Flax is one of the oldest known crops on Earth. The use of flax fiber to make linen goes back at least to ancient Egyptian times. The flax fiber is extracted from the stem of the plant and can be used for many things. In addition, the seed, oil, lignans, and flax protein all have potential health benefits and has been used for medicinal purposes throughout history and is becoming even more widely used today. The Latin name of the flaxseed is Linum usitatissimum, which means “very useful”, and is very accurate!
Flax is native to the eastern Mediterranean and India. It has slender leaves and pale blue or purple flowers. In the United States, flax was first introduced by colonists to produce fiber for clothing. Today, every part of the flaxseed plant is utilized commercially, either directly or after processing. The stem yields good quality fibers having high strength and durability. It is a natural and biodegradable composite, and is stronger than cotton. It is also used in paper products. Currently 51% of the world's flax crops are grown in the Americas, with the number one country in global trade of flax being Canada.
According to the National Library of Medicine, "Flaxseed is emerging as an important functional food ingredient because of its rich contents of α-linolenic acid (ALA, omega-3 fatty acid), lignans, and fiber. Flaxseed oil, fibers and flax lignans have potential health benefits such as in reduction of cardiovascular disease, atherosclerosis, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, osteoporosis, autoimmune and neurological disorders.
The protein content of flaxseed varies from 20 to 30%. Flax protein helps in the prevention and treatment of heart disease and in supporting the immune system. Whole flaxseed, flaxseed meals and isolated proteins are also rich sources of glutamic acid/glutamine, arginine.
Flax contains up to 800 times more lignans than other plant foods. Flax lignans are phenolic compounds formed by the union of two cinnamic acid residues. Lignans are ubiquitous within the plant kingdom and are present in almost all plants. Lignans act as both antioxidants and phytoestrogens."
Flaxseed oil is the food grade name but it is also known as linseed oil when its used for other things than human consumption, like in paints and stains. Linseed oil is very nourishing to wood also, making it more resistant to wear, and it is inexpensive and natural.
New Zealand Flax
In the Southern Hemisphere there is New Zealand flax, Phorium tenex and Phorium colensoi, native to New Zealand and is very useful is similar ways, although visually quite different than the Northern Hemisphere flax.
The Māori people of New Zealand relied on it for fiber to make everything from clothes to ropes, baskets, fishing nets and more. It is very important to their culture throughout their history. It got called flax when European settlers came to New Zealand and saw it was useful for fiber like the flax at home.
New Zealand flax grows extremely well in Southern California's climate and throughout the western states where there is lots of sun. It can range from light to dark green, rusty orange to reds and even purple in it's long, pointed leaves. Besides growing easily and being drought tolerant, it is low maintenance. It has become more popular for ornamental use globally than for fiber production, now a popular landscape element. It adds a stunning look to any garden with it's upward long blade leaves, and looks different than most other plants. Sometimes it sends up a long single stalk with red or yellow tubular blooms that hummingbirds and other pollinators love.
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