It is an erect annual plant growing to 120 cm tall, with slender stems. The leaves are glaucous green, slender lanceolate, 2-4 cm long and 3 mm broad. The flowers are pure pale blue, 1.5-2.5 cm diameter, with five petals. The fruit is a round, dry capsule 5-9 mm diameter, containing several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip, 4-7 mm long.
In addition to the plant itself, flax may refer to the unspun fibres of the flax plant.
Flax is grown both for seed and for fibre. It is also grown as an ornamental plant in gardens, as flax is one of the few truly blue flowers (most "blue" flowers are really shades of purple).
The seeds produce a vegetable oil known as linseed oil or flaxseed oil. It is one of the oldest commercial oils and solvent-processed flax seed oil has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing. The seeds are edible, and cold pressed linseed oil is suitable for human consumption; it is one of the most concentrated plant sources of the omega-3 alpha-linolenic acid, and its use as a nutritional supplement is increasing. Brown and yellow flax have equal amounts of omega-3 except for a type of yellow flax called solin which is very low in omega-3and has a completely different oil profile.
Consuming one to two tablespoons of ground flax seeds (from a coffee or spice grinder) or one teaspoon of fresh linseed oil daily is a possible alternative to oily fish or fish oil supplements (also high in omega-3 fatty acids) for vegetarians/vegans, and for those who are concerned about high levels of heavy metals (such as mercury) in fish, although quality cod liver oil supplements are certified free of heavy metals. One tablespoon of ground flax seeds and three tablespoons of water makes an excellent replacement for one egg in baking by binding the other ingredients together, and ground flax seeds can also be mixed in with oatmeal, yogurt, water (similar to Metamucil), or any other food item where a nutty flavour is appropriate. Flaxseed oil is most commonly consumed with salads or in capsules. The health benefits of ground flax seed are also due to the lignans and dietary fibre it contains, in addition to omega-3 fatty acids.
Flax fibres are amongst the oldest fibre crops in the world. The use of flax for the production of linen goes back 5000 years. Pictures on tombs and temple walls at Thebes depict flowering flax plants. The use of flax fibre in the manufacturing of cloth in northern Europe dates back to pre-Roman times. In North America, flax was introduced by the Pilgrim fathers. Currently most flax produced in the USA and Canada are seed flax types for the production of linseed oil or flaxseeds for human nutrition.
Flax fibre is extracted from the bast or skin of the stem of flax plant. Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fibre but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such as damasks, lace and sheeting. Coarser grades are used for the manufacturing of twine and rope. Flax fibre is also a raw material for the high-quality paper industry for the use of printed banknotes and rolling paper for cigarettes.
The major fibre flax-producing countries are the former USSR, Poland, France, Belgium, Ireland, and the Czech Republic.
The soils most suitable for flax, besides the alluvial kind, are deep friable loams, and containing a large proportion of organic matter. Heavy clays are unsuitable, as are soils of a gravelly or dry sandy nature.
When a linseed crop is intended, widely spaced sowing is preferable, so the plants have room to branch and to increase the resources the plant devotes to flower and seed production; sowing rates of around or below 100 kg/ha are used. When grown for fibre production, it is planted densely, to encourage the plants to grow tall and slender, with little flower production; 125 to 160 kg/ha is a suitable sowing rate.
Flax is harvested for fibre production when still green, before seed maturation as the fibre starts to degrade later; it is pulled up with the roots (not cut), so as to maximise the
Flax grown for seed is allowed to mature until the seed capsules are yellow and just starting to split; it is then harvested by combine harvester and dried to extract the seed.
The process is divided into two parts: the first part is intended for the farmer, or flax-grower, to bring the flax into a fit state for general or common purposes. This is performed by three machines: one for threshing out the seed, one for breaking and separating the wood from the fibre, and one for further separating the broken wood and matter from the fibre. In some cases the farmers will perhaps thrash out the seed in their own mill and therefore, in such cases, the first machine will be, of course, unnecessary.
The second part of the process is intended for the manufacturer to bring the flax into a state for the very finest purposes, such as lace, cambric, damask, and very fine linen. This second part is performed by the refining machine only.
Take the flax in small bundles, as it comes from the field or stack, and holding it in the left hand, put the seed end between the threshing machine and the bed or block against which the machine is to strike; then take the handle of the machine in the right hand, and move the machine backward and forward, to strike on the flax, until the seed is all threshed out.
Take the flax in small handfuls in the left hand, spread it flat between the third and little finger, with the seed end downwards, and the root-end above, as near the hand as possible; then put it between the beater of the breaking machine, and beat it gently till the three or four inches, which have been under the operation of the machine, appear to be soft; then remove the flax a little higher in the hand, so as to let the soft part of the flax rest upon the little finger, and continue to beat it till all is soft, and the wood is separated from the fibre, keeping the left hand close to the block and the flax as flat upon the block as possible. The other end of the flax is then to be turned, and the end which has been beaten is to be wrapped round the little finger, the root end flat, and beaten in the machine till the wood is separated, exactly in the same way as the other end was beaten.
Other useful herb information: Nettle | Butterbur | Grape Seed | Tribulus | Eucalyptus | Chicory | Saw Palmetto
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