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. 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 plant – edible parts
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 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 production of cordage and rope.
Flax straw can be retained once the fiber is removed. Flax straw is useful for construction of shelters (can be used to create a dense covering for sides and roof).
Miscellaneous uses for flax plants
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 to hair as a hair gel.