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Castor Bean Seed

The seeds of the castor bean plant, Ricinus communis, are highly poisonous and can cause death even when consumed in small quantities. The primary toxin the seeds contain is ricin, a lectin that inhibits protein synthesis in animal cells and leads to cell death.

Castor Bean Seed

Symptoms of castor bean seed ingestion or other ricin exposure may include abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and convulsions. When death occurs, it typically follows circulatory collapse. If castor bean seeds are swallowed whole, rather than after the seed coats have been broken, they are much more likely to pass through the digestive tract without the detrimental effects of ricin exposure.

The leaves and other parts of the castor bean plant are also toxic, but are not nearly as harmful as the seeds and the pods that contain them. To help reduce the possibility of accidental poisonings of pets or small children, many gardeners that grow the plants as ornamentals remove and destroy castor seed pods before they mature. In certain industries, however, the seeds are desirable for the oil they contain. Castor oil has been traditionally utilized medicinally as a purgative, but is more commonly used today in the commercial production of lubricants, cosmetics, inks, fungicides, dyes, and similar goods.

Contributing Authors

Nathan S. Claxton, Shannon H. Neaves, and Michael W. Davidson - National High Magnetic Field Laboratory, 1800 East Paul Dirac Dr., The Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida, 32310.