- Family Linaceae
- Linum usitatissimum (Flax, Flaxseed, Lint Bells, Winterlien, Linseed, Linum; Spanish: Linaza, Linasa, Lino)
- Linum catharticum (Mountain Flax, Purging Flax, Dwarf Flax, Fairy Flax, Mill Mountain)
- The oil deteriorates rapidly so must be kept cold.
- Do not use commercial linseed oil for consumption as it is toxic.
- Do not use immature seeds as they contain toxic substances.
Native to the temperate zones of Europe and Asia, flax is now cultivated worldwide for its seeds, oil, and fiber. It is an annual, biennial, or perennial plant, growing to three feet, producing a slender stem, lance-shaped leaves, sky-blue flowers, and oily brown seeds. The plant flowers only in the morning. The seeds are harvested in late summer or early fall when ripe. The aerial parts of the mountain flax are harvested while flowering.
Flax has been cultivated for more than 7,000 years in the Middle East as a source of linen fiber and for its oil.
The ancient Egyptians, Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans used the seeds as food, the oil as medicine, and the fibers for clothing and ships sails.
The Roman legion used bread made from flax and were able to march long distances and then do battle. Today, Roman meal bread still uses flaxseed, while the linseed oil is used in the manufacture of varnish, paint, linoleum, and soap.
The medicinal properties were well known to the Greeks as Hippocrates recommended flax for mucous membrane inflammations.
In the 8th century in France, Charlemagne passed laws requiring the seeds to be consumed in order to keep his subjects healthy.
The Mountain flax received its nickname of “purging flax” because it was once popular as a purgative.
- soothing anti-tussive
(b) Mountain Flax
- mucilage (6%)
- cyanogenic glycoside (linamarin) – a respiratory system sedative
- bitter principle
- linseed oil in the seeds contains cis-linoleic (24%) and alpha-linolenic acids (36-50%), vitamins A, B, D, E, minerals, amino acids (25%)
Seeds, oil, aerial parts (mountain flax)
Flax is one of the best plant sources of alpha-linolenic acid (LA).
The seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber which promote intestinal health and lignans, a form of phytoestrogens believed to help protect against colon, prostate, and breast cancers.
Ripe seeds are ground and used for constipation (high fluid intake is vital).
Poultices of crushed seeds or flour are applied to boils, abscesses, and ulcers or applied locally for pleurisy pain, coughs, bronchitis, or emphysema.
Infusions are used to treat coughs and sore throats (honey and lemon can be added).
Infusions of the whole plant are made of the fresh herb for constipation, liver congestion, and rheumatic pain.
Maceration produces a thick mucilage which can be taken for inflammations of the mucous membranes as in the cases of gastritis and pharyngitis.
Oil from the seeds contains essential fatty acids which are helpful for eczema, menstrual disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, and atherosclerosis.
The seeds have long been used as a bulk laxative and soothing expectorant. However, they must be ground to gain any benefit as the whole seed will pass on through the body undigested. In addition, since flax absorbs moisture in its efforts to alleviate constipation, it is well advised to drink plenty of water; otherwise, the stools will be hard and dry.
If a seed is placed in the corner of the eye, it will move around and gather foreign particles into its mucilage to be removed.
Mountain flax is a potent laxative and can be a substitute for senna. However, it was largely used for rheumatism and liver complaints, mainly because its strong laxative action rids the body of built-up toxins.
The oil is an important source of essential fatty acids, which help prevent fatty deposits from clogging tissues. Flaxseed, meal, and oil should be kept refrigerated as it soon goes rancid, causing more health problems. If it begins to smell like turpentine, it should be discarded.
A Portuguese recipe recommends linseed oil mixed with red wine to treat wounds.
In India, a tea is made to treat coughs, bronchial conditions, urethritis, diarrhea, and gonorrhea and used externally for skin infections. It is also used in veterinary medicine.
In Mexico, it is used to treat burns, abscesses, cough, urinary tract inflammations, boils, swellings, and gingivitis.