Flaxseed has quite a long and varied history.  Flax has been used internally as an aid in digestive ailments, such as constipation, and externally, as a poultice for inflammation, as well as fabric for clothing.  The French king Charlemagne thought so highly of flax that he passed a law requiring his subjects to eat flaxseed for their health. 
Today, flax is a major crop in Canada.  In 2009-2010, Canada produced just over 930,000 tonnes of flax and averages around 750,000 tonnes each year.  China, the European Union, and the United States are the primary buyers of Canadian flax. Flax has clearly become a very popular commodity, but why?  Flaxseed is a precious source of omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs).  EFAs are essential nutrients that our bodies cannot make on their own, and must therefore be sourced from our diet.  EFAs play an important role as building blocks for cells throughout our bodies and are especially important for skin, brain, heart, and immune health.  Sources of omega-3 are relatively scarce, compared to omega-6, especially for vegetarians, vegans and those who don’t consume fish.  Flax contains omega-3 and omega-6 in a ratio of approximately 5:1 in favour of omega-3.  The typical North American diet can be as high as 32:1 in favour of omega-6 due to how common omega-6 oils are.  Two teaspoons of good quality flax oil provide 5g of omega-3 fatty acids.  The omega-3 in flax oil is called alpha linolenic acid (ALA); once digested, our bodies convert ALA into other forms of omega-3, such as the DHA and EPA found in fish oil. 
Flax oil is a food that supplies large amounts of ALA, while fish oil is a supplement that provides smaller amounts of DHA and EPA. All of these omega-3 fatty acids play a role in our bodies.  Studies have found specifically ALA to benefit cardiovascular health. Research also shows that ALA can be converted to EPA at a rate of about 5-10% and DHA at a rate of about 2-5%.1   These conversion rates vary because they depend on many factors such as diet (vegetarians convert better than meat eaters), gender (women convert better than men), genetics and one’s state of health (some health conditions including eczema and diabetes may be linked to lesser conversion).  In addition, comparing flax to fish oil, flax does not require the same amount of processing as fish oil, it is more sustainable long-term, and it isn’t exposed to the same level of oceanic pollutants as fish oil, leading many to believe that it is a cleaner, more sustainable option. 
Flax is a common, organically grown crop that can also receive non-GMO certification.  In the 1990s, a genetically modified flax seed, nicknamed “Triffid” was developed at the University of Saskatchewan, but ultimately wasn’t approved for use and was ordered destroyed.  Unfortunately, traces of Triffid were found in some Canadian flax in 2010 and the EU began refusing shipments. Since then, Canadian farmers have been recommended to use only seeds certified as Triffid-free in an effort to reduce any possible future traces.  Because genetically modified flaxseed was never approved for planting or human consumption, its safety is unknown.  Flax oil manufacturers can purchase from farmers who use only certified seeds and can get third party GMO testing/verification if they wish. 
Flax oil, like most oils, is best taken with food and there are many ways to incorporate it into your diet.  Omega-3s are fragile and can be destroyed by heat, light, and oxygen.  Flax oil should never be used for cooking or frying foods, but it can be added to food just before eating.  It should be kept refrigerated and generally used up within 3-4 weeks of opening for optimal freshness.  Some popular ways to use flax oil with food are in salad dressings, blended into smoothies, drizzled on top of pasta, or mixed with rice and vegetable dishes.  You can also start the day with it by adding it to your oatmeal, or fruit, yogurt and granola.  It generally has a slightly nutty taste with just a hint of bitterness at the end, which can vary a bit depending on the harvest that year.  It’s a very easy and economical way to start getting more healthy omega-3s into your diet, especially for those who don’t eat fish very often, or at all.

1.Publication: The Canadian journal of cardiology; Publication Date: 2010 
Study Author(s): Rodriguez-Leyva, Delfin;Dupasquier, Chantal M C;McCullough, Richelle;Pierce, Grant N; 
Institution: Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences, St Boniface Hospital Research Centre and Department of Physiology, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba.