Flax is a member of the linaceae family. Its binomial name is Linum usitatissimum. The flax plant is used for its fibrous characteristics which make linen and yarns as well as for its seeds. Most commonly, flax seed is used for medicinal effects - these medicines come from the seed only. It is identified by its brown coloring and shinny, almost waxy coating. The flax seed is the seed of this dicot plant which is made distinctive by its slim stem and lavender blue petals. The flax seed is known to help lower cholesterol, is rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. It is also known as linseed.

Linaceae family

According the the Britannica Online Encyclopedia, Linaceae, more commonly referred to as the flax family contains over 250 species further divided into 14 genera of herbaceous plants and shrubs. The Linaceae family is a family of flowering plants that grows on most continents including but not limited to western Europe, Asia, North and South America, Africa, and Australia; therefore it is known as cosmopolitan (is can be grown in many geographic locations).

Important Members of the Linaceae Family

Flax is known as the most important of all the genera in the Linaceae family as it has the widest range of uses and is used the most by consumers. Another member of the Linaceae family is the Reinwardtia which is a low shrub that produces seeds that are referred to as yellow flax.

Distinguishing characteristics of the Linaceae Family

The Linaceae family is a eudicot that is characterized most often by five petals that are of a light blue or light purple hue. Some species of the family can produce yellow or white flowers as well. The stem of the plant is slender and bright green. The plants are usually very small and only grown to about three to four feet.

external image flax_flowers_good_big.jpgexternal image flickr-3522056495-original.jpg

The fruits are are often dry and brown. The outer shell of the plant is peeled away and inside lies the seeds.
In the case of the flax plant, the seeds inside the fruit are harvested for medicinal effects are small, oval, brown, and glossy. The seeds can be difficult to harveexternal image FlaxSeedWhole.jpgst as they are locked inside of the fruits however, damage during harvest is unlikely as the seeds are very hard.external image Flaxseed-capsules.jpg

Geographic Distribution of Flax

Flax has been used for centuries. It was first domesticated by farmers in the Fertile Crescent, was consumed by ancient Romans, and was used to make fabric that wrapped Egyptian mummies. They grow best in moderate summer weather and moderate rainfall. It does not grow well in rocky, dry soils or extra moist soils. It is still grown in the United States, mainly in the north (Minnesota and Wisconsin). It is grown in select places on a majority of the continents: Europe, Asia, central Africa, Southern Australia, and North and South America. It is widely traded and widely used on all continents for its nutritional and medicinal effects.

Use and Efficacy

How is the flax seed used?external image 20060315flaxbread2.jpg
Flax has a wide range of uses. It is used for consumption both whole and ground. It can be baked into breads and other bakery products such as muffins, waffles, and granola, or blended into fruit and vegetable smoothies. The medicinal affects of the seed are most effective when ingested. It can also be applied to the skin for external uses. According to researchers, the fiber in the flax seed coat connects with the cholesterol in body and does not allow the cholesterol to be absorbed by the body thus lowering the buildup and lowering cholesterol.

What is the flax seed used to treat?
Flax seed is used to treat many different ailments and is also used as a preventative measure for many health issues that may arise. It's uses include but are not limited to:
  • Lowering hemoglobin A1c (blood sugar)
  • Lowering cholesterol in those with "bad cholesterol"
  • Improving kidney function
  • Imprving the strength of bones
Omega-3 Fatty Acids that are contained in the flax seed are known to help lower the risk of heart disease. Omega-3s are also helpful for our brain and eye function. It is an energy source that is necessary for our bodies. The flax seed contains high levels of Omega-3s. The flax seed ground also has extremely high dietary fiber which is associated with aiding in constipation and other colon related issues. The flax seed provides the human body with natural energies and good fatty acids it needs. Eating a diet rich in flax can help people stay healthy and avoid high "bad cholesterol" and keep the internal organs functioning smoothly.

What are the flaxseeds active compounds?
The flax seed is hexternal image flaxseed-nutrition.jpgigh in fat (however, this fat is a "good fat"), dietary fiber and protein. It offers the body high levels of the daily need for Calcium and Iron. These nutritional attributes are what make the seed so healthy for those who consume a diet high in flax seed. Dr. Michel Aliani, the director of the George Weston Sensory Research Center conducted research that supports the studies that state the flax seed contains lignans, a grouping of chemicals that are antioxidants and can help certain cancers.

Proof that it works? How good is the evidence?
A number of studies have been performed by many organizations and all have found that the Omega-3 fatty acids found in flax seeds together with the lignans help the body stay health. According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database flax seeds ability to lower blood sugar and "bad" cholesterol is effective and has been proven by many other studies. Many reputable organizations such as the University of Maryland Medical Center and the University of Wisconsin together with the aforementioned.

Side-effects or possible drug-interactions?
A diet that includes regular consumption only has healthy side effects. As with any substance that is being used in the human body, any excessive ingestion could cause backups in the intestines and/or a backup in the arteries. The consumption of the dry fruit produced by the plant is thought to be poisonous if ingested. It has also been said that eating a lot of flax seed can interfere with anti-biotics or Tylenol however, these have not been proven.


"Flaxseed ." U.S. National Library of Medicine. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health , 14 Dec. 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2012. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/991.html>.
Gray , Nathan. "Beyond the heart and brain: Emerging benefits of omega-3." NutraIngredients-USA. 24 Aug. 2011. Web. 9 Jan. 2012. <http://www.nutraingredients-usa.com/Research/Beyond-the-heart-and-brain-Emerging-benefits-of-omega-3>.
Oplinger , E.S., and J.D. Doll. "Flax." Alternative Field Crops Manual. University of Wisconsin-Madison, 18 Nov. 1997. Web. 9 Jan. 2012.
"Flaxseed, a wonderfood that helps lower blood pressure, cholesterol and other ailments." Natural Health and Home Business , 1 Jan. 2009. Web. 9 Jan. 2012. <http://www.natural-health-and-home-business.com/Flaxseed.html>.
"Flax." Britannica Online Encyclopedia . Encyclopedia Britannica , 2011 . Web. 9 Jan. 2012. <http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/209841/flax>.
"Blue Flax Flower" <http://www.flickr.com/photos/eddienewton/3991681044/>
"Flax Flowers" <http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-73sLd_GAWD4/Tm3LW_2D0XI/AAAAAAAAAPw/c9hP37wJ3qI/s400/flax-flowers.gif>
"Flax Seeds" <http://www.wholespice.com/display.asp?id=1357>
"Flax Fruit" <http://www.natural-health-and-home-business.com/Flaxseed.html>
"Flax Bread" <http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/flaxseedwheatbread>
"Nutrition Facts" <NutritionData.com>