Flax (Linum usitatissimum)

Flax is the grandmother of human civilization. Primitive foragers gathered its seed for food. Early Mesopotamians pressed the seed and fed the high protein remains of the seed mash to fatten their cattle. Ancient Egyptians wove its soft, flexible stalks into linen. As flax spread, clever fingers learned to disentangle the healing secrets from this innocuous looking perennial flower.

The ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates (ca. 460 BCE – ca. 370 BCE) praised flax for its success with treating colds and flus. Greeks cooked the oily seeds, also called linseed into a nutritious gruel that is still used to sooth coughs and sore throats. Hippocrates also recommended flax seed gruel to calm upset stomachs.

Flax

Medicinally, flax has been used as a laxative for thousands of years. Linseed has anti-inflammatory properties that still offer relief to patients suffering from conditions such as IBS, colitis and hemorrhoids. Since linseed is a remarkable fluid retainer, patients take five times as much water as volume of seed with their doses.

Flax is still sharing secrets with those creative enough to ask the right questions. New research into cancer and heart disease prevention have brought scientist knocking on Flax’s door again. No other plant has been found to be a better source of Omega 3 essential fatty acids and scientists are just beginning to discover how vital these unsaturated fats were to a vast range of health related concerns. As a result, flax is back in the medicine chest again. No wonder this plant wears such a knowing look.

Author – Sue Sierralupe

Originally published as The Pocket Herbal on The Practical Herbalist website

Find this and other plant histories in Sue’s e-book “The Pocket Herbal – Medicinal Plants that Changed the World”

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