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Hemp vs. Flax: Stalk to Seed

Updated on June 28, 2013

Do you know the difference?

Hemp seeds and flax seeds are two nutritionally endowed grains that anyone can easily incorporate into their diet. As the health and nutritional benefits of hemp and flax seeds have come to light, nutritional researchers, as well as health food supporters across the globe are keeping an eye on these mega-grains.

To those who are more recently entering the organic food arena, distinguishing between what grains are right for you considering your overall goal, can be a little overwhelming, and challenging. What are your nutritional goals, do you have any dietary restrictions, and do you have a budgetary threshold?

These are all valid concerns that you will address, when seeking what works for you, in your diet. This article will enable you to recognize a few basic differences between hemp seeds and flax seeds. Understanding the differences will allow you to make an informed decision to meet your nutritional goals. Let’s begin our journey into these super grains with a visual comparison (reference diagram below).


Physical Characteristics

Though hemp and flax have some similarities; you can easily sight the obvious differences between the outward physical characteristics of hemp and flax while viewing the illustration above. Both hemp and flax grow tall and their stalks are lanky. Flax typically attains a maximum height of three feet, with hemp towering flax at a height ranging from ten to twenty feet. If the two were spotted in a field next to each other at equal rates of maturation, you would take immediate notice of the staggering height difference.

The flax stalk harbors relatively sparser leaves, while the hemp stalk boasts larger, more vibrant foliage. The flax flower is that of a dainty blue, with veining of the petal resembling that of a hibiscus flower. Hemp's flowers are more natural in tone, appearing off white in color, its flowers can be found spilling over in a fashion similar to the bleeding heart plants' flowers.The hemp plant is observed by some as having more of a weedy appearance (reference photos below).

Flax Flower

Are you space challenged?
Are you space challenged? | Source

Hemp Flowers


Seeds: Where's the nutrition?

Now that we have had a brief introduction on the plants themselves, let's take a look at the part we are really interested in. Since this article is centered more on the nutritional aspect of flax and hemp, we will refer to the seeds. Minimal observation of both seeds show us a clear difference in the defining qualities of each.

Slightly larger in scale than hemp seeds, flax is also noticeably darker in appearance. Hemp seeds tend to be rounder in overall shape, as you can see flax seeds are shaped almost like a teardrop (reference photo insert below). The nutritional yields of these super grains are comparable; there are a couple major differences though, which we will explore next.

Flax Seeds

Hemp Seeds-Good For Your Overall Health
Hemp Seeds-Good For Your Overall Health | Source

Hemp seeds


Nutritional Values

Both flax and hemp seeds are a valuable nutritional resource, but is one better than the other? Either grain offers an abundance of essential amino acids. From the taste and texture standpoint, hemp seeds are milder, nuttier tasting, and softer than flax seeds.

There is a major difference though, that really sets the two apart, that difference being the sheer ratio of essential fatty acids (reference table below). Though your body needs these essential fatty acids for optimal health, it is worthy to note that your body is unable to biologically produce them. Knowing this fact makes it imperative to integrate EFA's into your daily diet.

Essential Fatty vs. Gamma-Linolenic

Plant Source
EFA Ratio
EFA's are essential fatty acids, Omega's 3&6 are the only two fatty acids that are recognized to be absolutely essential to human health. Table courtesy of author.

Best of both worlds!

Hemp seeds clearly stand out over flax seeds because their ratio of EFAs are optimal for human consumption and digestion. Hemp seeds and flax seeds both prove to be beneficial additions to your diet. Either dietary source can be added to a slew of foods for an instant boost of essential fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid. Use both hemp and flax seeds for a healthy addition to any of your meals. Find more on natural remedies, green health, green issues, low fat recipes, and all things green at The Organic Knowledge Depot.


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