The flax plant has been known to be cultivated for linseed or flaxseed since very ancient times; it is one of the oldest cultivated plants known to man. For example, excavations of the most ancient Egyptian tombs have come up with flax seeds as well as the flax fiber cloth woven from this plant. Historians and archeologist are also sure that the first linen mentioned in the Bible was spun from flax. The flax plant was thus very important as a source of seeds and clothing in early human history.
Flax is a small herbaceous annual plant, with striking turquoise blue blossoms and appears very graceful with an erect stem that can reach one to two feet in height when fully grown. There is normally only a single stem per plant, the stem of the flax is quite smooth, and bears alternate rows of linear and sessile leaves that can each reach nearly an inch in length when fully grown. In the Bible, the seed vessels of the flax plant with their five celled capsules are called "bolls." Harvest is carried out when the bolls turn ripe; the entire flax plant is pulled out and tied in bundles for processing. The bundled plants are soaked in water for several weeks at a stretch to bring about the separation of the fiber from the stalks, following which they are spread out to dry and processed into cloth.
The linseed oil and meal is made from crushed or milled flaxseeds. A hard transparent varnish is given to wood on rubbing this linseed oil to wood surfaces in thin layers. Some veterinarians use this oil as a purgative for sheep and horses. The boiled seeds are also turned into a jelly used to feed young calves in farms.
Seeds, seed oil.
There are a lot of unsaturated fats as well as mucilage in the linseed. The presence of these compounds in the plant turns the flax into a highly valued remedy especially for treating many of the intestinal and chest conditions. Seeds consumed can induce a soothing action along the digestive tract and these are best when they are taken whole instead of as jelly or infusion. The whole seeds also tend to draw out toxins in the body and absorb fluid and swell up into a jellylike mass inside the body - in this way, the seeds turn into bulk laxative and are beneficial for the body. Essential fatty acids can also be obtained from the seeds if the seeds are split before they are swallowed whole. The urinary tract is greatly benefited by the seeds, to a lesser extent compared to how the benefits on the digestive system. Topical application of crushed flax seed poultice can be beneficial in the treatment of chronic coughs, in treating problems such as bronchitis, in the treatment of pleurisy, as well as in the treatment of emphysema in patients. External and painful boils can be relieved and subdued by application of poultice made from crushed linseeds or linseed flour. A mixture of linseed oil and red wine is recommended by old Portuguese books for the treatment of wounds.
Other medical uses
Habitat and cultivation
The linseed belongs to the temperate zones of Europe and Asia - the plant is a native of these places. Since very ancient time, the linseed has been cultivated worldwide and used as a source for fiber, for seeds, as well as for seed oil from the seeds. During late autumn or in the waning summer months, harvesting of the seeds takes place and the harvested seeds are milled or crushed for linseed oil and flour.
Linseed contains 30-40% fixed oil (including 36-50% linolenic acid and 23-24% linoleic acid), 6% mucilage, 25% protein, and small amounts of linamarin (a cyanogenic glycoside). Linamarin has a sedative effect on the respiratory system.
The dosage requirement of the linseed remedy for adults and children over twelve are about 5 - 10 g of the seeds - either whole or crushed, if these are soaked in water, they can be taken thrice daily with some liquid. The person can be observed to see the effects of the dose 18 - 24 hours later. This dosage regimen can be continued for two to three days at a time. Half the adult dosage can be given to children who are from 6 to 12 years of age. Linseed should be given to children under 6 years of age only under strict medical supervision. Baked goods such as muffins also often have the flax seeds as an ingredient. A laxative effect is often evident when such baked foods are consumed. A variety of doses of the linseed have cardiovascular effects which were evident during clinical trials on patients. A dosage of up to 50 g of the flaxseed, which is nearly equal to 20 g flaxseed oil taken a day, is known to be safe and also palatable for most patients.
The old adage from the bible that “there is nothing new under the sun” is a good proverb to remember when thinking of the many "new" supplements, such as flaxseed or linseed oil - since these have been used medicinally by human societies since pre-history. It is known that as long ago as 8,500 years ago, the first hunter-gatherer ancestors of the human race ate the flax and other types of wild grasses as a part of their diet. In ancient time, each part of the whole flax plant was put to good use in the diet of early humans. Cooking oil and paint was made from the oil of the flax seeds. Strong rope and cloth were spun from the flax fibers as well. As a commercial product, flax plant is still used to this day for making cloth, flax paper, and other useful products. The serious consideration of introducing the linseed into the modern diet is a relatively recent development.
The omega-3 fatty acids, which are a type of "good" fat typically missing from the normal Western diet, are found in good quantities in flax seed oil. The beneficial effects of the omega-3 fatty acids have been described in many European studies where it was shown that the fatty acids can induce shrinkage in cancerous tumors. These beneficial fatty acids are also potent in their tumor killing powers and have an anti-cancer effect on tumors of the breast, the prostate, and on lung cancer cells as well.
Flaxseed oil is also a very rich source for fibers called lignans aside from its content of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids; this fiber is converted by the gut dwelling "friendly bacteria" into organic compounds which fight against cancer in the body. The hormone levels in the body are also modulated by these compounds and this results in gaining relief from some of the physical symptoms that are seen during menopause, symptoms like the hot flashes and the sudden yeast infections that comes on during vaginal dryness accompanying menopause. Hormonal imbalances which caused premenstrual syndrome can also be treated using flaxseed oil.
Many natural anti-inflammatory compounds are also found in the flaxseed oil along with the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, such as compounds that aid in bringing relief from the symptoms of diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, from the symptoms of psoriasis, as well as symptoms induced by various allergies, and all manners of inflammatory diseases affecting the body. There is a lot of success attached to the flaxseed oil and many natural herbal healers give such prescriptions on a routinely basis for different types of conditions.
Aside from the beneficial action against cancer, the flaxseed derived omega-3 fatty acids also afford great protection against various types of heart disease - this is one of the main benefits of these acids as proven in many laboratory studies. Problems of high cholesterol and high blood pressure can be beneficially affected by the omga-3-fatty acids, which lower these elevated levels, the acids also help in reducing elevated blood triglyceride levels in the body, and also prevent blood clots at the same time. The beneficial omega-3 rich content is useful in other ways. The ability of these omega-3 fatty acids to lower levels of protein homocysteine in the blood has recently been discovered in research. The presence of elevated levels of the protein homocysteine is considered to be a major risk factor for the onset of heart disease in susceptible patients.
The ability of the flaxseed oil supplements to increase the stamina has been a recent claim made by some body builders, these people also suggest that the oil helps them to recover faster from the strain of workouts and injury. The presence of a natural anti-oxidant in the flaxseed may be one factor that enables the tired muscles of body builders to recover at a faster rate. Problems like muscle soreness after exercise are probably relieved by the anti-inflammatory action of the flaxseed oil.
Flaxseed oil is not very easy to use; indeed, this is the only downside of the oil. The oil is quite unstable and, can turn rancid fairly fast unless proper processing steps are undertaken in preparing the oil. The use of flaxseed oil capsules on a daily basis may be much more convenient without the bother of preparing the oil - these capsules are available in the herbal market.