Flax is a flowering plant cultivated in many temperate regions all over the world as a food as well as fiber crop. Flax is also known as common flax or linseed. Linen, which is used to make bed sheets, underclothes, table linen, and many more, is a textile made from flax. The unspun fiber of flax also goes by the same name.
Flaxseed, which is consumed to give the body strength and other benefits, comes from flax.
Species: L. usitatissimum
Binomial name: Linum usitatissimum L.
- Flaxseed oil from flax plant is used in many products like paint, varnish, linoleum, oilcloth, printer’s ink, patent and imitation leather products, as a protective seal against freeze-thaw damage and the deterioration caused by de-icing salts on concrete pavement and bridges, etc. Petroleum products are cheaper, but linseed oil is a great “green alternative.”
- Flax can be used to produce blue fabric dye.
- Flax can be found in soaps (as a gentle exfoliator to make the skin soft), cosmetics, and hair gels.
- According to the Flax Council of Canada, aster yellow pandemics affecting flax happened twice in Canada, in 1957 and in 2012, both cases caused by the migrations of six-spotted leafhoppers (which transmits the phytoplasma organism that causes aster yellows in flax) that originated from the US.
Flax Buying Guide
You can buy flaxseed (you can buy it whole or ground) and flax oil. These are sold in grocery stores, supermarkets, farmers markets, and online stores. H-E-B, an American supermarket chain based in San Antonio, Texas, has ground flaxseed. Walmart in Bentonville, Texas, sells organic ground flax seed.
Flax Production & Farming in Texas
Flax is a fast maturing, cool season crop. Plant flax as soon as the soil begins to warm, usually around April, or earlier like in Missouri. Harvest typically begins around August, even as early as July, well frosts hit the northern U.S. Use fertile, loam soils, the same kind of soil used in growing wheat or oats. Make sure the soil has good drainage.
In South Texas, flax is commonly grown using fine sandy loams and clay sandy loams, while in the Coastal Prairie, farmers use heavy clay soil. The seeds available in Texas are spring-type flax varieties from northern US and Canada.
Flax is grown in South and Central Texas in the fall, as part of the rotation that includes cotton, corn or grain sorghum. In South Texas, planting of flax usually begins early November until the first week of December. In Temple, it is common for flax planting to begin as early as the middle of October.
Hoping to be able to grow flax that can survive the cold, Texas A&M, between the 1950s and 1960s, released cold-tolerant flax varieties that can grow in South Texas and Central Texas.
An online article by Texas A&M explains the brief history of commercial growing of flax in Texas.
Flax used to be commercially grown in Texas, but not anymore. From the first time it was grown commercially in 1938 all the way to the peak of commercial production of flax in Texas in 1949, no one expected that flax production will be devastated by the drought that hit the state in the 1950s and that it will never recover.
When Texas was growing flax, the varieties used came from Canada and northern US. The growing of flax were focused on several counties like Karnes, Jim Wells, Bee, Wilson, Atascosa, Live Oak, Nueces, and later in the southern Blackland Prairie counties when cold-tolerant flax varieties became available.
There is a renewed interest in flax among those looking at the potential of flaxseed oil as a bio-fuel that can replace petroleum products, and as an oil suitable for human consumption.
Pesticides, Additives, and Chemicals
The use of chemicals is important when growing flax to be able to manage weeds, grass, diseases, and pests.
- Herbicides to reduce weed emergence
- These herbicides are used for post-weed control:
- Bromoxynil (3,5-dibromo-4-hydroxybenzonitrile) – a selective PSII-inhibitor herbicide.
- MCPA (2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid) – a selective, widely-used phenoxy herbicide.
- Clopyralid – A selective, auxin-mimic type herbicide.
- These herbicides are used for post-weed control:
- Herbicides to reduce emergence of grass
- Quizalofop-p-ethyl (quizalofop) – a selective, postemergence phenoxy herbicide.
- Sethoxydim – According to the US States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA), this is “a graminicide which inhibits the enzyme acetyl CoA carboxylase (ACCase), resulting in cessation of fatty acid
synthesis which is essential for new growth.”
- Clethodim – an organic compound used to control grasses, especially Lolium rigidum, a species of annual grass.
- Glyphosate – used as a preharvest herbicide.
Insecticides are important in managing the insect infestation that can harm flax.
- Grasshoppers – Use carbaryl dust. Neem oil is also an option.
- Cutworms and armyworms – Pesticides such as carbaryl will kill cutworms. Pyrethroid insecticides like cyfluthrin and the insecticide permethrin are also useful for this purpose.
- Aster leafhopper – Use pyrethroid insecticide like bifenthrin, organophosphates insecticide like malathion, pyrethrins, or any systemic insecticide (acephate, imidacloprid or disulfoton).
- Aphids – Kill aphids using neem oil, insecticidal soap, or horticultural oil. You can also use the pesticide malathion, which is the most commonly used organophosphate insecticide in the United States, or rotenone, a selective, non-specific insecticide typically used in home gardens for insect control.
- Wireworm – Use pyrethrin sprays.
Chemicals are used to protect flax from different kinds of diseases.
- Flax wilt – The Flax Council of Canada recommends “seed treatment with recommended fungicides may protect the crop from early infection at the seedling stage and helps maintain good stands and seedling vigor.”
- Flax rust – Treatment involves the use of chemicals like strobilurin fungicides and sulfur formulations.
- Pasmo – Use foliar applied fungicide.
- Aster yellows – Use insecticides to kill aster leafhoppers, which causes aster yellows.
- Damping off-seedling blight – Use fungicide containing tebuconazole.
- Root rot – Use fungicide for seed treatment.
According to an article from the Iowa State University, flax was “grown in almost every state east of the Mississippi River” at the time when America was still an emerging nation. Because of the changes in demand, farmers stopped growing flax and grew corn and soybeans instead.
Today, flax is agronomically adapted to most Eastern and Midwestern states. In the US, flax is grown mostly in North Dakota and Minnesota.
Today, northern Europe and Russia accounts for a big part of flax production in the world.
Both flaxseed and flax microgreens have a mild, nutty flavor.
There are two ways on how to consume flax. The first is by eating ripe and cooked flaxseed. Another way to consume flax is by eating flax microgreens.
Flaxseed oil is used as an alternative to fish oil. It can be taken in capsule form.
Flaxseed oil must be refrigerated in a dark bottle. The shelf life of flaxseed oil is 3 to 4 weeks.
There are some breads with flaxseed in it. Whole or ground flaxseeds are used in baking breads, cookies, scones, and other baked goods. Some people add flaxseed in their cereal or salad, even in their oatmeal or yogurt. Those who want to have a healthy drink put flaxseed on their smoothies. Put flax microgreens on sandwiches, salads, or wraps. Ground flaxseed and add it to the batter when making pancakes or waffles, or when baking muffins or cakes.
Flaxseed is a great source of omega-3 oil and anti-carcinogenic lignin. Eating the seeds of flax plant allows the body to absorb protein, dietary fiber, vitamin B, and other mineral nutrients.