Linum usitatissimum Linn. Linaceae. Flax.
Europe and the Orient. Flax has been in cultivation since the earliest times. It was known to the early Egyptians, as it is mentioned frequently in the Bible as a material for weaving cloth. The cloth used in wrapping mummies has been proved to be made of the fibers of this plant. Flax was also cultivated by the early Romans. Among the Greeks, Alcman, in the seventh century before Christ, the historian Thucydides, and among the Romans, Pliny, mention the seed as employed for human food, and the roasted seed is still eaten by the Abyssinians. In the environs of Bombay, the unripe capsules are used as a food by the natives. In Russia, Belgium, Holland, Prussia and the north of Ireland, flax is extensively grown for its fiber which constitutes the linen of commerce. The seeds, known as linseed, are largely used for expressing an oil, and the press-residue is used for feeding cattle. This plant is largely grown for seed in the United States. We find mention of the culture of flax in Russia about 969 A. D. Flax is said to have been introduced into Ireland by the Romans, or even more remotely, by the Phoenicians, but the earliest definite mention of linen in Ireland seems to be about 500 A. D. In England, the statement is made that it was introduced in 1175 A. D., and Anderson, in his History of Commerce, traces some fine linen made in England in 1253. In New England, the growing of flax commenced with its first settlement, and as early as 1640 it received legislative attention.