Linum usitatissimum Linaceae Also called Linseed

The slender, graciful flax is a herbaceous annual that is cropped throughout Europe. Its seeds, known as linseed, are widely used in herbal medicine and yield a valuable oil; the fibres if its stalks are used to make linen. Flax grows to about 1 m in height and bears beautiful sky-blue flowers. The pea-sized fruits contain ten oily seeds.

Parts used

  • Seeds
  • Flax is a major arable crop. It is harvested in late summer.
  • The fruits are crushed to release the seeds, from which linseed oil is then extracted.
  • Both whole and ground seeds are used in herbal medicine.
  • The meal - what is left of the seeds once the seed oil has been extracted - is also used.


For internal use

TO TREAT chronic (long-term) constipation, disorders of the colon, inflammation of the gastric and intestinal mucous membranes.

MACERATION Put 15-20g of seeds into 1 litre of cold water. leave to soak overnight and strain. Drink 1 glass in the morning before eating and then 4-5 glasses during the day, but not at mealtimes.

WHOLE SEEDS Take 15-20 seeds with a glass of water three times a day.

For external use

TO TREAT spots and boils, itching, bruising, painful joints POULTICE Slowly pour water onto flax meal stirring all the while until it has become a smooth paste. Warm this gently and spread it, still slightly warm, in a layer about 1cm thick onto a piece of gauze. Apply to the affected part one to three times a day.



The seed is made up of 35-45 per cent oil. linseed oil is rich in omega-3 unsaturated fatty acids which protect against heart and circulation problems and are antiinflammatory. The seed also contains proteins, mucilage, cholesterollowering phytosterols, anti-inflammatory lignans and cyanogenic glycosides which are antispasmodic.

Medicinal uses

Flax seed is a gentle laxative. It is used to treat long-term constipation and colon disorders. It contains mucilage that lines and soothes the mucous membranes of an irritated digestive system and painful bowel.

The phytoestrogens in the seeds appear to have a beneficial effect on some breast and colon cancers. And a paper published in the American Journal of Kidney Disease in 2001 reported linseed's potential in the treatment of kidney disorders.

US research in New Jersey, in 1993 showed that flax seed reduced blood cholesterol in patients with high blood cholesterol levels. And an American paper published in 2000 suggested the seeds might benefit people with atherosclerosis.

Flax meal has long been used externally as a poultice for skin disorders such as spots and boils, itching, ulcers and bruising. It also helps to soothe painful joints.


Sow seeds in spring in well-drained soil in a sunny location.


  • No adverse effects or toxicity have been recorded to date.
  • Do not use if you have prostate cancer or an intestinal blockage.
  • Do not combine with other drugs, laxatives or stool softeners.
  • Do not use flax if pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • Do not use immature seeds, or meal past its sell-by date; its residual oil content causes it to go rancid.


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