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- Linum usitatissimum
- Flax as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
Other Names: Flaxseed, Lint Bells, Winterlien, Linseed
Flax is one of the English-grown medicinal herbs, with its seed known as Linseed, being much employed in medicine. The Flax is a graceful little plant with pretty, turquoise blue blossoms.
Flax is a multi-purpose crop that is grown throughout the world. Flax seeds are relatively small (about the size of a sesame seed), and can be a reddish brown or a golden yellow color. Flax seeds are often described as having a crunchy and chewy texture as well as a nutty flavor.
Despite their small size, flax seeds pack quite a nutritional punch. Listed below are their properties.
The seed-vessels with their five-celled capsules are referred to in the Bible as ‘bolls,’ and the expression ‘the flax was bolled’ (Exodus ix. 31) means that it had arrived at a state of maturity. When the bolls are ripe, the Flax is pulled and tied in bundles, and in order to assist the separation of the fiber from the stalks, the bundles are placed in water for several weeks, and then spread out to dry. This custom is alluded to in Joshua ii. 6.
Many traditions are associated with flax. In the Middle Ages it was believed that flax flowers were protection against sorcery. The Bohemians have a belief that if seven-year-old children dance among Flax, they will become beautiful, and the whole plant was supposed to be under the protection of the goddess Hulda, who, in Teuton mythology, was held to have first taught mortals the art of growing Flax, of spinning, and of weaving it.
Nutritional Properties of Flax Seeds
- Rich sources of complete protein which means that they contain all of the essential amino acids in the amounts needed for human health (similar to soy).
- High in fiber and contain about two to three grams of total fiber (soluble and insoluble) per tablespoon. It is recommended that Americans consume 25 to 38 grams of fiber each day.
- Contain large amounts of vitamins and minerals which are essential to good health, especially rich in potassium and folic acid.
- Contain various phytochemicals including lignans, phenolic acids, and flavonoids. These compounds occur naturally in plants and are thought to have antioxidants, anti-cancer, and anti-inflammatory functions.
- Contain a high percentage of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats. These fats have numerous health benefits and are often under consumed by Americans.
Flax as an Herb for Medicinal Uses
The medicinal parts are the stem as a sterile linen thread, the oil extracted from the seeds, the dry ripe seeds, the linseed cakes and the fresh flowering plant.
When ground up, flax is known as linseed meal, which is employed for making poultices. The meal is sold in two forms, crushed linseed and linseed meal. Formerly linseed meal was obtained by grinding English oil-cake to powder and contained little oil, but now the crushed seeds, containing all the oil, are official.
The crushed seeds or linseed meal make a very useful poultice, either alone or with mustard. In ulceration and superficial or deep-seated inflammation a linseed poultice relieves irritation and pain and promotes suppuration. It is commonly used for abscesses and other local affections.
Crushed linseed of good quality usually contains from 30 to 35 percent oil. The meal has sometimes been used fraudulently for adulterating pepper.
Flax is used as an aid to achieving cardiovascular health, to help in menopause, and as a mild laxative. The seed and the seed oil are being studied as a possible cure for cancer. The oil helps slow the kidney disease that accompanies lupus.
Externally, Flaxseed is used for removing foreign bodies from the eye. A single Flax seed is moistened and placed under the eyelid, the foreign body should stick to the mucous secretion of the seed; as cataplasm for local skin inflammation.
Indian Medicine: Flax is used in India as a tea for coughs, bronchial conditions, urethritis, diarrhea and gonorrhea; externally for skin infections. The seeds are also used in Indian veterinary medicine.
Noteable note: It is recommended that if flaxseed is taken for inflammatory bowel conditions, that the flaxseed be preswollen before use (Bisset & Wichtl, 1994).
Preparations With Flax
To prepare a demulcent for use in gastritis and enteritis, allow 5 to 10 gm of whole seeds to stand in cold water for 20 to 30 minutes, then pour off the liquid (Bisset and Wichtl, 1994).
Constipation: 1 teaspoon of whole or bruised (not ground) seed with at least 150 ml of liquid 2 to 3 times daily.
Lower Cholesterol: 35 to 50 gm daily of the crushed seeds. May be incorporated into muffins or breads.
Gastritis and enteritis: 2 to 4 tablespoons of milled linseed prepared as recommended above (the seeds should not be taken in the dry state, should be pre-hydrated.)
External: 30 to 50 gm Flax seed flour for a hot moist cataplasm or compress.
Linseed is largely employed as an addition to cough medicines. Linseed herbal tea is found to be valuable as a domestic remedy for colds, coughs and irritation of the urinary organs. A little honey and lemon juice makes it very agreeable.
Linseed oil, mixed with an equal quantity of lime water, known then as Carron Oil, is an excellent application for burns and scalds.
Linseed makes a lovely fragrant tea good hot or iced. Steep 1 teaspoon of dried leaves and flowers in one cup of hot water for 15 minutes. Add raw honey to taste. Contains vitamins B3, K, iron and niacin.
Flax Aids Detox
Flax seeds and flax seed oil are loaded with essential fatty acids, particularly the omega-3s. This means they are helpful in many cleansing functions of the body as well as maintaining a healthy immune system.
Flax is Approved by Commission E for:
- Inflammation of the skin
Can Flax Help Prevent Diseases?
In recent years, many studies have focused on the disease fighting properties of flax or its components. Although the results of many of these studies seem promising, it is important to remember that more research on flax is still needed. Below is a short list of diseases and the ways that flax may help in prevention or treatment.
- Cancer — The high lignan content of flaxseed is thought to play a role in fighting a broad range of cancers. The anti-cancer properties of flaxseed may also stem from alpha linolenic acid (an omega-3 fatty acid found in flaxseed), which is potentially capable of slowing tumor growth.
- Heart disease — Clinical studies have shown that flaxseed may lower triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of blood clots when consumed over time. These benefits may result from fiber and/or the alpha linolenic acid found in flaxseed.
- Rheumatoid arthritis and kidney disease — The anti-inflammatory properties of omega-3 fatty acids have been recognized in both treating and slowing the progression of rheumatoid arthritis and kidney disease. Although most omega-3 research has focused on the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, more recent studies have shown flaxseeds also may provide this benefit.
- Menopause and osteoporosis — Much like soy, flaxseeds are a rich source of phytoestrogens. Some studies have shown that consuming foods high in phytoestrogens may prevent or mitigate symptoms caused by the declining estrogen levels associated with menopause. Phytoestrogens may also be helpful in fighting osteoporosis related bone loss experienced by some post-menopausal women.
How to Use Flax?
Flax is available at most specialty and health food stores, and can be purchased in four forms. The type of flax that you chose is dependent on the benefits of flax in which you are interested and purpose for which you intend to use flax.
Whole flaxseed can be eaten alone or can be added to other foods. When using whole seeds it is important to chew the seeds thoroughly to receive all of the nutrients inside the flaxseed. Whole flax seeds will pass through the body undigested if not chewed sufficiently. Whole flaxseeds can be easily ground in a coffee grinder.
Ground flaxseed is the easiest and most common way to purchase flax, look for “milled flax” or “flaxseed flour”. Ground flaxseed can be used in baking and be used in cooked and uncooked foods. Ground flaxseed is particularly beneficial because the grinding process releases the nutrients in flax more effectively than chewing the whole seeds. Ground flaxseed is shelf stable for up to four months and should be kept refrigerated in an airtight container. Add to cereal (hot and cold), salads, yogurt, rice, pasta, etc.
Flaxseed oil can be used as an ingredient in cold preparations like salad dressing or smoothies. It can also be used in recipes that call for flaxseeds by using a 3:1 substitution (3 tablespoons ground flaxseed for 1 tablespoon oil).
It is not advised that you fry foods in flax oil because high temperatures make it unstable. Flax seed oil does not contain any of the protein or fiber found in flax seeds, therefore it expires relatively quickly (6 to 8 weeks) and must be refrigerated.
Flax seed Supplements
Flaxseed supplements may contain either flax seed oil or ground flaxseed. The flax seed oil pills have the same drawbacks flax seed oil and also need to be refrigerated. The pills containing ground flaxseed have all the benefits of ground flax seed.
Linseed has occasionally been employed as human food – we hear of the seeds being mixed with corn by the ancient Greeks and Romans for making bread – but it affords little actual nourishment and is apparently unwholesome, being difficult to digest and provoking flatulence.
Storage: Flax seed oil must be processed and stored properly. Flaxseed meal is less vulnerable to rancidity when exposed to light and heat than the processed oil. The seeds should be protected from light and stored in a sealed container. The oil should also be protected from light and should be refrigerated.
How to Eat More Flax Seed
- Buy it processed. Whole flax seed provides little benefit. The cracked or milled forms readily give up the nutritious goodness packed inside.
- Add a tablespoon of ground flax seed on top of your salads. Bake it into bread and muffins. Mix it into meat loaf before you bake it.
- Get your day off to a good start with flax cereal. There’s a brand called Uncle Sam’s or Nature’s Path.
- Don’t care for the cereals? Sprinkle flax seeds onto your favorite cereal for an added nutritious crunch.
The oil deteriorates rapidly so must be kept cold.
Use only ripe seeds as immature seed pods can cause poisoning.
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