Tuesday, November 10, 2009
Flax seed has been an important part of our diet for a number of years now and we always seem to find room for a patch of it somewhere in the garden. Our golden flax is supposed to be an extremely rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. These acids can be obtained from various sources: fish, purslane, nuts, and one of the very best sources is flax, having up to twice the amount as fish oil. The beneficial aspects of this seed are too numerous to mention in any detail. Let's just say that there is more than enough evidence to support the fact that these essential fatty acids are a very important part of a healthy diet, thus we grow flax, purslane, and eat both fish and nuts upon occasion.
But... there is always a but isn't there? A lot of controversy surrounds the facts about whether or not the average person can break down the constituents of flax, or any plant based omega-3, into the beneficial nutrients it provides as easily as with fish or nuts, especially those individuals who are not healthy to begin with. Me? I don't worry much about such things. We simply attempt to partake in all of these foods rather than concentrating on only one as a source of nutrition, hence a well balanced diet.
For us, flax has been a relatively easy crop to grow. After the last frost we plant ours a couple inches apart in a series of rows that run the width of the bed, we do it this way so that we are still able to weed in between the plants. Once our flax reaches a certain height the plants tend to fall over if we do not provide adequate support for them, support is provided by putting up a simple grid of twine that helps to hold the plants in place. One of the downfalls of having a sandy soil is that everything seems to need a little extra help remaining vertical. They grow well for us in partial sun with fairly rich soil, although I have seen many a stray volunteer thrive in the worst possible locations.
Perennial golden flax produces lovely sky blue flowers that will readily re-seed themselves each year if left to their own devices. We harvest ours when the vast majority of the seed heads have turned brown. The stalks are cut just below the last seed branch and set aside to finish drying for a few weeks at which point the seed is easily threshed out. The seeds are then stored in glass jars in a cool area with low humidity as flax has a tendency to become rancid due to the high oil content, especially once it is ground into flour. Ground flax can be kept in the freezer for a couple months or the refrigerator for a few weeks.
One of the more interesting things about flax is it's many and varied uses that stretch far beyond it's dietary supplementation. The plant via it's seeds and stalks can be used to make linseed and vegetable oil, paper, insulation, dye, hair gel, soap, thickening agents, fabric and the list goes on.
I really got to thinking about this the other day when Stefani from http://siciliansistersgrow.blogspot.com/ was kind enough to share a fellow bloggers brilliant post about the importance of textiles - http://abbysyarns.com/2007/10/should-everyone-spin-another-yarn-manifesto. In thinking about that post it dawned on me that in growing flax I have a source of textiles right in my back yard. We may indeed have to experiment with this aspect of flax in the future. Also, I found this most interesting essay on how to grow your own bowstring using flax stalks. This gives one a vision into how easily this plant material could be turned into a rough fiber that would have a wide array of applications that are directly related to the self sufficiency facet of our lives. -http://www.primitiveways.com/bowstring.html