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  • Linum usitatissimum L.
  • Linaceae
  • Flax family

Common Names

herbsChih-ma (Chinese name)
herbsCommon flax
herbsFlax seed
herbsFlax weed
herbsLint bells
herbsToad flax
herbsUma (Sanskrit name)

Parts Usually Used


Description of Plant(s) and Culture

Flax is a delicate annual plant 8-22 inches high; the slender, wiry, glabrous, single, leafy, stem has few branches and bears alternate, sessile, simple, entire, lanceolate to oblong, linear, leaves. The numerous leaves are stalkless, alternate, linear with three parallel nerves. Each branch has one or two, delicate, blue or violet-blue, five-petaled, funnel-shaped, slightly overlapping petals (1/2-3/4 inches across), flowers from June to August. The fruit is an 8- to 10-seeded capsule; the seeds are smooth, flattened, shiny, oval beaked, and light brown. Zones 5-10. Not heat-tolerant. This is the common flaxseed.

Another flax plant, purging flax or fairy flax (Linum catharticum), is common in European meadows and pastures. It has opposite leaves and white flowers. In small quantities the plant has purgative properties; in large quantities it is emetic. An infusion of the dried herb is used.

Caution: large quantities of purging flax can cause fatal poisoning.

Another variety: Blue flax (Linum Lewisii) is known to the Shoshone Indians as "Poohi natesua." This plant's root was steeped for eye medicine. The Paiute Indians called it "Alai natesua" and the whole stem was steeped and used for disorders of the stomach and gas.

Where Found

Widely cultivated in the United States (mostly the northwestern states), Canada, and Europe but also found wild along roadsides, railroad lines, old fields, and in waste places. Native to Europe.

Medicinal Properties

Antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-tussive, demulcent, emollient, laxative, mucilaginous, pectoral, purgative, tonic

Biochemical Information

Glycosides, gum, linamarin, linoleic acid, linolenic acids, mucilage, oleic acid, protein, saturated acids, tannins, and wax, vitamins A, B, D, E, minerals and amino acids

Legends, Myths and Stories

Only mankind eats the starch from the seed and throws away the materials necessary for the metabolism of that starch.

The mucilage of the flaxseed, obtained by boiling in water or wine was once used to give body to red wines.

Cotton and flax were among the earliest substances used for cloth fabric, having been found throughout remains from ancient Egypt and in both the old and new worlds. (linen and linsey-woolsey) Cultivated since at least 5,000 BC. Egyptian mummies were wrapped in linen cloth woven from the stalks of the flax plant.

As early as the Mesolithic period, it was known to man for its usefulness. In that era, flax provided both oil and fiber for garments, as the remains of prehistoric lake dwellers in Switzerland indicate.

In 8th century France, Charlemagne passed laws requiring his subjects to consume the seeds to keep the people healthy.

The cultivation of flax in Egypt can be traced back to the 14th century BC; flaxseed intended as provisions for the last journey was found in Egyptian burial chambers. Hippocrates (around 500 BC) and Paracelsus (Theophrastus von Hohenheim 1493-1541) refer to flaxseed mucilage as a soothing cough remedy.

The flax herb is cultivated in China for its seeds and oil.


Source of linseed oil and linen. Said to be soothing and softening to irritated membranes.

The ground seed mixed with boiling water to make a thick mush is used for poultices. Any herb, such as smartweed, elm bark, hops, mullein, or any other herbs recommended, can be added. Use as a poultice on old sores, boils, inflammations, skin ulcers, wounds, and tumors. Poultices should be changed at least every 2 hours; have a new, hot poultice ready to apply before the old one is removed.

Used for female disorders, colon problems. Promotes strong nails, bones, and teeth and healthy skin. A decoction of the seeds can be used for coughs, catarrh, chronic bronchitis, asthma, pleurisy, fever, dropsy, leprosy, pimples, age spots, burns, scalds, gout, inflammation, cystitis, lung and chest problems, and digestive, gastritis, dyspepsia, diarrhea, and urinary disorders. To eliminate gallstones, take 1 1/2 to 2 tbsp. linseed oil and lie down on your left side for a half hour. The gallstones will pass into the intestines and be eliminated from there. Eating the seeds intact is useful for chronic constipation. The seeds swell up in the intestines, encouraging elimination by increasing the volume of fecal matter. For emollient uses and for rheumatic complaints, apply a linseed poultice. The oil was a folk remedy used for pleurisy and pneumonia.

The seed has been used for ages as a medicine. Take 1 tsp. of the whole seed mixed with water, orange juice, vegetable juice, etc., to provide a gentle lubricant laxative. Or use this mixture as an enema.

To remove foreign bodies from the eye: place a grain of whole flaxseed under the lower lid, close the lids. The seed becomes surrounded by a thick, adherent mucilage, which entraps the foreign body, and soon carries it out from the angle of the eye. If the particle is not removed easily, consult a doctor.

Linseed oil is obtained from the crushed seeds. Flax is also grown for the linen fibers which are obtained from the stems.

Oils from the seeds used in many medications, paints and linoleum.

A flaxseed placed in the eye will remove any foreign matter in the eye.

Formulas or Dosages

Use only ripe seeds. Immature seed pods can cause poisoning.

Infusion: use 1 tsp. seed in 1 cup boiling water, let cool and take 1 or 2 mouthfuls 3 times a day.

Decoction: use 1 tbsp. seed with 1 qt. water. Boil until 1/2 qt. liquid remains. Take in the course of a day.

Poultice: Cook seeds until they are soft (or use pulverized seed). Put them immediately into a linen bag and apply as hot as can be tolerated.

Seeds: For constipation, take 1-2 tbsp. whole seeds, washing them down with lots of water. If necessary, follow with stewed prunes.

Nutrient Content

Vitamins A, B, D, E, minerals and amino acids

How Sold

Linseed oil

Flax seeds


Flaxseeds may not be strong enough for severe constipation and may feed congestion in the colon. Seek professional medical advise if severely constipated or blood in the stool.

Linseed oil deteriorates rapidly, prepare fresh often. DO NOT take artist's linseed oil internally.

Immature seed pods can cause poisoning.

Caution: large quantities of purging flax can cause fatal poisoning.

Contains a cyanide-like compound. Oil may be emetic and purgative.

Overdoses cause respiratory distress and paralysis.

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