This article, written by Mary Ann Petersen, LAc, was originally published in the Summer 2019 edition of Take Root Magazine.
Flaxseed, which is also called linseed, has a role in clothing, food, supplements, flooring, mummy wraps, paint, and wood finish. There could be more, but that’s the bulk of the list.
Flax traces back to Egypt. Though it probably got its start in Mesopotamia, along with plants like wheat, peas, lentils, chickpeas and bitter vetch.
Flax weaves into linen and led the clothing industry for centuries. We still have linen, of course, though cotton has gained a foothold in popularity. Linen was also the final wrap used in the mummification process of bodies. After people died, they were dried out with sand or salt and kept in the desert, guarded while they “cured.” After forty days, the embalmers removed incense and stuffings from the body and put in, among other things, resin soaked linen. The family needed to find roughly 4,000 square feet of linen to supply bandages for the outer part of the body.
An annual herb that grows from two to four feet tall, flax features a thin stalk with blue or while flowers. The Sanskrit name for flaxseed is Uma, which means mother. The meaning is usually associated with Parvati, the Hindu mother goddess.
Canada claims to be the leader in cultivating flax crops. North Dakota is a top producer in the United States.
For your health, it’s a very low cost way to add some good nutrients into your system, for example omega-3 fats and high dietary fibers. Omega-3 fats are often sourced from fish; flaxseed oil offers a plant alternative. There is less risk of mercury.
Ayurvedic medicine uses flaxseed for respiratory issues, poor digestion, and UTIs. Hippocrates recommended flax for abdominal cramping.
Currently, some find it useful for lowering cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugars. It is also popular as a safe laxative. It is used in Germany for chronic constipation, gastritis, as well as treating colons damaged by the aggressive overuse of laxatives.
It is considered safe as negative side effects are mild, such as bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Industrial uses (not food grade): When used for furniture, flooring, or paint, it is more often referred to as linseed. Linseed became an important ingredient for flooring. The oil bonds wood dust, cork particles, and other ingredients to make linoleum, which was invented in 1860. Almost one hundred years later, its main competition became vinyl. However, linoleum made a comeback as it is considered to be more earth friendly and sustainable.
Art uses linseed oil to create paintings. A basic recipe uses dry pigment and a few drops of linseed oil. The artist then combines the two with a brush or a pallet knife. Linseed is slow to dry so it gives more time to create and re-do areas if needed. There is less of a rush to finish. The oil does completely harden and dry eventually and that is why it’s a superior oil to use compared to some that stay sticky and never actually set up. Always be careful to safely dispose of linseed soaked rags as they can spontaneously combust.
In summary: There are several claims of healthier function using flax seed; the three top health benefits are:
- Increasing fiber, which helps lower cholesterol. It also prevents constipation.
- Increasing omega-3 fats, which also is believed to lower blood pressure. Many research articles show benefits toward cardiovascular health.
- Increasing lignans, which are high in antioxidants and phytoestrogens. The latter can be helpful with regulating hormones.
How to eat it? It can be added to salad dressing, oatmeal, yogurt. It can be great in breads or energy bars.
Here is one easy recipe that involves no cooking:
No Bake Energy Bites
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 1/2 cup chocolate chips (can be left out for less calories)
- 1/2 cup ground flaxseed meal
- 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
- 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Combine all ingredient together in a bowl; form into 1” balls. Arrange bites on a baking sheet and freeze until set, about 1 hour.
(Recipe is on the back of Trader Joe’s organic flax seed meal package.)