Flax plant identification
The flax plant is an excellent source of food, natural fibers, and oils. Flax grows to about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide. Flax plant leaves are wider in the middle and shaped like a lance tip and grow alternating on the stalk. Leaves are typically bluish, pale green, 1 to 1 ½ inches long, and only about 1/10-inch wide.
Flax plant flowers are about ½ to 1-inch in diameter with five petals. Flowers are typically blue but can be white, yellow, or pinkish-red (there are several species of flax). The flax plant fruit is a round, dry capsule about ¼ to ¾-inch in diameter and composed of five lobes. Each fruit capsule contains several glossy brown seeds shaped like an apple pip.
Where to find flax plants in the wild
Flax grows natively in cooler regions. Often found just above the waterline in bogs, the plant grows in organic dirt or well-drained sandy loam. It seldom survives in clay or gravelly soil. Flax plants grow very fast reaching full height in less than 3 months.
Flax plants are widely distributed across the globe. They are native to the Mediterranean region, where the climate is temperate and sunny. However, they have been successfully naturalized in other regions as well, including North America, Europe, and Asia.
In the wild, flax plants can often be found growing in fields, meadows, and along the banks of streams and rivers. They prefer well-drained soil and plenty of direct sunlight, so you should look for areas that meet these conditions. Flax plants are hardy and can tolerate a range of soil types, as long as they are not waterlogged.
Flax plants have a relatively short growing season, typically lasting from late spring to early summer. During this time, they produce beautiful blue or white flowers that attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. If you are looking for flax in the wild, it is best to plan your search during this time frame.
Flax plants can also be found growing in cultivated fields, particularly in areas where flax is grown as a crop. These fields are often located in regions with a temperate climate and long hours of sunlight, such as the Great Plains of the United States. If you are having trouble finding flax in the wild, you may want to try looking for fields that have recently been harvested or are in the process of being harvested.
Flax plant – edible parts
Flax plant sprouts
Flax plant sprouts are edible and typically have a spicy flavor. Note that flax plants can absorb large quantities of liquids and if eaten without consuming water, can result in bowel obstruction.
Flax plant seeds
Flax plant seeds are typically harvested when the seed capsules are brown or golden yellow and just beginning to split open. The seeds can be roasted, powdered, or eaten raw. If eaten raw, chew them thoroughly. Since they do not break down well in the digestive system, little nutritional value is derived if they are swallowed whole.
Flax plant seeds contain protein, dietary fiber, B vitamins, and several mineral nutrients. Notably, they are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Flaxseed can go rancid in as little as a week. Store them in a cool, sealed container to prolong flaxseed life.
Other uses for flax plants
Flax seed oil, known as flaxseed oil or linseed oil, can be derived from flax by pressing the seeds. The leftover gummy material can be used for animal feed.
Flax oil can be used as a nutritional supplement but not for cooking – high heat converts flaxseed oil to an unhealthy lipid peroxide.
Flax oil is useful as a wood finishing product providing a sheen and protection for wood surfaces. It can also be applied to metal tools to help prevent rust (it readily absorbs oxygen when exposed to air).
Flax fibers are taken from the stem of the plant, just beneath the surface of the stem. Flax fibers are 2-3 times as strong as cotton but less elastic.
Flax fiber is typically smooth and straight. When bundled, it looks like blonde hair (thus the phrase, “flaxen hair”). Given its properties and slow decomposition time, it is an excellent material for cordage and rope.
To obtain flax fiber, pull the entire plant up with the roots to increase the fiber length. Flax fiber is first allowed to dry, seeds removed, then retted to prepare the fibers for the production of cordage and rope.
Flax straw can be retained once the fiber is removed. Flax straw is useful for the construction of shelters (it can be used to create a dense covering for sides and roof).
Flaxseed can be boiled in water to extract a mucilaginous material. Strain off the liquid and allow it to cool to a gel-like consistency. Apply it to hair as a hair gel.
Flax plant picture identification guide
In-Article Image CreditsFlax plant illustration art via Biodiversity Library by Brandt, Wilhelm; Gürke, M.; Köhler, F. E. with usage type - Public Domain. 1887
Flax plant Linum usitatissimum capsules via Wikimedia Commons by Rasbak with usage type - GNU Free. August 12, 2009
Flowers of Flax (Linum usitatissimum) via Wikimedia Commons by D. Gordon E. Robertson with usage type - Creative Commons License. June 9, 2007
Flax field near Garrison, North Dakota via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 13, 2012
Young flax plants in pot via Wikimedia Commons by Beljeet Bilaspur with usage type - Creative Commons License. February 17, 2017
Flax plants Linum usitatissimum, Linaceae, Flax, Linseed, habitus via Wikimedia Commons by H. Zell with usage type - Creative Commons License. June 17, 2009
Field of flax plants via Flickr by Nick ODoherty with usage type - Creative Commons License. June 21, 2009
Flax plant seed pods via Wikimedia Commons by Keks Klip with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 23, 2010
Flowering flax plants via Web Archive by pmcv with usage type - Creative Commons License. September 1, 2010
Flax seed pods in flax plant field via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. 2005
Flax plant flowers via Wikimedia Commons with usage type - Creative Commons License. May 16, 2006
Featured Image CreditFlax plant seed pods via Wikimedia Commons by Keks Klip with usage type - Creative Commons License. July 23, 2010