Linum usitatissimum: Flax

Family: Linaceae
Common name: Common flax, Linseed

Did you know that your favorite linen shirt is made from the fibers of the Common flax plant? Common flax is primarily grown for flax seeds, flaxseed or linseed oil and flax fibers, though they also look good as ornamental plants too, with their beautiful powdery blue flowers. Flax plants grow to a height of 2-3 feet with thin, long, reedy and erect stems.

The leaves are small, green, narrow and elongated; in fact it would be difficult to distinguish a flax plant without its typical flowers and seeds. Flax plants start producing flowers and fruits after 1-2 months of growth. Flowers are usually light blue or white, though yellow and red flowered varieties are also present.

Flax flowers have 5 distinct petals with toothed edges, prominent stamens and beautiful markings radiating from the center of the flower. The plants and flowers look so thin and weak, that you would never imagine a strong fiber like linen coming from this plant. It’s stronger than cotton fibers, more absorbent and durable.

They were favorites in olden days when linen was considered a symbol of purity; worn by priests and royalty. Now, flax is cultivated all over the world, not just for the fibers, but more for the seeds and the oil.

Flax seeds are mostly brown or yellow; both rich in fibers and Omega-3 fatty acids. They aid in weight loss, reducing blood pressure, sugar and cholesterol. Linseed oil or flax oil extracted by pressing the seeds, is a nutritional supplement, and is also used in paints, wood finishing and gilding.

Flax is mostly grown commercially; and harvesting depends on the purpose for which it is grown. For flax fibers, the entire plants is pulled out by the roots about a month after flowering. The fibers then go through multiple processes like retting, dressing, scutching and heckling before they are turned into usable flax fibers.

For flax seeds, the fruits are allowed to mature and turn brown before they are harvested.

Propagation is from seeds.

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