The cultivation of flaxseed reaches back to the earliest periods of history. Both the seeds as well as the cloth woven from this plant fabric have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs. In fact, the first linen mentioned in the Bible has been proven by historians and archaeologists to have been spun from flax.
The flax is a graceful little plant with turquoise blue blossoms, a tall, erect annual 1-2 feet in height. The stems are usually solitary, quite smooth, with alternate, linear, sessile leaves nearly an inch long. The seed vessels with their five-celled capsules are referred to in the Bible as "bolls." When the bolls are ripe, then the flax is pulled and tied in bundles. In order to help in the separation of the fiber from the stalks, the bundles are placed in water for several weeks, and then spread out to dry.
From the crushed or milled seeds comes linseed oil and meal. The oil is applied to wood surfaces in thin layers to form a hard, transparent varnish. Internally the oil is used by some veterinarians as a purgative for sheep and horses; a jelly from the boiled seeds is fed to young calves.
Linseed is rich in mucilage and unsaturated fats, and makes a valuable remedy for many intestinal and chest problems. Taken whole internally, the seeds soothe irritation throughout the digestive tract. They also absorb fluid and swell, drawing in toxins and forming a jellylike mass, which acts as an effective bulk laxative. If the seeds are split before being swallowed, they provide essential fatty acids. To a lesser extent, the seeds benefit the urinary tract. Externally, a poultice of the crushed seeds may be helpful in treating chronic coughs, bronchitis, pleurisy, and emphysema. A poultice of the seeds, or of linseed flour, may be applied to relieve painful boils. A Portuguese recipe recommends linseed oil mixed with red wine to treat wounds.
Flaxseed oil is used today as an Omega 3 supplement. It is beneficial in treating high blood pressure and in lowering serum cholesterol.