There is more to the seeds of Linum usitatissimum plant, much more commonly known as flaxseed, than what meets the eye.
A bit of history. The origin of the flax plant is actually unknown. However, it's quite clear that flax crops were cultivated in ancient Egypt and Greece. Today, there are over 200 species of annual and perennial plants in the flax genus. Just three- to four-foot tall, slender-stemmed flax plants are now grown all over the world.
In ancient times, flax was valued particularly for its fine, light-coloured fibre, from which linens were made. Among the longest and strongest of all natural fibres used by mankind, flax fibres grow stronger when wet, as their high pectin content acts as a kind of glue.
When flax "blooms" with its delicate blue flowers, it is only a short time for the brown seedpods to emerge. Within these pods are seeds that we value so highly today. Flaxseeds and the oil extracted from them through pressing — called linseed oil - have a fairly wide range of use and are growing in mainstream popularity.
One of flaxseed's claims to fame is that it contains large amounts of both omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids [EFAs]. These substances are "essential" because they are required for the body to function, yet are not naturally produced by it. This means you have to consume EFAs, or otherwise introduce them into the body in order to live.
You can get EFAs from several sources, and flaxseed is one of the best, especially for vegetarians.
There are several health-related perks attached to a regular intake of EFAs. Flax seeds are known to lower cholesterol and high blood pressure, support brain function, soothe eczema, ease arthritis, help control diabetes, and reduce skin inflammations.
Grinding flaxseeds releases EFAs, making them more readily available to your body. But, take care to grind only as much as you actually will use for the occasion; ground flaxseed loses its vitality very quickly.
Other nutritive, and therapeutic, components of flaxseed include mucilage, glycosides, and tannins, as well as protein, fibre, magnesium, beta-carotene, zinc, vitamin E, and potassium.
The fibre content of flax is particularly well-known and appreciated.
The combination of soluble and insoluble fibre in flaxseed is essential for healthy digestion. It promotes optimal colon health by stimulating intestinal muscle contractions. As the fibre moves through the intestines, it absorbs water and swells to many times its original size. This helps sweep the intestines clean, assisting in elimination and literally pushing out wastes. Because of this, flaxseeds are one of the best natural defences against constipation and colon cancer.
The high percentage of mucilage in flaxseeds plays its own important part in intestinal health, as well. It soothes and protects inflamed, irritated membranes. In this way, it helps treat diverticulitis and irritable bowel syndrome [IBS].
Things to ponder
Lest you worry that this wonder of the natural world should come with its own set of risks, it's widely agreed that for the average person, when taken in recommended amounts, flaxseed is very unlikely to cause adverse reactions.
In general, centuries of anecdotal evidence and today's clinical understanding of the plant's and seed's chemical structure certainly support its safety. That said, it is worth noting that excessive doses may cause toxic reactions in some, and you should never take a flax preparation that is not designed for human consumption.
Flaxseed is also contraindicated for a person with any kind of bowel obstruction, and due to its swelling and intestine-sweeping actions, consuming flaxseed along with some medications may also negatively affect the way that the medicines are absorbed; the best thing to do is take flaxseed and medicines 2-3 hours apart. This remedies the problem.
Many uses; many benefits
There are many ways to benefit from flaxseed and flaxseed oil:
- A tea prepared from flaxseed can relieve a range of problems, including heartburn, bloating, gas, abdominal cramps and constipation. Drink 1-2 cups of the tea daily along with eight cups of purified water taken throughout the day. For an irritated stomach, sore throat, or urinary tract infection, add a teaspoon of honey and the fresh juice of half a lemon; drink 1-3 cups of this modified tea daily
- Consuming 1 1/2 tablespoon of ground flaxseed [added to cereal, yogurt, or applesauce] daily can help ease menopause and PMS while simultaneously helping to reduce the risk of ovarian and breast cancer
- Conquer constipation by adding 1-2 tablespoons of ground flaxseed to six ounce of yogurt or applesauce, and eating this mixture three times daily for about a week. This combination makes an entire day's worth. You'll need to drink plenty of water during this time. You can up the efficiency of this treatment by taking an additional tablespoon of flaxseed added to one cup of water three times a day. Drinking enough water - 8-10 glasses - is essential for success.
- A paste made out of flaxseed and hot water can help ease joint pain. Make a compress out of the paste by adding it to the middle of a large linen cloth and folding the corners into the centre. Apply this to the affected area and cover it with a dry cloth. Discard the mixture when it has completely cooled. Double this treatment's effectiveness by placing a heating pad, or hot water bottle, over the compress.
- Improve skin and hair texture, combat depression, and reduce your risk of high blood pressure and high cholesterol by taking a good flaxseed oil supplement. The highest quality flaxseed oil supplement will be cold-pressed, organic and kept refrigerated before being sold. Taking 1-3 gm of flaxseed oil daily is useful; up to 9 gm is recommended.
Flaxseeds and flaxseed oils can play an important role in helping you achieve and maintain optimal health.
If you think you may benefit from them, or simply want to know more, check with a holistic health practitioner, or herbalist, in your area.
Flaxseed is a supernutrient. It fights three big health concerns: constipation, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. Fibre is an important component of its healing potential. Flaxseed is also one of the richest sources of lignans. Lignans are converted by our gut bacteria into active forms of phytoestrogens. It is believed that lignans protect the body from the most potent forms of oestrogen, which can promote cancer. Vegetarians seem especially likely to reap the benefits of lignans, since studies show that urinary levels of this fibre are higher in them than non-vegetarians. Flaxseed is not just a wonderful supplement, it is also a valuable detox agent. Flaxseed eliminates harmful toxins from the body. It also helps ease a wide range of conditions, including lupus, an inflammatory disorder, high cholesterol states, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, and so on.
- RICHARD Firshein in The Nutraceutical Revolution [Three Rivers Press]
Pour 1 cup of cold water over 1-2 teaspoon of whole flaxseed. Soak for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally; strain. Warm the tea slightly before drinking.
Soak 1/2 cup of flaxseed in 1/2 cup of hot water for about 10 minutes or until swollen. Optional: smash the soaked, swollen seeds with a spoon, or fork, before adding to a compress.
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