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Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Linseed comes from the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum, which is cultivated chiefly for the production of linen. Most of the seed is made into linseed oil, largely used in connection with paints, and cattle cake. Nevertheless, linseed itself is sometimes used as a food grain in India, where the species originated and where flax has been cultivated since earliest times. Linseed was also eaten in classical Greece and Rome.

In more recent times there are various instances of the use of linseed for human food. Thus Smith and Christian (1984) note that linseed oil was one of the vegetable oils which was important during fasts in medieval and post-medieval Russia. ‘Hemp and flax seeds … were used in dishes with peas, for instance, or gave oil which was either an element in various dishes or the medium in which they were cooked.’ They quote a Russian source to show that linseed oil was among those used for making fish dishes for the table of the Tsar in the 17th century.