The Physiomedical Dispensatory by William Cook, M.D., 1869    



Description:  Natural Order, Linaceae.  Flax is an annual plant, with an erect, smooth, and unbranched stem from eighteen inches to two feet high.  Leaves alternate, sessile, smooth, linear- lanceolate.  Flowers in corymbose panicles at the top of the stem, large, light-blue, of five sepals, petals, stamens and styles.  Fruit a roundish capsule, containing ten oblong, flattish, brown and shining seeds.  It is indigenous to Europe, and is extensively cultivated there and in America for the long and flat fiber obtained from the stem, and which furnishes linen.

Properties and Uses:  The seeds of flax contain a large amount of demulcent property, by virtue of which they are very soothing to the mucous membranes of the lungs and bowels, relieving inflamed and irritated conditions, and promoting expectoration and alvine discharges.  Their chief employment is in irritable coughs and similar pectoral difficulties; but, like other demulcents, they may be used in acute inflammation or irritation of the bladder, urethra, and lower intestines.  They are generally used by infusion,  prepared by pouring a pint of boiling water upon an ounce of the seeds and a quarter of an ounce of crushed licorice root, infusing for two hours, and straining.  A nearly boiling heat maintained for one hour, will extract the strength;  but the preparation will soon become ropy and unpleasant.  It is sweetened, and used warm in any desired quantity for irritable coughs, etc.   In recent colds, where acidity of the stomach is not present, this infusion may receive half a drachm of ginger, and then be made quite tart with lemon juice; when a free use of it on going to bed will secure an abundant perspiration of great value.  If the lemon is objectionable, it may be omitted, and a larger proportion of ginger used.

The ground seeds form an emollient and oily poultice, which retains its soft character indefinitely upon inflamed surfaces. Often these have their oil expressed by pressure, and then the oil-cake that remains is ground into a powder, (which is grayish-brown,) and appears in market as linseed meal.  It contains the original demulcent property, but only a little oiliness; and forms a good poultice, or basis for a poultice, but is liable to smell unpleasantly sour after a few hours.  The seeds and meal are not so absorbent as powdered ulmus, but are more emollient; and the two are often mixed.

The oil is the common linseed oil of commerce.  It is usually obtained by grinding the seeds, and then subjecting them to a cold pressure; but steam pressure of about 400 F., is now much used, and yields an oil less liable than the other to smell rancid.   This is emollient, but is scarcely ever used internally; though a fresh article makes a bland purgative, much like sweet oil.  It is a good soothing and shielding application to burns, scalds, and similar irritated surfaces.  It may be mixed with an equal quantity of lime water, when it forms the lime liniment (linimentum calcis) of the U. S. Pharmacopoeia, which is a good soothing application.

 Medical Herbalism journal and