Loving your liver from the outside in

Castor oil packs should be considered the treatment of choice, the first line of defense, for all local pain and inflammation.
—Thomas S. Cowan with Sally Fallon and Jaimen McMillan, The Fourfold Path to Healing: Working with the Laws of Nutrition, Therapeutics, Movement and Meditation in the Art of Medicine, page 316


If in pain or inflamed, reach for the castor oil? When did you last take that advice to heart?

While castor oil may not hold a prominent place in the modern medicine cabinet, it has provided a panacea for millennia.

Especially for the liver. Haven’t thought much about your liver lately?

Welcome to spring—and most likely, a congested liver. As the largest internal organ with myriad functions, the liver works around the clock to metabolize nutrients, store energy, cleanse the blood, and detoxify metabolic waste (like excess hormones and neurotransmitters) as well as the external toxins (like drugs and chemicals) unfortunately ubiquitous in the modern world.

So it’s time to take that spring cleaning from the outside in and coax a little vitality into that supremely important but relentlessly overworked organ.

You need not take your cue from me. Traditional Chinese medicine heralds spring as the season of the liver. And other ancient healing traditions, Ayurveda included, emphasize the power in seasonal cleansing.

Castor oil can help with that.

Even if liver loving or spring cleaning isn’t top of mind, maybe some of these ailments are?

  • Dry skin?
  • Hair loss?
  • Low backache?
  • Arthritic joints?
  • Hemorrhoids?
  • Digestive distress?
  • Painful menstruation?
  • Fertility challenges?
  • Lumps, bumps, tumors, or growths?

Castor oil can help with all that, too, and more.

Castor oil—known historically in the West as “palma christe” because the leaves of the castor bean plant resemble the hands of Christ—has been healing irritations, relieving pain, reducing inflammation, soothing digestion, dissolving growths, softening tissues, resolving infections, enhancing fertility, and boosting immunity since antiquity. Ancient healers applied this rich and viscous, intensely hydrating and penetrating oil to all manner of ailing body parts with profound effects.

But today we’re focusing on one specific, albeit versatile, application: the castor oil pack. A detailed procedure follows shortly, but essentially you apply a small amount of castor oil to the body, cover it with a soft material and heat, and then relax for a while, allowing the oil to penetrate. When placed over a specific body part or organ, this powerful therapy generates warmth, increasing blood flow, flushing out toxins, and thereby relieving congestion and calming pain. When placed over the liver in particular, castor oil increases bile flow, aiding the liver’s essential detoxification work and subsequent elimination through the bowel. Additionally, these effects serve to relax an overactive sympathetic nervous system, bringing greater equanimity to body, mind, and spirit.

While we can all benefit from a little liver support, pain relief, or mood boost, couples preparing for conception do well to make castor oil packs a regular practice. These packs help women prone to fibrocystic breasts, painful menses with clotting, or other manifestations of stagnation in the body, but all women entertaining pregnancy, regardless of their symptoms, can benefit from castor oil packs over the liver, intestines, uterus, and breasts.

Cleansing the liver is essential, since this is the organ responsible not only for building the blood but also for ridding the body of excess hormones, and healthy hormones are the foundation of a healthy pregnancy. Optimal digestion and assimilation of nutrients in the digestive tract, combined with regular elimination, is likewise essential. Castor oil packs can further relieve stagnation in the uterus and breasts, which prepares the body to properly nourish a child in utero and later while nursing. As you’ll see in the procedure that follows, this need not involve discrete, time-consuming sessions: you can fashion a large pack and target several vital areas at once.

Men can also use castor oil over the liver and intestines to support detoxification, digestion, and elimination, taking care to avoid heat directly over the reproductive area.

As with most natural remedies, castor oil packs require commitment and patience: results may not be immediate, but over time, with regular application, this gentle, noninvasive practice can help restore balance to the body in deeply healing ways.

Castor Oil Packs

Castor oil packs offer a host of potential benefits related to digestion, detoxification, hormone balance, and fertility, including the following:

  • bring essential warmth to the metabolic organs
  • improve digestion and elimination
  • stimulate blood flow
  • cleanse the tissues
  • flush out toxins
  • reduce inflammation
  • relieve pain
  • increase bile flow
  • enhance liver detoxification
  • stimulate both the lymphatic and the circulatory systems
  • increase blood flow to the uterus
  • improve circulation to the ovaries for better egg quality
  • aid proper building and shedding of the uterine lining
  • detoxify the uterus
  • detoxify breast tissue
  • dissolve fibroids, polyps, and cysts
  • resolve endometriosis
  • reduce PMS
  • relieve stagnation within the pelvis
  • release deep-seated emotions held in the pelvis
  • encourage pain-free menstruation
  • promote a comfortable menstrual cycle with a healthy flow
  • cleanse and rejuvenate the reproductive system overall
  • activate the parasympathetic nervous system
  • reduce blood pressure
  • induce greater relaxation
  • reduce stress


  • castor oil, preferably organic and unrefined or cold-pressed
  • wool or organic cotton flannel pack (3 layers thick, about 1 square foot in size) or an old washcloth or small towel
  • old large towels (at least 2)
  • hot water bottle or heating pad (electric not recommended)
  • plastic wrap or a plastic bag large enough to fully cover the pack


  1. Gather your supplies. Castor oil and wool flannel packs are readily available online or from local retailers like Whole Foods or a natural grocery store, while an old washcloth or small towel can be used in a pinch.
  2. Fold the pack into a shape that covers the desired organs. For women, this might be the entire abdomen, including the liver and uterus, all the way to the pubic bone; for men, this might focus more exclusively on the liver and digestive area. (Alternatively, you can apply the pack to the breast or another area of cystic, congested, or painful tissue.)
  3. Place an old towel on a bed, couch, or other comfortable surface where you can recline for a while.
  4. Warm the castor oil and rub it over your abdomen (or other desired area).
  5. Pour some oil on one side of the flannel pack or old washcloth. It should be just saturated, not dripping with oil.
  6. Place the pack, oil side down, on your abdomen. Put the plastic over the pack to protect your linens and clothing from getting oily.
  7. Place another old towel over the pack and then apply the hot water bottle, to gently warm the body and help the oil penetrate.
  8. Recline comfortably, elevating the feet if possible. Breathe deeply.
  9. Leave the pack in place for at least half an hour but preferably an hour or more. It is therefore best to do this in the evening or whenever you have time to rest, relax, or read.
  10. Remove the pack and gently massage the lower abdomen in small, clockwise, circular motions.
  11. Leave the residual oil on the skin or gently remove with diluted baking soda or natural soap.
  12. Hydrate well to aid the body’s natural detoxification. Continue to rest and relax afterward if possible.
  13. Store the pack in a sealed glass container in the refrigerator. You may need to apply more oil to the pack prior to each use. Most packs can last for up to 30 uses or up to 6 months in the refrigerator. Replace the flannel as needed.

Note for women: Perform this therapy daily throughout the month, except during menstruation, for maximum benefit and especially if you have a confirmed condition like endometriosis. Otherwise, aim for at least 3 days per week. The next cycle or two after initiating the therapy may be more difficult as stagnation clears from the uterus, but cycles should normalize after that. Continue the packs as needed or desired for a confirmed condition or throughout preconception planning, stopping while trying to conceive or if you suspect you might be pregnant. Also stop if you have diarrhea or any active infections in the pelvic region.

Once you get acquainted with castor oil for some liver-loving spring cleaning or fertility-boosting preconception planning, why not experience some of its other perks?

  • Move the pack to the back for spasms, pain, or injuries.
  • Wrap a pack around arthritic joints or aching muscles.
  • Massage castor oil into the scalp regularly before bed to promote hair growth.
  • Place a few drops over the eyelids before bed to counter insomnia, prompt deep relaxation, and induce sound slumber.
  • Rub castor oil on the face for acne, rashes, dryness, or simply better complexion.
  • Work it into chapped lips, sunburns, hemorrhoids, or other skin irritation.
  • Apply it to toenail fungus or other infection.
  • Dab it daily on warts, lumps, bumps, and benign growths.
  • Take a teaspoon to a tablespoon of castor oil as a natural laxative for occasional constipation.
  • Take an ounce or two to induce labor once past full term.

Exercise caution with those last two, though. Castor oil can be a powerful purgative when taken internally and will create dependence, so use it wisely and sparingly. This extreme downward action makes it contraindicated in pregnancy, as it can instigate premature contractions. If you are past full term and inducing labor is your goal, however, a swig of castor oil under the guidance of an experienced practitioner may get things moving, though not without unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects.

Is it time you got familiar with this frontline therapy? Welcome the season with some internal spring cleaning courtesy of castor oil and let us know how it goes!

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