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Flax, Flax Seed or Linseed Oil

Flax (also known as Common Flax or Linseed) is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. The New Zealand flax is unrelated. Flax is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent.[1] It was extensively cultivated in ancient Egypt.

It is an erect annual plant growing to 120 cm tall, with slender stems. The leaves are glaucous green, slender lanceolate, 2-4 cm long and 3 mm broad. The flowers are pure pale blue, 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, with five petals. The fruit is a round, dry capsule 5-9 mm diameter, containing several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip, 4-7 mm long.

In addition to the plant itself, flax may refer to the unspun fibres of the flax plant.

Flax is grown both for its seed and for its fibers. Various parts of the plant have been used to make fabric, dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets and soap. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, as flax is one of the few plant species capable of producing truly blue flowers (most "blue" flowers are really shades of purple), although not all flax varieties produce blue flowers.

Flax seed
Flax seedThe seeds produce a vegetable oil known as linseed oil or flaxseed oil. It is one of the oldest commercial oils and solvent-processed flax seed oil has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.

Flax seeds come in two basic varieties; brown and yellow (also referred to as golden). Although brown flax can be consumed and has been for thousands of years, it is better known as an ingredient in paints, fibre and cattle feed. Brown and yellow flax have similar nutritional values and equal amounts of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The exception is a type of yellow flax called solin which is very low in omega-3 and has a completely different oil profile.

A North Dakota State University research project led to the creation of a new variety of the yellow flax seed called "Omega."[2] This new variety was created primarily as a food source; it has a nutty-buttery flavour, with a level of the beneficial omega-3 fatty acids comparable to brown flax.

One tablespoon of ground flax seeds and three tablespoons of water may serve as a replacement for one egg in baking by binding the other ingredients together. Ground flax seeds can also be mixed in with oatmeal, yogurt, water (similar to Metamucil), or any other food item where a nutty flavour is appropriate. Flaxseed oil is most commonly consumed with salads or in capsules. Flax seed owes its nutritional benefits to lignans and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Omega-3s, often in short supply in populations with low-fish diets, promote heart health by reducing cholesterol, blood pressure and plaque formation in arteries. In addition, flaxseed oil is often recommended as a galactagogue. Eating too many Flax seeds can also cause diarrhea.[3]

Lignans benefit the heart and possess anti-cancer properties: A series of research studies by Lilian U. Thompson and her colleagues at the Department of Nutritional Science of the University of Toronto have reported that flaxseed can have a beneficial effect in reducing tumour growth in mice, particularly the kind of tumour found in human post-menopausal breast cancer. The effects are thought to be due to the lignans in flaxseed, and are additive with those of tamoxifen. Initial studies suggest that flaxseed taken in the diet have similar beneficial effects in human cancer patients. Reports that flaxseed is beneficial in other cancers, e.g., prostate cancer, are less numerous but also positive.

Flax may also lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels.[4] Flax seed sprouts are edible, with a slightly spicy flavour.

Flaxseed is also known as linseed. Flaxseeds are known as San, Alsi in Hindi, Gujarati, and Punjabi, Ali Vidai in Tamil. In Marathi, it is also known as Jawas and Alashi. In Bengali, it is known as Tishi, In Oriya it is called Pesi. In Kannada, it's called Agasi. The Telugu people call it Avise ginzalu. Finally, in Kerala, the Malayalis call it Cheruchana vithu.

Flax fibre
Flax fibres are amongst the oldest fibre crops in the world. The use of flax for the production of linen goes back 5000 years. Pictures on tombs and temple walls at Thebes depict flowering flax plants. The use of flax fibre in the manufacturing of cloth in northern Europe dates back to Neolithic times. In North America, flax was introduced by the Puritans. Currently most flax produced in the USA and Canada are seed flax types for the production of linseed oil or flaxseeds for human nutrition.

Flax fibre is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of flax plant. Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fibre but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such as damasks, lace and sheeting. Coarser grades are used for the manufacturing of twine and rope. Flax fibre is also a raw material for the high-quality paper industry for the use of printed banknotes and rolling paper for cigarettes.

The major fibre flax-producing countries are Canada, USA and China, though there is also significant production in India and throughout Europe.

The soils most suitable for flax, besides the alluvial kind, are deep friable loams, and containing a large proportion of organic matter. Heavy clays are unsuitable, as are soils of a gravelly or dry sandy nature.[citation needed]

Flax is harvested for fibre production after approximately 100 days, when the base of the plant begins to turn yellow. If the plant is still green the seed will not be useful, and the fiber will be underdeveloped. The fiber degrades once the plant is brown; it is pulled up with the roots (not cut), so as to maximize the fiber length. After this the flax is allowed to dry, the seeds are removed, and is then retted.

Flax grown for seed is allowed to mature until the seed capsules are yellow and just starting to split; it is then harvested by combine harvester and dried to extract the seed.

Threshing flax
Flax tissues, tacuinum sanitatis casanatensis (XIV century)Threshing is the process of removing the seeds from the rest of the plant.

The process is divided into two parts: the first part is intended for the farmer, or flax-grower, to bring the flax into a fit state for general or common purposes. This is performed by three machines: one for threshing out the seed, one for breaking and separating the wood from the fibre, and one for further separating the broken wood and matter from the fibre. In some cases the farmers thrash out the seed in their own mill and therefore, in such cases, the first machine will be unnecessary.

The second part of the process is intended for the manufacturer to bring the flax into a state for the very finest purposes, such as lace, cambric, damask, and very fine linen. This second part is performed by the refining machine only.

The threshing process would be conducted as follows:

Take the flax in small bundles, as it comes from the field or stack, and holding it in the left hand, put the seed end between the threshing machine and the bed or block against which the machine is to strike; then take the handle of the machine in the right hand, and move the machine backward and forward, to strike on the flax, until the seed is all threshed out.
Take the flax in small handfuls in the left hand, spread it flat between the third and little finger, with the seed end downwards, and the root-end above, as near the hand as possible.
Put the handful between the beater of the breaking machine, and beat it gently till the three or four inches, which have been under the operation of the machine, appear to be soft.
Remove the flax a little higher in the hand, so as to let the soft part of the flax rest upon the little finger, and continue to beat it till all is soft, and the wood is separated from the fibre, keeping the left hand close to the block and the flax as flat upon the block as possible.[citation needed]
The other end of the flax is then to be turned, and the end which has been beaten is to be wrapped round the little finger, the root end flat, and beaten in the machine till the wood is separated, exactly in the same way as the other end was beaten.

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:
Linum usitatissimum^ Alister D. Muir, Neil D. Westcot, "Flax: The Genus Linum"., page 3 (August 1, 2003)
^ Miller, J.F., J.J. Hammond, and G.D. Statler. (1992). "Registration of 'Omega' Flax.". Crop Science 32: 1065. 
^ Mayo Clinic (2006-05-01). Drugs and Supplements: Flaxseed and flaxseed oil (Linum usitatissimum). Retrieved on 2007-07-02.
^ Dahl, Wendy J.; Lockert, Erin A., Cammer, Allison L., Whiting, Susan J. (December 2005). "Effects of Flax Fiber on Laxation and Glycemic Response in Healthy Volunteers". Journal of Medicinal Food Vol. 8 (No. 4): 508-511. Retrieved on [[May 14, 2007]]. 
^ A. J. Wardey, The linen trade: ancient and modern (1864; repr. 1967), 690-92.
USDA profile of flax
The 1881 Household Cyclopedia
Chen, J. M., Wang, L., & Thompson, L. U. (2006). Flaxseed and its components reduce metastasis after surgical excision of solid human breast tumor in nude mice. Cancer Letters, 234, 168-175.
Thompson, L. U., Chen, J. M., Li, T., Strasser-Weippl, K., & Goss, P. E. (2005). Dietary flaxseed alters tumor biological markers in postmenopausal breast cancer. Clinical Cancer Research, 11, 3828-3835.
Alternative Field Crops Manual: Flax
Flax Council of Canada Guide to Growing Flax
Health Benefits of ground flax seeds from World's Healthiest Foods site
Storage and usage instructions for ground flax seed

FLAX SEED OIL Flax and Borage Seed Oil Two fats we need may also need each other.

by Jade Beutler

In this day and age of fat phobia and the resultant barrage of low fat and non-fat food products lining the grocery store aisles, a recommendation to supplement your daily diet with one to two tablespoons of essential fatty acid rich oil would appear to go against the grain. To the contrary, this is exactly what health conscious consumers are doing across the country, not only to attain and maintain optimal health, but in many instances, as a treatment for the over 60 health ailments the essential fatty acids have been scientifically validated to benefit.

While it is true Americans should not consume more than 20- 30% of daily calories as fats, a lack of the dietary essential fatty acids has been suggested to facilitate degenerative disease. If surveys are correct that approximately 80% of our population is deficient in the essential fatty acids, this may present a serious health threat.

Unfortunately, mass commercial refinement of fats and oils products and foods containing them has effectively eliminated the essential fatty acids from our food chain, contributing to our modern day deficiency.

Organic, unrefined flaxseed oil is considered by many to be the answer to this health dilemma. Oil extracted from organic flaxseeds is unique because it contains both essential fatty acids: alpha- linolenic, an omega-3 fatty acid, and linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid, in appreciable amounts. Flaxseed oil is the world's richest source of omega-3 fatty acids at a whopping 57% (over two times the amount of omega-3 fatty acids as fish oils).

Omega-3 fatty acids have been extensively studied for their beneficial effects toward:

high cholesterol levels
stroke and heart attack
angina (heart pain)
high blood pressure
multiple sclerosis
psoriasis and eczema

The high content of omega-3 fatty acids inherent in flaxseed oil is but one of its positive attributes. The essential fatty acids combined here have proven to impart a regulatory function on the body's fatty acid metabolism. Fat metabolism is as important, if not more critical, than our body's metabolism of proteins and carbohydrates as evidenced by the drastic rise in fat related degenerative diseases, such as vascular disease and strokes.

Dietary essential fatty acids common to flaxseed oil are ultimately converted to hormone- like substances known as prostaglandins, and are important for the regulation of a host of bodily functions including:

inflammation, pain, and swelling
pressure in the eye, joints or blood vessels
secretions from mucus membranes and their viscosity
smooth muscle and autonomic reflexes, gastrointestinal, arterial, ear, heart
water retention
blood clotting ability
allergic response and rheumatoid arthritis
nerve transmission
steroid production and hormone synthesis

Scientists continue to discover regulating effects of prostaglandins. Without the essential fatty acids 'the building blocks of prostaglandins' a malfunction of fat metabolism is certain, as are problems in the regulation of the above listed bodily functions.

For some individuals, flaxseed oil may offer only half of the solution. Those deficient in co- factor nutrients, specifically the vitamins pro- A, A, C, E, B2, B6, pantothenic acid, B 12, biotin, and the minerals calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and zinc, sometimes have difficulty in converting the omega-6 fatty acid, linoleic acid, found in flax and other seed oils to the healthful prostaglandins.

Still others are thought to lack the necessary enzyme (catalyst) to make this conversion; particularly those afflicted with diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, alcoholism and the aged.

For those suffering from co-factor deficiencies, a broad spectrum multi-vitamin and mineral may be recommended with, perhaps, an oil supplement rich in gamma- linolenic acid (GLA). Individuals who may lack the proper enzyme system would require a GLA supplement in addition to the flaxseed oil to effectively skip over the absent or impaired enzyme and continue on toward normal production of beneficial prostaglandins.

Nature's most potent concentration of GLA comes in the form of organic borage seed oil (24%). A great deal of scientific research has been conducted with supplements rich in GLA, resulting in significant interest regarding the aforementioned health ailments, as well as those affected by pre-menstrual syndrome, benign breast disease, eczema, psoriasis, obesity, and vascular disorders.

When considering an essential fatty acid supplement and deciding on either organic flax or borage seed oils the most sensible solution may be a formulation of the two. The combination of both organic flax and organic borage seed oil yields a true Omega-Twin by providing nature's best of the omega-3 fatty acids in flax with the best of omega-6 fatty acids in GLA rich borage oil. This option has now been made available by a flax/borage oil product that can be found in many health food stores.

Supplementation with organic flax and borage seed oils combined makes good sense for the following reasons.

Omega-3 fatty acids and GLA together exert favorable effects on the production of beneficial prostaglandins. * A number of   health problems have proven to benefit from both omega-3 fatty acids and GLA supplementation.
Organic flaxseed oil combined with organic borage oil may exhibit synergistic complementary effects.
Optimal conversion of fatty acids to beneficial prostaglandins is more likely assured.
Flax and borage oils combined in a single formulation is less expensive than purchasing both separately.

In conclusion, the answer appears not to be no fat, but the right fat, as common to organic flax and borage seed oils, to achieve optimal health.


Past and present scientific research supports the use of essential fatty acid nutrients in promoting optimal health. Flaxseed oil is recognized as nature's richest source of essential and omega-3 fatty acids. Borage seed oil is recognized as nature's richest source of GLA. These natural plant substances used alone have created a great deal of interest in the treatment of numerous health problems. Evidence exists to suggest the combination of omega-3 fatty acids with gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) may further complement the therapeutic result of either fatty acid used singularly.

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