Flax - a mini EcoTip
Industrial hemp might have a nomenclature problem, having been erroneously associated with hallucinogenic marijuana. But flax has its own name hassles. Most people don't know what it is. And this stems somewhat from its scientific name of Linum usitatissimum. That last bit of Latin apparently meaning 'most useful.' Being so useful, it turns up in many places with other names. In textiles, for instance, its moniker is linen. In foodstuffs and industrial applications we refer to it as linseed. In durable flooring it's known as linoleum (an association it shares with a few friends like limestone, cork and jute). So the poor old thing has a bit of an identity crisis. And it is an old thing. Some research suggests it was being cultivated easily before 3,000 BC. Like many important crops it originally flourished in the fertile crescent of the Middle East. But now is fairly wide spread from New Zealand to Canada. And indeed the latter is considered, "the world's leader in the production and export of flax — a position it has held since 1994."It is a 'most useful' plant. The fibre makes for robust fibre that blends well with its tougher buddy, hemp. Historically it was used for home furnishings, hence terms like 'table linen', 'linen press' and such forth. These days the fibre is also showing up in automotive door panels and the like. The seed of the plant is highly nutritious. It is a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, polyunsaturated fat. Additionally it's reported to be "one of the richest plant sources of lignans, providing up to 800 times more lignans than most other foods in a vegetarian diet." Lignans, you ask? Also know as phytoestrogens — those cancer protective compounds, that soy advocates get all excited about. As the seed can yield up to 35% oil, it has been pressed into service for everything from paints and varnishes to putty.