Flax – characteristics, cultivation and use

flax with purple flowers
flax with purple flowers

Flax is an important crop and is used in many ways. Both linseed and linseed oil are used in cooking and medicine. The contained mucilage and fatty acids help for stomach, intestinal complaints and cough. In addition, the fibers of the flax are important raw materials for the production of natural textiles or composites.

Profile of flax:

Scientific name: Linum usitatissimum

Plant family: flax family (Linaceae)

Other names: common flax, linseed

Sowing time / Planting time: March – May

Flowering period: May – September

Harvest time: September

Useful plant parts: leaves, flowers, seeds

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: barren and rather sandy soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: gastritis, constipation, enteritis, stomach cramps, heartburn

Use as aromatic herb: seeds for baking, oil for salads or potato dishes

Plant characteristics and classification of flax

Origin and occurrence of flax

It is now considered relatively certain that the origin of the common flax (Linum usitatissimum) is in present-day India. Since the plant was used extensively as a crop already in ancient times, the plant was quickly introduced to other countries and cultivated there. The Fertile Crescent is the first known growing area where flax grew in large numbers. The plant is considered one of the oldest crops and is today found almost in the whole inhabited world.

Plant order of flax

When one speaks of flax today, it is often meant the common flax (Linum usitatissimum). This plant is a species most probably derived from the pale flax (Linum bienne). All varieties form an independent plant family, which are referred to in short as flax family (Linaceae). This family includes about 15 genera with about 300 species.

The flax (Linum) belong to the best known genus. Other well-known flax plants are the red flax (Linum grandiflorum), the yellow flax (Linum flavum) and the blue flax (Linum perenne).

Characteristics and look of flax


Common flax is an annual herbaceous plant, in contrast to the pale flax that we often find wild. As a rule, the stature height is between 40 and 70 cm (16 and 28 in). The plant forms typical taproots with thin lateral root hairs.


The leaves of the common as well as the pale flax have a mostly lanceolate form. The leaf length is usually around 4 mm (0.16 in), while the leaf width is around 2 mm (0.08 in), and are always stalkless and are alternate against the round and hairless stems. Depending on the type and variety, the stems are characterized by their high fiber content, which consists of a high proportion of cellulose.


The flowering period of the plant is usually to be expected from late May to mid-August. The pentamerous petals appera very delicate and are 15 to 20 mm (0.6 to 0.8 in) long. In the middle of the open flower bowl sit the yellow stamen. For bees and insects, the flowers of pale flax are very popular as a source of food. Although the single flower does not last very long, it is constantly being replaced by new flowers until August.


After self-pollination or insect pollination flax develops up to 8 mm (0.3 in) long, spherical capsule fruits, with brown seeds inside. These linseeds are used as fiber-rich baking and cereal-ingredient as well as for the extraction of linseed oil in the kitchen.

flax - linum usitatissimum
linum usitatissimum, also known as flax

Flax – cultivation and care

Flax can easily be cultivated in the garden or on the balcony. Often, it is planted because of its expressive flowers. It is a relatively undemanding plant that needs little care. By the way, ecological and sustainable gardeners also value the common flax as a green manure plant.


Flax tolerates both sunny and partially shaded locations. Full sunshine situations should be avoided.


Flax prefers permeable, calcareous soils. It has no special demands to the nutrient content, only with wet and heavy soils, it can not cope well.


The sowing should take place between the end of March to the beginning of May. Seeds can be cultivated both in the field and in pots. The plant is one of the dark germs, which is why the sowing depth should be 2-3 cm (1 in). Insofar as a continuous germination temperature of about 18 ° C / 64 ° F is given, the first seedlings appear after 8 to 15 days. If individual seedlings are too dense, careful pruning should be done. The planting distance between the plants should be about 20 to 25 cm (8 to 10 in).

If it grows in a pot, care should be taken to ensure a sufficient depth of the pot. Flax forms tap roots, which need a bit of space. A pot depth of about 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 in) is sufficient in most cases.


Common flax, as well as pale flax, are quite adaptable. In the field, the natural precipitation is usually sufficient. In case of prolonged drought or prolonged high heat, however, it is necessary to water the plants extensively. Though, a permanent moist soil is detrimental to the growth of the plant and should be avoided, as well as waterlogging.


In the field, additional fertilization is usually unnecessary. Flax plants are often indicator plants for sites with low nitrogen levels and are considered specialists. However, prolonged cultivation of flax in the same places may benefit from a phosphorus and potassium fertilizer.

Diseases and pests

Under unfavorable conditions, flax can be susceptible to pests and diseases. In addition to predators such as thrips and flea beetles numerous fungi can lead to the death of the plants. Especially if it is kept too moist, various types of mold fungus, mildew or the so-called flax rust can occur. If the soil is low in phosphorus, crinkled leaves with black spots may also appear. In such case, a quick fertilization with a mineral fertilizer is necessary.

Use of flax

The common flax is an important crop. For many years, the fibers of the plant were used for the production of clothing or cloths. Even today, flax fibers are used as composite materials, insulating material or textile fibers.

Flax in the kitchen

The plant can be used in many ways in the kitchen.

Flax seed / linseed

Flax seeds are considered very healthy and are therefore used as an ingredient in many dishes. For example, the seeds are often eaten as a supplement to breakfast, which stimulates digestion. Its seeds are also ideal as a baking ingredient. A well-known product is the flaxseed bread, which optionally consists of wheat or rye flour.

For constipation, you use the linseed as follows:

  • take one to two tablespoons of ground linseed and mix it with yogurt, cereal or a liquid.
  • due to the moisture, linseed has the opportunity to swell and secrete its mucus.
  • after a short time, you eat the seed with the yogurt or muesli.
  • you should then drink about 2 cups of water, so that the linseed in the gastrointestinal tract can swell completely.
  • this makes the stool softer and easier to glide through the intestines. Constipation is alleviated.


Linseed should not be used in suspected bowel obstruction or intestinal paralysis. Intestinal obstruction and intestinal paralysis are part of medical treatment.

Flaxseed oil / linseed oil

Pressed oil from flaxseed helps against skin rashes.

Linseed oil is also used as an opening enema.

An internal treatment with linseed oil (50 grams per trunk (1.7 oz)) helps with gallstone collie.

A daily spoonful of linseed oil prevents the heart attack.

Flax tea

From the seeds you can brew a tea that has a positive effect on the urinary system. Linseed tea also helps with hoarseness.

Time needed: 1 hour

This is how to prepare a flax tea by yourself

  1. put 2 teaspoons of whole seeds in a tea strainer in a cup

  2. dash with cold water

  3. allow the flax seeds to swell for 60 minutes

  4. stir now and then

  5. heat the tea

flax plant flowering
a flax plant at flowering

Flax as a medicinal plant

Flax is an ancient medicinal plant that has a long tradition. Even in today’s natural medicine, the plant has a great importance. Flaxseed and oil that is pressed out of the seeds are also used here.

In antiquity and the Middle Ages, flax was a universal medicinal plant used both internally and externally. The seeds were used for chest pain, cough, abdominal pain and indigestion. Linseed was often mixed with honey in the late Middle Ages and early modern times. Externally, plaster applications with flax were in use. These helped, for example, against painful bumps or tumors. For sunburn and piercing, flaxsud envelopes were prepared.

In today’s natural medicine, flax is mainly used for stomach and intestinal complaints. Important ingredients of pharmacological importance are, above all, mucilage, glycosides and unsaturated fatty acids. Some glycosides, e.g. the linustatin, are cyanogens, which are a precursor of hydrogen cyanide. However, there is no increased risk, according to official sources, as far as linseed is not overdosed. The maximum intake should not exceed 20 grams per day.

Flax can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • abdominal pain
  • asthma
  • bladder irritation
  • boils
  • cancer prevention
  • chronic diarrhea
  • eczema
  • facial neuralgia
  • gallstones
  • gastritis
  • hay fever
  • heartburn
  • hoarseness
  • laryngitis
  • psoriasis
  • rash
  • rheumatic pains
  • sciatica
  • shingles
  • sniff
  • sore throat
  • stomach acidity
  • stomatitis
  • swollen glands
  • tongue paralysis
  • toothach
  • ulcers

Medicinal properties

  • analgesic
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antispasmodic
  • emollient
  • laxative
  • wrapping

Instructions for use and side effects

If acute inflammation of the esophagus or stomach is known, treatment with flax should be avoided. Same with intestinal obstruction. After taking linseed preparations, you should drink a lot. If other medicines are taken in addition to linseed, it should be taken after about one hour. Flaxseed reduces the resorption/incorporation of the active ingredients of many other drugs. In such cases, please also ask your doctor or pharmacist.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy flax – what to pay attention to?

Linseed and linseed oil are considered important foods and can therefore be found in many supermarkets. However, there are some significant differences in quality. Linseed oil for food should always be stored in dark bottles and have no fishy odor. Oil with fishy smell is not necessarily rancid. However, the taste is anything but delicious.

Whole and broken seeds can be used both as a home remedy and as an ingredient in baked goods. Flaked linseeds are primarily suitable as a baking ingredient (for example for linseed bread) or as an egg substitute.

Likewise, you can purchase fresh plants in DIY markets, market gardens or online. The price per plant is about 3-5 EUR/$.

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