FLAX, an annual plant with alternate linear-lanceolate leaves, many-flowered broad cymes, usually yellow, blue, or white, and crenulate petals. It embraces about a hundred species, which grow more or less widely dis- tributed in all warm and temperate climates. A large yield is reported in the United States, where, in 1907, the product was 25,862,000 bushels. More than one-half of the crop was grown in North Dakota. The States which ranked next are Minnesota and South Dakota. Other regions which produce large quantities of flax are Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Argen- tina, Russia, India, and Austria. How- ever, Argentina generally takes the first rank inthe production of flaxseed, while Russia is the leading flax fiber producing country in the world. Flax is grown very extensively, on account of the commercial value of the seed as well as for its fiber. In most countries the virgin soil, when first broken, produces the best yield of flax. The ground is plowed in autumn or in the spring, depending upon the locality, and the seed is sown either in drills or broadcast, usually in April. When the crop is ripe, generally in August, it is cut with a harvester and is afterward thrashed with a machine to obtain the seed. A large amount of labor is required to secure the fibers in the best condition. For this purpose the crop is usually pulled up by hand, roots and all, and the seeds are removed by a process called rippling. To obtain the lint, or flaxen fiber, from the boon, or core, of the stem, the bundles are steeped in water until the boon begins to rot, when it can be separated readily from the fiber by means of a scutching blade or a machine. It is next hac-kled, or combed, after which it is spun into threads and woven into cloth. Linseed oil is pressed from the seed, and the residue is a highly fattening food for hogs and cattle.

Flax was cultivated extensively in ancient times, both in Egypt and Asia, and linen isspoken of in the Book of Joshua. See Linen,Linseed Oil.

Herbal Encyclopedia