Flaxseed or linseed (Linum usitatissimum) is considered one of the wonder foods with its many potential benefits for the body. It is the original superfood for improving digestive and heart health while lowering the risks of cancer. Flaxseed and flaxseed oil were popular ingredients in cooking for many centuries. Today, flax is marketed as seed, oil, or ground flax and is a staple in most pantries. It is also popularly used as an ingredient in some nutritional food supplements.
Flax is a flowering plant of the Linaceae family that thrives in regions with temperate climates. This annual plant mostly bears blue flowers that make an attractive garden ornament. But some cultivated species today may bear yellow, white, or red blossoms. Aside from food, these fibrous plants are also valuable in linen-making or ingredients in some wood-finishing products. Some regions grow linseed for their oil that is utilized for paints, varnishes, and printing inks.
Everything about flax is useful with its by-product used as a protein-rich fodder. These are useful in fish, poultry, and rabbit feeding. It is also an ingredient in some dog and horse foods.
The History Of Flaxseed
The common flax has been around for many centuries – dating back to the Neolithic age – farmed for consumption. It is a plant native to India and used for Ayurvedic medicine. But there is also evidence that traces their origin back to Babylon in 3,000 B.C. In ancient Egypt, flaxseed is highly valued for its symbol of purity. Egyptian priests would wear only flax linens and also for embalming their mummies.
Flaxseed farming became widespread that their cultivation reached Switzerland, Germany, and China. The European linen industry flourished in the Middle Ages using flax fibers. The colonists also brought the crop to North America. But instead of just for textile, their medicinal uses were explored. Flaxseed oil became popular for treating kidney disorders, cough, pain relief, and freckles. Afterward, the cultivation of flax for commercial textiles began to waver at the availability of synthetic fibers in the early 20th century. However, they were continually farmed for consumption and industrial uses.
Where This Plant Is Found
Flax is adaptable in many regions and thrives abundantly in temperate climates. They grow well in organic dirt and well-drained soil.
Canada is the largest producer of flaxseed in the world, accounting for about 80% of the global trade. Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan provinces are the leading flax producers in Canada. Kazakhstan, Russia, Ethiopia, and China are also among the largest flax producers worldwide. In the United States, North Dakota is the largest flax producer. Originally the native source of the crop, India ranks 4th in the overall producers of the flax in tons.
Although commercial flaxseed growing is tedious, they are surprisingly easy to grow even in small gardens. These cool-season plants are notable for their ornamental value in small-scale planting.
How To Identify Flaxseed
It is easy to identify the flaxseed with their oval and flat seeds resembling a bigger sesame seed. But how do flaxseed plants really look like?
There are about 12 genus and 290 species of the flax shrub worldwide. Generally, they are about 4 ft tall and 2 ft wide, with leaves growing alternately in their slender stalk. Flax grows similar to wheat and flourishes even when planted densely.
- Leaf. Flax is a broadleaf plant with a pale green to a bluish-green color. It has a narrow lanceolate shape or a lance head that tapers at the end and is slightly wide in the middle. They grow alternately across the stem of the plant.
- Flower. Flax flowers are mostly blue or sky-blue. It can grow at about 1-inch diameter with a five-petal cup shape and deep veining on the surface. They also have blue or yellow anthers and blue to colorless filaments for self-pollination. These flowers bloom from May to September. It grows abundantly, but it will last for only a day before wilting into a capsule or boll. The capsule shrinks to about 1/3-inch in diameter.
- Roots. The shallow root system of the flax can burrow at about 1 meter or 3 ft into the soil. It is composed of short-branched taproots and many small side roots. These side roots can extend only for about 30 cm.
- Stem. The flax stem that holds the valuable fiber is a herbaceous slender stalk that can grow from about 3 to 4 ft. It has one main stem with obvious branching only at the top part of the plant. Flax plants that are cultivated mainly for their seeds mostly have short stems and many branches.
- Seeds. Flaxseeds have two common varieties: brown or golden. Different varieties may have a color range from light to dark brown, reddish-brown, or golden yellow. Flax seeds are small, flat, oval, and tapered, and pointed at one end. It has a coating or mucilage giving it a glossy appearance and makes the seeds stick when wet. They are contained in the small capsule or boll of the wilted flax flower, about 4 to 6 seeds per capsule.
There are two main varieties of flaxseed, but they have minimal differences. Most consumers would agree that golden seeds are more nutritious, but brown ones are nuttier and better-tasting.
- Brown Flaxseed: These are the oldest variety that has been around for thousands of years. They are high in lignans, omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and dietary fibers. According to researchers, they contain more alpha-linolenic fatty acids than their golden counterparts.
- Golden Flaxseed: The golden flaxseed or solin is an excellent source of dietary fiber. It has a low percentage of fat and carbohydrates and a higher protein content than brown flax. However, they have a lower level of antioxidants than brown flaxseeds.
How To Grow Flaxseed
Growing flaxseed for commercial use and a large quantity is quite complex for ensuring their abundant yield. It thrives well in fields with rich organic soil, good irrigation, and appropriate plant nutrition. You will also need the proper plant establishment for them to give out their best yield. The ideal seed rate for cultivation is about 45 to 50 kilograms per hectare. If planting flax in the same field, you may limit the planting to only once every six years. It will avoid exhausting the land so you can get the maximum crop yield.
Flaxseeds are sensitive to drought which is why you should not plant them too shallow. Sow flaxseeds at 2.5 to 4 cm deep and provide spacing of at least 15 to 20 cm. They are suitable for planting during the cool seasons in early spring or the last frost.
These plants are also quite easy to grow in the garden. Home gardens usually favor their elegant flowers more than their fiber and seeds. You can sow it evenly at an ideal seed rate of 1 tbsp of flaxseed per 10 sq. ft. of the planting area.
To start, rake the soil on the seedbed lightly and cover it with at least 2.5 cm soil. Use a fine spray to water them lightly and avoid washing them away. Seeds will germinate mostly in about ten days. Water the seeds regularly to maintain moisture but avoid drenching them.
The seedlings need regular weeding, although mature flax plants will eventually choke out weeds. To make it easier, adding a thin layer of mulch will control the weeds. It will also help maintain the coolness and moisture of the soil for the plants to thrive better.
How To Harvest Flaxseed
Harvesting for large plantations needs specialized equipment or flax harvester or puller. There are also machines for threshing seeds or breaking and separating the straw. Flax growers who cultivate the plant mainly for fiber usually harvest the plant a month before its flowering stage. That’s why growing flaxseeds is limited to the option of having either fiber or seeds.
After the flax flowers bloom and wilt, the seed pods will emerge. The flaxseed is ready for harvest once the pods turn brown and they rattle when shaken. To harvest the seeds, pull out the plant entirely from its roots. You can bundle them up by the stems and allow the seed heads to dry completely. Release the seeds by lightly crushing the pods or shaking them into cloth.
Store the harvested seeds in a cool and dry place, away from the access of insects.
What Flaxseed Is Good For And Natural Remedies Made From It
Flaxseed is considered a superfood because of the many potential benefits it could provide for the body. They are a source of alpha-linolenic acid or ALA, which is a type of omega-3 fatty acid. ALA is essential in the prevention and reduction of the risk of heart diseases. It helps maintain the proper functioning of the heart and reduces blood clots.
The rich dietary fiber of flaxseed helps regulate digestive function, cure constipation, and curb out hunger. Thus, flaxseeds are major ingredients for most weight-loss diet programs. The fiber also eliminates cholesterol and prevents its reabsorption. It is also a valuable food for people with hypertension and diabetes. There are continuing studies to prove the effectiveness of flaxseeds against cancer and kidney diseases.
You can consume flaxseed by toasting them, grinding, eating them raw, or incorporating them into a salad and baked goods. However, flaxseeds do not break down well in the digestive system. Thus, you need to chew them thoroughly if you decide to eat them raw.
Flaxseeds can also be made into an infusion or extract their essential oils for treating various diseases.
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What Parts of Plants Are Used For Remedies?
The ripe seeds of the flax are basically the most important part of the plant used for remedies. They can be eaten raw or added to food. The best way of consuming flax with all its essential benefits is if you ground them into powder. Ground flax is added into the water and consumed for treating constipation and other digestive problems. Flaxseed powder infusion is also essential for treating respiratory illnesses, high blood pressure, and other diseases.
A decoction of flax flowers is also essential for alleviating cough. Flaxseed oil, on the other hand, is beneficial for treating skin problems like swelling skin, warts, and wrinkles.
¼ brown flaxseed, whole
3 cups water
- Add flaxseed and water in a blender. Blend for 15 to 30 seconds.
- Transfer to a container and set aside for 10 to 15 minutes. This will allow the gel to separate from the mixture. After the desired time, you will be able to see 3 layers. The top layer is the gel, which you have to scoop out.
- Transfer the second layer to an airtight milk jug. Be careful not to transfer the 3rd layer since it is composed of flaxseed sediments as well as more flaxseed gel. You may also use cheesecloth to ensure that no sediments are transferred to the milk jug.
How to Use:
Drink the flaxseed milk as a substitute for your regular milk. This can be stored in a fridge for up to 3 days. Just make sure that the container you are using is airtight.
What Plants Resemble Flaxseed
|Feature||Common Flaxseed (Linum usitatissimum)||Scarlet Flax (Linum grandiflorum)||Prairie Flax (Linum lewisii)|
|Size||Height: 4 ft Width: 2 ft||Height: 1 to 2 ft Width: 18 inches||Height: 12 to 24 in Width: 12 to 18 in|
|Leaves||Narrow lanceolate with wide middle and pointed end||Waxy green lanceolate leaves||Narrow blue-green|
|Flowers||Five blue petals in a cup shape and deep blue veining; with anthers and filaments; 3 cm (1 in) in diameter||Five red petals up to 3 cm diameter; anthers with light blue pollen||Pastel blue in 2.5 cm diameter; saucer-shaped petals|
|Stem/Trunk||Herbaceous slender stalk with branching at the topmost part||Slender branched stem||Delicate and slender stem with wiry top|
|Scent||Plant is unscented; seeds have slightly nutty aroma||Unscented||Unscented|
Warnings and Cautions
Flaxseed slows down blood clotting and is not recommended for people with bleeding disorders. People with diabetes should also take caution when taking flaxseed along with medication. It can increase the effect of the medicine and risk dropping of the blood sugar. Hypertensive patients should also take it in moderation to prevent spiraling down of the blood pressure to an undesirable level. It is not also advisable for people with low blood pressure.
Generally, people taking medication should consume flaxseed with caution to prevent the worsening of their symptoms.
Breastfeeding and pregnant women should also avoid flaxseed to avoid complications. There is no evidence and enough study to prove their safety for this population.
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