LINSEEDS Linum usitatissimum
Linseed derives from flax, and is the source plant of linen, one of the earliest known fibre plants. It grows best in a mild, somewhat humid climate. In the days of antiquity it was grown as far north as Scotland and as far south as Egypt, where mummies have been found wrapped in linen shrouds that date back thousands of years. The fibres are extracted by a process known as 'retting', which is a time consuming and labour intensive process. The strands of fibre must be cleaned and brushed before they can be spun. They can be spun so fine as to create an almost silken texture or, left rough they can be used for canvass and carpet backing. Flax also provides us with a wonderful, fine quality oil, though the variety grown for the highest yield of oil is not the same as that grown for fibres. Our ancestors used flax oil to fuel their lamps and of course, for cooking. Today it is mostly used to treat wood or may be added to paints to give them a smooth texture and lustrous finish.
But concealed in its seeds, Flax also offers some great (though mostly undervalued) nutritious and healing properties. Food grade Linseed oil is currently being rediscovered for its nutritional benefits. It is the richest vegetable source of omega 3 fatty acids, an essential nutrient that the body can not produce by itself. Particularly vegetarian diets often lack this essential nutrient and Linseed is the perfect source for it. Both the seed and the oil pressed from it have healing properties. (Food grade Linseed oil is not the same as the stuff available from DIY shops, which is boiled to death and contains no nutrients.)
Linseed is best known as a gentle and effective laxative. The seeds contain great quantities of mucilage, which forms a jelly like substance when combined with water. This property helps to make hardened stools soft and easier to pass, while adding bulk and stimulating the peristaltic movement of the bowels. Applied externally a poultice of seeds may also help to soften hardened glands. For example, hardened breasts can be treated with a plaster made from linseed paste. Internally such a paste, when eaten hot, calms and soothes a colicky stomach. The oil or seed plaster can also be used as a first aid treatment for burns and scalds. Linseed tea is soothing for bladder catarrh or inflammation of the urinary tract. Oil and seed are also beneficial for the gallbladder.
Since Flax used to be such an enormously economically important plant there are many rites and customs associated with the herb, most of which focus on encouraging the Flax to grow plentifully and tall (tall flax=long fibres). In modern practice Linseed can be used for fertility and prosperity magic. The seeds are also said to offer protection against evil sorcery. The oil may be used as magical lamp fuel or as a base for anointing oils.