Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses: Flax

The nutritional signifigance of flaxseed and its ancient uses.

| December/January 2009

  • Flaxseed produces linseed oil, which is edible whn cold pressed.
    Peggy Kessler Duke

Linum usitatissimum
—Leviticus 6:10
Used for: Arthritis, bronchitis, cancer, dermatitis, heart disease, inflammation, rheumatism

Linen is one of the world’s oldest textiles; the earliest fragment of identified cloth (considered to be of linen) is from eastern Turkey, carbon-dated to 9,000 years ago. Ancient Egyptian murals and papyri depict the growth of flax, the spinning of flax thread, and the weaving of that thread into linen. Mummified remains of the pharaohs are bound in fine and delicate linen, woven with an expertise that is still difficult to replicate today, 3,000 to 4,000 years later. Linen also was used to make mummy cases, and flaxseed oil was used in the embalming process.

Flaxseed produces linseed oil, which is edible when cold pressed. Medicinally, the seeds were prescribed as a demulcent, emollient and laxative; flaxseed also was used as a remedy for burns.

The three principal components of nutritional significance in flax are alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), dietary fiber and polyphenolics (particularly lignans). The ALA slows blood clotting; prevents inflammation; relieves colitis, arthritis, gastritis and other conditions; retards and prevents tumor growth; and boosts the immune system. The lignans in flaxseed are particularly useful in preventing breast and colon cancers.

Click here for the original article, Ancient Herbs, Modern Uses.

James A. Duke, one of the world’s foremost authorities on botanical medicine. He is author of  The Green Pharmacy  (Rodale, 1997) and Amazonian Ethnobotanical Dictionary  (CRC, 1994). 

Adapted with permission from Herbs of the Bible: 2,000 Years of Plant Medicine by James A. Duke, Ph.D. 

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