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Linseed or flax? They are the same!
But there are some interesting differences!!
The cultivated plant is Linum usitatissimum. “Linseed” and “Flax” when produced as a food or supplement are both exactly the same thing (sometimes!). However the history of the plant, its uses and the marketing of the different names as healthfood in different countries have given rise to much confusion.
When it comes to food or health supplements in the UK the crop we grow is called “linseed”, which is why we still call our products linseed.
However when the North Americans produce linseed for human consumption they call it “flax” We are called Flax Farm to try to bridge the language gap.
The difference between linseed and flax
Both linseed and flax, for whatever purpose it is grown is the species Linum usitatissimum. Within the species different strains the plant have been developed over its centuries of cultivation.
Linseed and flax in the UK
In the UK and most of the rest of Europe “linseed” is the term given to the strains of Linum usitatissimum which tend to have shorter stems, more and fatter seeds. The crop is left in the fields to ripen fully before harvesting. The plant has been grown mainly for its oil which has used for a variety of purposes including paint, varnish and oilcloth. A certain amount of the crop has always been eaten as seed and oil in various parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. North America also grows these varieties of Linum usitatissimum for oil but in North America they only call it linseed when it isn’t going to be cold-pressed. Europe always calls these varieties linseed and tells you it is a food by it’s packaging and the phrase “cold pressed”.
In the past in Europe “flax” referred to the fibre from the stems of Linum usitatissimum used for making ropes and linen fabric and the varieties used grown for fibre. Flax varieties have longer stems, produce fewer seeds and the crop harvested before it is fully ripe. “Flaxseed” was just the name for the seeds used for used for growing the crop for fibre.
Linseed and Flax in North America
As we know English and American English are not the same language but close enough to be really confusing in some areas, one of which is the naming of linseed and flax.
Just to add to the confusion the characteristic that makes linseed so good for preserving wood is that it is rich in omega-3 which is the main reason it is so beneficial for human health.
In North America they still have a huge industry growing linseed which mainly industrially processed for oil. The same sorts of linseed are grown for making omega-3 supplements from the oil and the seeds used ground as a food for improving the digestion; it is then called “flax”.
North America, just like the UK and many other countries in the world, also grows “flax” for the fibre which goes into linen and ropes, etc.
Linen or Flax?
In the UK we have always called the fabric woven from flax fibre “linen”. In North America there has come a fashion for calling the fabric “flax” instead of linen. Whatever it is called an excellent material for making comfortable clothing especially for hot climates.