Flax (also known as common flax or linseed) (binomial name: Linum usitatissimum) is a member of the genus Linum in the family Linaceae. It is native to the region extending from the eastern Mediterranean to India and was probably first domesticated in the Fertile Crescent. This is called as Jawas/Javas or Alashi in Marathi. Flax was extensively cultivated in ancient Egypt. New Zealand flax is not related to flax, but was named after it as both plants are used to produce fibers.
Flax is an erect annual plant growing to 1.2 m tall, with slender stems. The leaves are glaucous green, slender lanceolate, 20–40 mm long and 3 mm broad. The flowers are pure pale blue, 15–25 mm diameter, with five petals; they can also be bright red. The fruit is a round, dry capsule 5–9 mm diameter, containing several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip, 4–7 mm long
Flax seeds come in two basic varieties, brown and yellow or golden, with most types having similar nutritional values and equal amounts of short-chain omega-3 fatty acids. The exception is a type of yellow flax called Linola or solin, which has a completely different oil profile and is very low in omega-3. Although brown flax can be consumed as readily as yellow, and has been for thousands of years, it is better known as an ingredient in paints, fiber and cattle feed. Flax seeds produce a vegetable oil known as flaxseed or linseed oil, which is one of the oldest commercial oils and solvent-processed flax seed oil has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.
One hundred grams of ground flax seed supplies about 450 kilo-calories, 41 grams of fat, 28 grams of fiber, and 20 grams of protein.
One tablespoon of ground flax seeds and three tablespoons of water may serve as a replacement for one egg in baking by binding the other ingredients together. Ground flax seeds can also be mixed in with oatmeal, yogurt, water (similar to Metamucil), or any other food item where a nutty flavour is appropriate. Flax seed sprouts are edible, with a slightly spicy flavour. Excessive consumption of flax seeds can cause diarrhea.
Flax seeds are chemically stable while whole, and milled flaxseed can be stored at least 4 months at room temperature with minimal or no changes in taste, smell, or chemical markers of rancidity. Ground flaxseed can go rancid at room temperature in as little as one week. Refrigeration and storage in sealed containers will keep ground flax from becoming rancid for even longer.
Possible medical benefits
Flax seeds contain high levels of lignans and Omega-3 fatty acids. Lignans may benefit the heart, possess anti-cancer properties and studies performed on mice found reduced growth in specific types of tumors. Initial studies suggest that flaxseed taken in the diet may benefit individuals with certain types of breast and prostate cancers. However, the Mayo Clinic reports that the alpha linolenic acid in flaxseed may be associatied with higher risk of prostate cancer, and cautions that those with, or at risk for, prostate cancer should not take flaxseed. A recent meta-analysis found the evidence on this point to be mixed and inconclusive ( Am J Clin Nutr (March 25, 2009). doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.26736Ev1). Flax may also lessen the severity of diabetes by stabilizing blood-sugar levels. There is some support for the use of flax seed as a laxative due to its dietary fiber content though excessive consumption without liquid can result in intestinal blockage. Consuming large amounts of flax seed can impair the effectiveness of certain oral medications, due to its fiber content.
Its high content of alpha linolenic acids has made the ancient flax seed become our modern miracle food. Alpha linolenic acid is a type of plant-derived omega 3 fatty acid, similar to those found in fish such as salmon. Benefits of flax seed as shown in many studies include lowering total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the Bad cholesterol) levels. Other benefits show that flax seed may also help lower blood triglyceride and blood pressure. It may also keep platelets from becoming sticky therefore reducing the risk of a heart attack.
Flaxseed, all rich in omega-3 fatty acids were found to have slightly lower blood pressure than people who ate diets with less of this nutrient. Other parameters which help one to lower blood pressure are eating less salt, losing excess weight, avoiding heavy drinking, eating more fruit and vegetables, whole grains (these provide the body with valuable fibre, minerals, vegetable proteins and other nutrients) and getting more omega-3 fatty acids.
Aside from alpha linolenic acid, flax seed is rich in lignan. Lignan is a type phytoestrogen (antioxidant) and also provides fiber. Researches reveal that lignan in flax seed shows a lot of promise in fighting disease — including a possible role in cancer prevention especially breast cancer. It is thought that lignan metabolites can bind to estrogen receptors, hence inhibiting the onset of estrogen-stimulated breast cancer.
Recent studies also showed positive benefits of flax seed oil in IBD (Crohn’s Disease and Colitis). Flax seed oil seems to be able to heal the inner lining of the inflamed intestines.
Moderately include flax seed in your diet. Indeed, a lot of food products contain flax seed such as bread, cereal and bakery goods. Bakers may use flax seed flour or include flax seed in baking.
Ways to include flax seed in home cooking
* Sprinkle ground flax seed on your cereal and salads.
* Substitute flax seed mixture for eggs in home baking such as muffin and pancake (1 tbsp milled flax seed, plus 3 tbsp water = 1 egg). Final products will have less volume and taste gummier
* Include in other recipe when nutty flavor is preferred
* Substitute flax seed oil for other oils