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Linum usitatissimum, Common Flax, Linseed


Linseed is grown for its edible seed, the oil from the seed and for the fibres obtained from the stems.

Linseed has a very long history of cultivation in temperate climates with evidence to show that it was being grown in Egypt over 5,000 years ago.

It fell into almost complete disuse in Britain in the 20th century as artificial fibres were increasingly used, but it is once again coming into prominence both as a fibre and as an oilseed crop.

Linseed is a good companion plant for potatoes and carrots but is inhibited by Camelina sativa.

Linseed has a long history of medicinal use.

A fibre is obtained from the stem. It is of very high quality and is used in making cloth, sails, nets, paper, insulating material etc.

The seed of some strains contain cyanogenic glycosides in the seed though the toxicity is low, especially if the seed is eaten slowly. It becomes more toxic if water is drunk at the same time. The cyanogenic glycosides are also present in other parts of the plant and have caused poisoning to livestock.

Prefers a light well-drained moderately fertile humus-rich soil in a sunny sheltered position. Plants grow best in a well-drained, loamy soil, those overlying a clay subsoil produce the best results.

Very light highly fertile soils are not desirable as they produce tall rank growth tending to lodge. Plants are more sensitive to salt than most field crops. Prefers a cool moist climate during the growing season, dry weather making the plants short and woody.

Plants help to break up organic matter and prepare the soil for following crops.

Sow early to late spring in situ. Do not transplant the seedlings.

Edible uses

Seed - raw or cooked. The seed contains 30 - 40% oil, which comprises mainly linoleic and linolenic acids. The seed also contains cyanogenic glycosides (prussic acid). In small quantities these glycosides stimulate respiration and improve digestion, but in excess can cause respiratory failure and death.
The seed is used in breads and cereals, it can also be sprouted and used in salads. The seed is hard to digest and provokes flatulence.
The roasted seed is said to be a coffee substitute.
A herbal tea can be brewed from the seed.
An edible oil is obtained from the seed, though it needs to be properly refined before it can be eaten. Some caution is advised in the use of the seeds for food since some varieties of this plant contain toxins.

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