Linseed Oil-Also known as Flaxseed Oil
Latin Name - Linum usitatissimum
Linum is the Latin name for flax, from where we get our word linen.Usitatissimum is the Latin superlative of useful, and this plant finds a host of uses.
The existence of two common names for products from the same plant is due to a deliberate attempt to discriminate between the plant products which are intended for human use (under the banner of flaxseed) and those products which are aimed at commercial exploitation (using the name linseed). This has come about because, although flax has been used for thousands of years, it is only fairly recently that the benefits of the oil have been brought to light in connection with improving the health of people.
The Plant and its Environment
Flax is one of the oldest cultivated plants, a native of Central Asia, and for 7,000 years has always been grown for the useful fibres taken from the stem of the plant, with which cloth was made, a tradition which started off in ancient Mesopotamia and was carried on by the Egyptians (they wrapped their mummies in linen), Greeks and so on. The Romans introduced it to the rest of Europe. Manufacture of Irish linen started about 1,500 years ago. It was introduced into the Argentine - a very large producer - after 1850.
Today many cultivars of flax are grown, long stemmed varieties for the fibres, others for the seed and short stemmed plants bearing large seeds dedicated to the production of oil. Originally Asian, linseed oil is now obtained from flax seed cultivated in Russia, North America, India, Morocco, Argentina and Brazil. It is a tall slim annual ranging from 0.5-1.5 metres (1.5-5 ft) in height, with alternate leaves and attractive blue flowers: the plant grows best in the cool, longer days of the northern climes.
The Linseed Oil of Commerce
Owing to the property that this oil has of uniting with oxygen to form a sticky, and ultimately a dry hard film, it is called a 'drying oil', and therein lies its value as a major component of linoleum (note that the word itself means oil of lin) and its use in paints, varnishes (very useful in the case of cricket bats!0, wood preservatives, oil stains, concept sealers, printing inks, putty, gum erasers, brake linings and hardboard.
Boiled linseed oil dries more rapidly than the raw oil because boiling partially oxidises the oil. Only one oil Aleurites moluccana dries more quickly (Duke 1985). It is one of the few oils that has a high content of a-linolenic acid similar to the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids found in fish oils.
Method of Extraction
Flaxseed Oil: The seeds must be cold pressed (below 40 C) to achieve a good oil, and the oil must be unrefined, unfiltered and not have gone through a deodorising process.
Linseed Oil: The seeds are softened by steam, and the oil pressed out by hydraulic pressure. The yield of oil can exceed 40% by weight of the seed. When the process is complete the exhausted seed cake is used as fodder for cattle.
The use of linseed oil is limited by the practical consideration of its keeping qualities; 4 or 5 months is the limit under good storage conditions(cool, dark, exclusion of air) before the oil starts to break down with respect to its nutritional qualities, although it can be used after this time for massage. Oxygen must be excluded to prevent rancidity; light must be excluded to prevent the formation of free radicals; heat must be excluded to prevent the formation of trans-fatty acids, which do not occur in nature.
The use of linseed oil is limited by the practical consideration of its keeping qualities; 4 or 5 months is the limit under good storage conditions(cool, dark, exclusion of air) before the oil starts to break down with respect to its nutritional qualities, although it can be used after this time for massage.
Oxygen must be excluded to prevent rancidity; light must be excluded to prevent the formation of free radicals; heat must be excluded to prevent the formation of trans-fatty acids, which do not occur in nature.
Flaxseed oil contains vitamin E and B-carotene, a precursor to Vitamin A.
Folk-Lore and Traditional Plant Remedies
Hippocrates noted that linseed oil was helpful for skin disorders, but in the past it has been little used in pharmacy (it is an ingredient in Liquor Cresol Saponatus - Lysol); as an ingredient in paints enormous quantities are consumed . The oil has been recommended as an aid to eliminating unwanted metals from the body. Charlemague (8th century) decreed that flax seeds should be consumed in order to maintain good health (Brown 1995) In Iran a paste made from Linum, Malva and Papaver is applied to boils (Duke 1985 p.344).
The seeds are used as a laxative by providing bulk, and when ground they can be used in poultices for drawing out and for healing . A decoction of the seeds helps ally coughs. Flax also contains Lignans ( phenolic compounds) which have antioestrogenic action; these compounds are found in high quantities in the urine of vegetarian women who have low risk of developing breast cancer.
Linseed oil may be used as an ingredient in poultices for burns and scalds (Bartram 1995) and has been employed to ease the elimination of gallstones. A veterinary use of the oil is as a purgative in animals.
Uses of Linseed Oil for Healthy Skin
linseed oil is soothing to the skin and is used in cosmetic preparations such as shaving creams, medical soaps and emoillents.
The use of Linseed oil in cooking is strictly limited as high temperatures as, for example, in frying will lead to break down of the oil and the formation of toxic substances.[Three tablespoons of crushed flaxseed daily ensures an adequate supply of omega 3 fatty acids (bartram 1995)]
It is dangerous to ingest more than 50 g of the seeds , seek qualified advice before eating any seeds.
Flaxseed contains flycoside, linamarin, which can, in theory, release hydrocyanic acid in the acid environment of the stomach. However no case of this has ever been reported, and millions of animals have eaten linseed over a long period of time.
References: Carrier oils for Aromatherapy and Massage: Len Price with Ian Smith & Shirley Price