The History of Linseed: A Journey Through Time
Linseed, whose scientific name is Linum usitatissimum, has a rich history closely related to the evolution of human civilisations. This small yet powerful grain has not only been a staple food in many cultures, but the plant has also played a crucial role in textile development. This article explores the historical journey of linseed, highlighting its importance in different periods and cultures.
Linseed, originally from the Fertile Crescent region, is one of the oldest farmed plants in the world. Archaeological records suggest that it was grown over 10,000 years ago in the region now comprising Syria, Türkiye and Iraq. Around 3000 BC, the Egyptians not only cultivated linseed for food and oil, but they were also master weavers of flax, a symbol of pureness and light, commonly used by priests and in mummification rituals.
Expansion through European Cultures
Linseed spread through Europe with migration and trade. The Greeks and Romans added it to their diets and the flax to make clothing. Flax was fundamental in Europe in the Middle Age, as it was more common than cotton. North European countries, such as Belgium and Ireland, were known for their production of high quality cloth.
Linseed was mainly used in Asia for its seeds and oil. In countries such as India, linseed was used in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for its nutritional and medicinal properties.
Following the arrival of Europeans to America, linseed farming spread to the New World. The settlers grew it mainly for textile and clothing, although the seeds were also used as food and medicine.
Nutritional Rediscovery in the 20th and 21st Centuries
In recent decades there has been a revival in the popularity of linseed due to its high content in Omega-3, fibre and lignans, which have antioxidant and oestrogenic properties. Scientific studies have highlighted the benefits of linseed in preventing cardiovascular diseases, reducing cholesterol and its possible role in reducing the risk of certain types of cancer.