tangan in the Philippines is a widely grown ornamental flowering plant. The seed is the source of the castor oil which has a wide variety of uses such as in food additives, flavorings and chocolates. Castor oil is also famous as a laxative, is added to many drugs and a must-have in traditional and holistic medicine. It has numerous applications in transportation, cosmetics, pharmaceutical and manufacturing industries. It started to be used as biodiesel in Ethiopia in 2008.
The seed of the castor oil plant contains ricin, a protein which is extracted from the bean due to its toxin which can be poisonous if inhaled, injected or ingested. Although rare, poisoning in humans may happen from eating 5-8 castor beans (just one seed for a young child). After the seeds are ingested, symptoms commonly begin from 2-4 hours and may even be delayed up to 36 hours. The victim will feel a burning sensation in the mouth and throat, abdominal pain, purging, and severe diarrhea of which victims can die of shock. Death may occur within 3-5 days although in most cases a full recovery can be made through proper treatment. Poisoning may not likely to happen when the seed is taken orally because the capsule is hard to digest and the toxin even if it is resistant can still be digested by the body.
Animals are also not spared from the toxin of the seeds. When they ingest broken seeds or break the seeds by chewing it can also be fatal for them.
The harvest of the castor beans poses a health risk for laborers as allergenic substances present on the plant surface can cause harmful side effects including permanent nerve damage. The same thing on the production of castor oil as the removal of ricin may also expose the workers to the toxin. Because of this, scientists are trying to genetically modify the castor plant to stop the synthesis of ricin. Half of the 10 major manufacturers of castor oil are in Asia with India and China as the top producers.
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