History of Linseed & Flax

Linseed and Flax Plant

(L-R) Linseed and Flax


LINSEED

Linseed Flower

Linseed is a short stemmed plant, and like Flax is a cultivar of linum usitatissimum, which in latin means: most useful.  Linseed has been used for thousands of years. Although the key difference between them is Linseed, unlike Flax, puts all of its inherent energy into producing Linseed (seeds).

Our Linseed is  grown to produce oil but the seed is used in an array of food products and is classed as superfood due to it's rich content of essential fats Omega 3 and Omega 6, but all the Vitamins and Minerals and the fact it is High Fibre, Low Carbohydrate, Gluten Free, Low GI (glycemic index) and has the highest content of lignan than any other seed. This is why fresh linseed should be a part of everyone's diet!

Linseed has been grown and used for thousands of years and can be dated back to the neolithic times.  Used as an addition to food in either whole or ground form (Milled for us, as the husk of the seed needs breaking to release all the goodness inside. The whole seed will pass through as roughage otherwise) or the seed can be cold pressed to produce linseed oil (also sold as flaxseed oil).

Gold and Brown linseed

Laws were passed requiring people to consume linseed (flax) for its health benefits by King Charlemagne in the 8th century.  

Linseed was one of the original medicines, used by Hippocrates the Greek physician as a relief to intestinal abdominal pains. Hippocrates famously quoted  “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”! 


Muhatma Gandhi quoted "Wherever linseed (Flaxseed) becomes a popular food item amongst the people, there will health"!


Linseed Oil Cake Post Card






The bi-product of linseed oil is linseed oil cake, which was given to cattle as a fattening feed.  Where linoleum was being produced in Scotland during 19th century, their cattle benefited greatly from this cake and it is why Scotch Beef is so famous!





FLAX

The Flax plant (not the linseed plant) is a plant grown for its stem, it has far fewer seeds than linseed and was pulled by hand before the seed ripened. People growing it would save a part of their crop so future seed stocks were available. Flax is a fibre plant and therefore very good for making rope, string and obviously linen and a whole array of other uses. It dates back as far as the neolithic times some 6,000 years ago. In ancient Egypt the mummies  would have been all wrapped in a linen made from flax.

Irish Flax Spinning St Patricks Day

Flax Spinning - St Patricks Day

Flax and linseed are members of the same family, linum usitatissimum. They are both ancient plants used for thousands of years.  Flax has been used most commonly in the linen industry.  Irish Linen was world famous but is an industry that has now pretty much disappeared, possibly due to the influx of cotton.

The five processes of making linen to flax are: Pulling, Retting, Breaking, Scutching, Heckling (Hackling) and Spinning.

A Flax Spinning wheel

The Barbour Bros Co. Established in 1784 who produced the "Strongest, Smoothest and Best Linen Thread in the World" talked about the types of hand and their characteristics. Which is fascinating! What type of hand do you have?

Also in 1895, to celebrate 111 years of Progress they issued a set of 12 dolls to be collected which we have in our Linseed & Flax museum and thought we would share with you.

Flax Spreading Northern Ireland

Flax Spreading in Northern Ireland

The Sails and Bow ropes on Admiral Lord Nelsons fleet would have been made from the fibres of the flax plant.  A strong connection with this is the village of Coker in Dorset, a well known area for growing flax, which is where Nelson would have sourced for his entire fleet.


The fibres that are produced from the stem of the flax plant are so strong and versatile.  Below is a picture of a close up which shows the fine arrangement of the fibres.  

Spirals in a flax fibre

A close up of the Spirals in flax fibres