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Flax as an Herb

Flax as an herb

Linum usitatissimum

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.

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.

Flax Flower 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.

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 Flaxseed 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 Flaxseed 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 is Approved by Commission E for:

  • Constipation
  • Inflammation of the skin

Culinary Uses

For much more information on flax for culinary use and more, visit our page on 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: Flaxseed 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.


The oil deteriorates rapidly so must be kept cold.

Use only ripe seeds as immature seed pods can cause poisoning.

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