FLAX, LINUM USITATISSMUM, ALSI
Flax seeds were eaten by hunter-gatherers more than 8,500 years ago and grow all over the world. Because they have become naturalized almost everywhere it is very difficult, if not impossible to say where they originated. Flax seeds are known as linseed too, and flax was woven into cloth from early times. Cloth made of flax has been found in the tombs of the pharaohs, and the ‘fine linen’ mentioned so often in the Bible was woven from flax.
The flax seed containers are called bolls (like cotton bolls) and when ripe the flax was pulled and tied into bundles then placed in water for a few weeks to separate the fibre from the stalks. It was then spread out to dry. In Teutonic mythology the plant was associated with the goddess Hulda, who first taught mortals how to grow, spin and weave flax into cloth.
Its cloth made the “white sails” Homer describes in the Odyssey and Pliny wrote: - “What department is there to be found in active life in which flax is not employed?” He goes on (he is always a little verbose) “What audacity in man! What criminal perverseness! Thus to sow a thing in the ground for the purpose of catching the winds and tempests, it being not enough for him, forsooth, to be borne upon the waves alone.”
In Mediaeval times flax was used for a multitude of purposes: - To make clothes, sails, fishing nets, thread, strong rope, strings for bows, sheets, sacks, bags and purses among other items. During these times it was believed that flax could protect people from witchcraft and sorcery. Bohemians believed that if seven-year-old children danced in flax fields, they would grow up to be beautiful.
The ancient Greeks and Romans mixed the seeds with corn to make bread, but when people tried to make this in recent years the taste left much to be desired, and caused flatulence, and was not easy to digest.
The oil-cake left after extracting the oil from the seeds used to be used for fattening up cattle and it also made good compost. If you grind this cake it is good for making poultices to be placed on the chest for respiratory problems. The crushed seeds or linseed meal as they are called can be mixed with mustard seeds
too in hot poultices. These can be used to treat inflammation and ulceration and were commonly used for abscesses and other skin disorders.
Linseed is a common ingredient in cough medicines and has been used to treat coughs in traditional medicine since ancient times in many parts of the world including Europe and Asia.
To make linseed tisane, you need an ounce of ground or whole seeds to 1 pint of boiling water. Boil the seeds for best results and allow the tisane to stand for at least two hours then strain before drinking. In India they add lemon grass
root powder to this when it is boiling. Then add a few drops of lemon
juice and honey to make it tastier. Take it by the wineglass full. It’s good for coughs and colds and infections of the urinary tract such as cystitis.
Linseed oil mixed with an equal amount of lime water is called Carron oil and in India it is called Chuna Pani You can also eat boiled seeds with honey for respiratory problems or use roasted seeds ground to a powder. These are traditional remedies for the subcontinent.
The oil is a laxative and can disperse stones and gravel from the kidneys etc. As a cosmetic preparation, linseed oil mixed with honey can remove facial spots.
Flax seeds’ powder is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and the alpha linolenic acid present in the seeds is beneficial for the general inflammation present in the morbidly obese, and can possibly improve atherosclerosis according to recent clinical trials. They also contain omega-6 fatty acids.
There have been many claims for the efficacy of flax seed on a number of diseases, but they have not really been proved, because the body is not as efficient in converting ALA (alpha-linolenic acid) from flax, into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) as it is in converting it from fish oils. So basically, although flax seed oil contains omega-3 and -6, the body may not be able to utilize it as well as it can those omega-3 and -6 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel. Therefore it may not be as effective against chronic diseases such as heart disease and arthritis as has been claimed, in comparison with oily fish. However, the good news is that flax seed (but not the oil), contains lignons (a group of chemicals) which may play a role in preventing cancer.
It is believed that diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids including ALA may lower blood pressure. There is 6 % mucilage (a slimy substance) in the seeds and traces linamarin (a cyanogenic glycoside) which has a sedative effect on the respiratory system, so you can take 5 – 10 grams of seeds whole or crushed, and soaked in water 3 times a day for bronchial problems. Do this for 3 days maximum. Children under 6 should not take flax seeds. Alternatively you can put crushed seeds on your breakfast muesli, but drink a lot more water than usual.
Linseed oil is good for skin problems such as eczema and for menstrual disorders; take 1-2 teaspoons of crushed seeds or 2 teaspoons of freshly pressed oil a day for rheumatoid arthritis and atherosclerosis, also for disorders associated with the menopause, including hot flushes, and candida caused by vaginal dryness. An infusion of the whole plant, (bruised and boiled for at least half an hour) taken daily is good for constipation, liver congestion and rheumatic pain. It is also good for PMT symptoms.
In traditional medicine on the Indian subcontinent the healers differentiate between oil from fresh seeds and that from roasted seeds. The oil from fresh seeds is used as a purgative and is said to be good for piles. Chuna Pani is made into a paste and applied to burns, and a few drops of the oil is put inside the penis for diseases such as gonorrhoea. To cure insomnia, alsi oil is mixed with an equal amount of castor oil
and rubbed on the soles of the feet. The leaves and the bark are burnt and applied to all kinds of wounds, fresh or old. A sex tonic is made with 2 parts of alsi, 1 part safed musli
, 1 part kali musli
) and 1 part semal musli (Bombax ceiba
) taken in water and if you take it all through the winter its effects will last until the end of autumn. It is drunk in milk.
The recipe below is given to pregnant women in Pakistan and to breast-feeding mothers, although medical trials and the evidence from these suggest pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers should not take flax at all. Be warned. However this is a nutritious, tasty sweet so here is the traditional recipe.
250 gr flax seeds, dry fried then ground
250 gr wholemeal flour (atta) dry fried until brown
250 gr ghee (clarified butter)
200 gr jaggery
or gur, pounded to a powder
40 gr raisins
Heat the ghee in a frying pan and add the powdered gur; then when it is bubbling, add the flour and flax seeds. Stir over a low heat for 5 minutes.
Add the nuts and raisins and stir well to mix and fry for five minutes more. Then remove from the heat.
Allow to cool and then roll the mixture into small balls. Eat when you like.
This has Taste and is a Treat.