Can you eat castor beans?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question, “Can you eat caster beans?” with an in-depth analysis of castor beans, risks associated with eating castor beans, ricin poisoning and symptoms of ricin poisoning. 

Can you eat castor beans?

No, you can not eat castor beans. Castor beans are extremely poisonous. They are composed of a toxin called ricin which is released when castor beans are chewed. When swallowed, this toxin can cause severe poisoning and may lead to death. 

Castor bean plant

Castor bean plant, scientifically known as Ricinus communis, is a perennial herb or partially woody tall shrub. It can grow up to 40 feet tall with woody stems in a few years in frost-free environments. 

Due to its fast and robust growth, it thrives as a warm-season annual in moderate climates, but it does not surpass 6-10 feet in a particular growing season. 

This rapid-growing plant tends to grow straight up at the beginning, developing branches later in the season to create a well-proportioned shrub with strong stems and a thick canopy. 

The castor bean plant is destroyed when the temperature falls below 32℉. It consists of watery sap, unlike many members of the euphorbia family, which possess milky latex sap.

What is Ricin

Ricin is a poisonous substance found naturally in castor beans. When castor beans are eaten, ricin is released that can lead to severe toxic effects in the body. 

Ricin is formed as waste material during the processing of castor beans to form castor oil. It can be found in the form of a mist, powder, or pellet, or it can be dissolved in water or weak acid.

Ricin remains stable under normal conditions but can be inactivated by temperatures above 80℃.

If swallowed, ricin gets inside the body’s cells and prevents them from making proteins required by the body cells, killing those cells. 

Considering this feature of ricin, it has been experimentally used in medicine to destroy cancer cells.

Symptoms of ricin exposure

Symptoms and signs of ricin poisoning depend on the dose consumed and the route of exposure, though many organs may be affected in serious cases.

Inhalation: After some hours of inhaling significant quantities of ricin. Initial symptoms of ricin poisoning by inhalation may occur within 4- 24 hours after exposure. the possible symptoms include:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Chest tightness
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Nausea 
  • Pulmonary oedema 
  • Heavy sweating 
  • Blue skin
  • Low blood pressure 
  • Respiratory failure 
  • Death. 

Ingestion: If a person has swallowed a significant amount of ricin. Symptoms of ricin poisoning by ingestion typically occur within 10 hours. These include: 

  • Vomiting 
  • Bloody diarrhoea 
  • Severe dehydration 
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Blood in the urine

After some days, the spleen, liver, and kidneys of the infected person might stop functioning, and may lead to death.

Eye and skin contact: Ricin is not likely to be absorbed by the skin. However, if you put your hands in your mouth or eats food with your hands after touching your skin that has ricin, you may ingest it. Symptoms include redness and pain in the skin and eyes. 

Death after ricin poisoning could occur in 36 to 72 hours after being exposed, that depends upon the route of exposure and the dose consumed.

How much ricin can be fatal?

It is difficult to state accurately how much ricin could kill an individual as it depends on the size, weight, moisture content, time of harvest, and other factors of castor beans. The least number of castor beans associated with death can be 2, but symptoms of castor bean poisoning have been reported with as minimum as one half of a bean, to up to 30 beans.

Is there any treatment for ricin poisoning?

No, there is no antidote for ricin yet. To prevent ricin poisoning, the most important factor is avoiding exposure to ricin in the first place.

However, if exposure to ricin cannot be avoided, it is important to remove or eliminate ricin as fast as possible.

When symptoms appear, the individual is treated by providing medical care to reduce the poisonous effects. The type of medical care would depend on certain factors, such as the route of exposure (inhalation, ingestion, or skin or eye exposure). 

Care could include measures to help victims breathe, providing them intravenous fluids, and medications to treat conditions such as low blood pressure and seizures, also,  flushing their stomachs with activated charcoal (in case if the ricin has been very freshly ingested), or rinsing out their eyes with water in case of eye irritation.

Conclusion

In this short article, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you eat caster beans?” with an in-depth analysis of castor beans, risks associated with eating castor beans, ricin poisoning and symptoms of ricin poisoning. 

References

https://www.medicinenet.com/ricin/article.htm#how_soon_do_poisoning_symptoms_start_and_how_long_does_death_take
https://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/ricin/facts.asp

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.