Flax is one of the most ancient of useful herbs. Its Latin name, Linum usitatissimum, means "most useful." Flaxseed excavated from ancient Greek archeological sites has been dated back to 1900 to 1700 B.C., and the use of flaxseed is inscribed on tablets at Pylos. Both the Greek historian Thucydides and the Roman Pliny mention the use of flax for food. In fact, so impressed with this gift of nature Pliny wrote, "What department is to be found in active life in which flax is not employed?" Of flax Bartholomew had this to say, "None herbe is so needfull to so many dyurrse uses to mankynde as is the flexe." And Dioscorides extolled flaxseed's power for "mollifying all inflammation inwardly and outwardly." Hippocrates encouraged the use of flaxseed for the relief of abdominal pains, while Theophrastus recommended flax mucilage as a cough remedy. Hildegarde of Bingen used flax meal in hot compresses for the treatment of both external and internal ailments.
The value of flax to these early cultures is reflected in the rich folklore that surrounds the plant. Flax was believed to be a blessed plant; one that could bring good fortune and restore health. French leader Charlemagne, so impressed with the herb's culinary, medicinal, and domestic usefulness, passed laws and regulations requiring its cultivation and consumption. Flax was much loved and widely cultivated throughout Europe after that, and its cultivation and use continued to expand to other lands and cultures.