flax facts

glasses on library book with steaming tea

My new eye doctor (who is fabulous, by the way, Dr. Summy To at Myoptic up on North Williams Street) recently recommended I start taking flaxseed oil as an anti-inflammatory supplement, so now I'm gulping down a spoonful of this brown-flecked, mild-tasting oil once or twice a day, though I've also begun mixing it in morning smoothies and drizzling it on salads and bowls of oatmeal.

Spectrum organic ultra lignan flaxseed oil; Louet Euroflax sport-weight linen yarn

Flax is one of nature's miracle plants, humans having been manipulating its long bast fiber to weave once-humble linen and paper for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years. (Just think of all those Egyptian mummies wrapped in linen shrouds.)

Linen is, as a result, my favorite fiber for its history, texture, durability, and contemporary luxury. (And who cares about a few textile wrinkles?) I knit with it for summer tops but don't believe it should be worn only in summer. I own woven linen window curtains, pillow covers, handkerchiefs, skirts, shirts, jackets, light sweaters, dresses, and napkins, all of which I've bought secondhand (the handkerchiefs and napkins had never been used). If I had more money, I'd also sleep in linen sheets—not something likely to be found at the thrift store because of how expensive and long-lasting they are new. (Because of being relatively locally produced here on the West Coast, the Rough Linen California brand of linen bedding looks particularly appealing.)

closet linen

Yet since the times of those ancients shrouds and togas, humans have also figured out that not only can we weave but eat it, flaxseed containing high percentages of omega-3 fatty acids crucial to physical health. We also chemically process its oil as linseed oil for linoleum flooring, paints, and woodworking finishes. And we even use linen fiber to make paper currency. Plus, flax flowers in a pretty light blue, today in North America mostly grown in fields across the northwestern prairies of Canada and Montana. How's all that for multipurpose?

grilled cheese on Dave's Killer Bread (w/ flaxseed), mixed baby greens, & curried butternut squash soup on Heath Ceramics

But beware: flax can be deadly. Years ago, while reading Wallace Stegner's Big Rock Candy Mountain, I learned that one can suffocate if fallen unnoticed into a vat of flaxseed, though for most of us, that's a danger easily avoided.

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