Linum Usitatissiumum is what is commonly known as linseed, flax seed or alsi. The other names by which linseed is known as across the globe are—chih-ma, common flax,flax, flax weed, lint bells, toad flax, uma, winterlien. Linseed though initially was cultivated for cattle-feed; it soon caught up with other uses due to a high presence of oil in it. 30-40% of its weight is oil.
It has been cultivated since 3000 BC and records from Babylon too prove the cultivation of linseed. Hippocrates in 650BC has recorded its use for abdominal pains and Theophratus in the same year has mentioned about its use as a cough remedy. Tacitus has praised the virtues of linseed it the 1st century. The benefits if its use was being realised rapidly, so much so that Charlemange passed ‘Law and Regulations’ requiring the consumption of linseed. The ancient Portuguese books mention about linseed being used for treatment of wounds. The linen mentioned in the Bible is also believed to have been made of linseed.
Linseed contains –alpha linolenic acid, linoleic acid oleic acid, stearic acid, palmitoleic acid, protein fibre, and mucilage, minerals like potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, calcium, sulphur, sodium, chlorine, iron, zinc, and traces of magnesium, silicon, copper, fluorine, nickel, cobalt, iodine, molybdenium, and chromium.
Though the therapeutic use of linseed was observed much after it was cultivated, its benefits are well exploited. It is used for-
- Cardiovascular disease
- rheumatoid arthritis
- multiple sclerosis
- muscle soreness
- chronic cough
- bronchitis and pleurisy
- sore throat
- pre menstrual syndrome
- inflammatory tissue conditions
- water retention
- skin conditions especially for boils and abscess as it draws out toxins and absorbs fluid
- calmness under stress
In the 1960s linseed was mainly used for paints, varnishes, linoleum, oil cloth, printing inks. Linseed oil was often used for tempering wood (especially new bats—cricket, hockey etc). Its use was gradually extended to cosmetics and papers. It is highly mucilaginous and is now used in muffins, mixed with muesli, cereal, honey and soft cheese, milkshakes and pancakes.
Linseed or linseed oil is difficult to use as it turns rancid very fast.