Oilseed Plants Icon

January 31, 2022

Many plants have seeds which can be used to produce oil.

The oil extracted from the seeds of some of these plants is used to produce thickened oil, margarine and other products for human consumption.

The oil can also be burnt as a fuel; used to make cosmetics, shoe polish, furniture wax, medicines, hair oil, etc.; or refined for industrial purposes and used as machine oil, etc. The skin of some oil seeds, like groundnut, can also be removed to make flour to produce bread. Many products can be made from oil seeds.

Some oil seeds, particularly groundnut, soybean and linseed, consume a lot of fatty substances from the soil. So oil cakes must be applied as manure when planting oil seeds.

  1. The cake should be made into powder and mixed with soil
  2. then it should be mixed with water and formed into mounds in the field.
  3. If it is to be used at a later date, at that time water should be added to the mixture of powder and soil and then it should be applied to the field. Sunflower and sesame consume an ordinary amount of fatty substances.

Some of the better known oil seeds are:

  • peanut (ciná bádám)
  • sesame (til)
  • linseed (tisi)
  • mustard (sarśe, sariśá)
  • cotton
  • sargujá (niger)
  • castor (erańd́a, ŕeŕi, Ricinus communis). The varieties include:
    • wild castor (bhereńd́a)
    • indigenous castor (cháser ŕeŕi)
    • karamchá (karanjá, Carissa caranda)
  • Indian olive (mahuá, mahul)
  • soybean (Glycine max.)
  • sunflower (súryamukhi, Helianthus annuus). There are 2 varieties:
    • large
    • small
    • coconut (nárikel), etc.

Peanut (Ciná Bádám)

The peanut grows underground and is one of the oldest food crops known.

The word peanut is used in Queen’s English, but in common English, groundnut is used. In recent history, other uses have been found for the humble peanut and its oil, most notably by the scientist George Washington Carver.

Peanut is able to grow in less fertile soil throughout the year, and not much water is required for its cultivation. It is a three and a half month crop, contains a lot of protein and has much food value. It is an important food in the diets of many poor people because it is fairly easy to grow and highly nutritious. And it is a regular item in the diets of many not so poor people as well because it is tasty.

From the peanut we get peanut milk, peanut oil, peanut butter, peanut cheese, peanut casein (cháná) and rasagolla. The oil is often used in deep frying, and because it is quite heavy, it can be easily thickened.

The thickened oil can be made into margarine. Peanut oil cake may be used both as manure and as animal fodder. If the red skin of the peanut is removed before pressing to extract the oil, then it can be used as a substitute for flour to make bread.

The method for sowing peanut is as follows. The shell is removed, but the red skin is left intact, then the peanut is soaked in water. When it has sprouted, it should be planted on the hills or mounds of the field.

Sesame (Til)

Ground sesame seeds, or sesame butter or tahini, is a popular food item throughout the Middle East. The small seeds are a common item in cooking, particularly as a topping for bread. Sesame seeds are highly nutritious and contain vitamins which are difficult to get from other vegetarian sources. Sesame oil can be used for cooking and has many other uses as well. Scented oils may be made by adding floral essences. Sesame should be sown during Phálguna.

Sesame can be growin in the summer, rainy season and winter.

Sesame can be grown as a mixed crop with groundnut because groundnut is a tuber crop, while sesame bears fruit above the ground. The two can be sown together on the mounds of the fields. Another name for sesame is mungrail.

Linseed (Tisi)

Linseed is both an oil crop and a fibre crop. The oil is produced from the seeds and the fibre is produced from the stalk. Unprocessed linseed oil is not fit for human consumption because it is not good for the stomach.

But after hydrogenisation and deodourisation, it can be made into a refined oil (dalda) which can be eaten. Linseed oil has some medical value, particularly as a liniment, and it also has other uses. However, it takes a lot of fatty substances out of the soil, and whenever it is planted, oil cakes must be applied as manure. After linseed is harvested, dhaiṋca (Sesbania bispinosa) must be planted as a green manure. The dhaiṋca should be grown for two months and then ploughed into the field to restore the soil and make it ready for the next crop. Linseed can also be grown with soybean as a mixed crop.

Mustard (Sarse, Sariśá, Olerasi Family)

There are 3 varieties of mustard:

  • rái: This can be sown as a “pigeon crop”(1) along with rice paddy in the month of Áshvina
  • yellow mustard
  • red mustard (tori sarśe)

Yellow mustard and red mustard can be sown as mixed crops with wheat, but they are not sown as “pigeon crops” because they require regular cultivation.

Mustard leaves are similar to radish leaves.

However, all varieties of mustard have yellow flowers while radish has white flowers.

The green leaves of yellow mustard (sarśe shák) should not be eaten because although they are tasty, they are acidic.

Mustard oil is pungent.

The seeds are ground to make a spicy condiment or used directly in cooking.

Mustard oil is widely used as a cooking oil in India. It has some medicinal value and other uses as well.


Cotton seed is an important source of oil.

Cotogen is produced from refined cottonseed oil. The oil cakes are used as cattle feed.

The seeds are roasted and eaten as a snack, but this snack is harmful for pregnant women and pregnant animals.

In particular, the oil cake should not be given to pregnant animals as it may cause an abortion.

Cotton is not difficult to grow.

After the seeds are removed from the balls, the fibre is spun into thread which is used to produce all kinds of textile goods. Cotton was the most widely used fibre for textiles until artificial fibres began to replace natural fibres.

There are 2 main varieties of cotton:

  • 3-year cotton (gách kápás)
  • 3-month cotton (chás kápás)

There are also various types of tree cotton. The most notable is the silk cotton tree (simul), which can also be used to make honey.

Tree cotton (deva kusum or Gossypium arboreum) is the best cotton variety.

The seeds of tree cotton and three month cotton were first brought to India from Egypt.

Tree cotton was previously cultivated in Burdwan and Bankura. 3-month cotton is grown in the Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra, and the growing season is from November to February.

If the soil is good, three year cotton can be planted.

Sargujá (Niger)

Sarguja is often grown in tribal areas. The plants are small and it is a winter crop which even grows on poor, stony soil. The oil has a distinctive smell, but it can be made fit for consumption after decolourisation and deodourisation.

The method of sowing sargujá is as follows. The seeds should be soaked overnight in water and then sown between two groundnuts. In the irrigation canal or furrow between the rows of the field (the nala), sprouted soybean should be sown.

Castor (Erańd́a, Ŕeŕi, Ricinus Communis)

There are 2 varieties of castor:

  • wild castor (bhereńd́a)
  • indigenous castor (cháser ŕeŕi)

Good silk worms can be grown on the leaves of both varieties.

Non-mulberry andy silk is produced, which is used to make shawls (chadar), shirts and pants (Punjabi kurta and pajyama) and other clothing.

Aside from silk production, castor can be used to produce many products.

The green leaves can be used as a fodder for animals. The oil can be processed and has many uses ranging from rectified hair oil to machine oil. The oil also has medicinal value.

The crop rotation for castor is the same as that for cow pea (aŕahar), except that sesame and soybean should not be sown in the month of Phálguna. Green gram (śát́há moog) should be sown one month after harvesting castor.

Karamchá (Karanjá, Carissa Caranda)

Karamchá oil was produced in 2 Parganas 50 years ago for burning lamps.

The burning oil gives off much smoke. Boot polish and kajal for children are made from the soot of the burnt oil. (Kajal is the black substance which is applied under childrens’ eyes in India to protect them from the glare of the sun.)

The fruit of karamchá is made into a type of pickle. Karamchá is used as a hedge plant.

Indian Olive (Mahuá, Mahul)

Indian olive is similar to the Occidental or European olive, but they are not the same.

It is an important tree, and a source of both oil and sugar.

The sugar is produced from the flowers and the oil is produced from the fruit. The oil can be used as vegetable oil or thickened and processed into margarine. In Ánanda Nagar and Ánanda Shiila, Indian olive grows abundantly.

Soybean (Glycine max.)

The soybean has long been used as a major food item in the Orient, where methods for processing soybean into numerous food and non-food products have been well-developed.

For example, the Orient has:

  • soy milk
  • soy cheese (tofu)
  • imitation meat products

In the West, soybeans are used mainly as animal fodder until recently.

Recently, its versatility is being recognized.

The oil can be used for cooking, thickened into margarine or used in other ways.

Soybean can be sown with peanut in the irrigation furrows of a field, and sesame or sargujá on the mounds.

It is a bit sweet, therefore it should be planted after sprouting, otherwise ants will eat it up.

Sunflower (Súryamukhi, Helianthus Annuus)

Sunflowers love the sun. This makes them good as roadside plants.

They also have tasty seeds which can be eaten raw, roasted, ground into butter, etc.

The large variety is used for oil production.

  • Its seeds supply a lot of oil and are a good energy food.
  • Sunflower oil can be used for cooking and other purposes as well.

Sunflower is an 80-90 day crop in North India.

In South India it is a 65-70 day crop.

It can be grown throughout the year.

When sunflower is crushed without separating the husk from the seed, a blackish cake is produced which is used as a cattle feed.

If it is crushed after the husk has been removed, the cake is white and fit for human consumption.

In the large variety, there is a removable skin on the seed.

If this skin is removed before pressing the seed to extract the oil, it can be used to make flour for baking bread.

Sunflower can grow on very poor soil.

Research should be undertaken to improve the following:

  • the production of the seeds, which should be increased;
  • the yield of the oil, which should also be increased; and
  • the odour, which should be removed by deodourisation.

Coconut (Nárikel)

Coconut water is very good to drink. Coconut flesh can be eaten.

The tender green coconut is called “d́áb” in Bengal.

The hard inner shell and the outer husk can be used for the preparation of medicines.

Coconut oil becomes solid in cool climates.

  • It is used in cooking and is well known as a hair and body oil.

Oil cake can be made from coconut oil, which is also used in preparing bread.

Coconut is most suited to South India but will not be as successful in Ánanda Nagar.

Other Oil Seeds

Rice bran can be pressed for oil and the remainder can be used to make cement.

Olive and okra can also be used to produce oil.

Safflower (kusum flower) seeds can be used to produce a less popular but good quality light oil which can be taken by those who must avoid heavy fats.

In fact, most seeds contain oil of varying types and uses.

Melon and cucumber (sosa) seeds may be used for oil extraction, but they are not commercially viable. Radish seeds are larger than mustard seeds and they provide a pungent oil somewhat like mustard seed oil.

Radish oil cake makes a good manure, but radish oil is not widely used. Even onion seeds can be used to produce an oil which has medicinal value. Research should be done on the uncommon oil seeds in order to increase their utility.