FLAX. An annual plant, the linum witatissimuns, grown extensively, from remote antiquity, over Europe, Asia, and Northern Africa. It is believed to be indigenous to Persia. It rises between two and three feet high, and is chiefly grown either for the seeds, which lie in capsules of ten cells, each cell containing one seed, or for the fibre yielded by the bark, of which linen cloth is made. The use of linen is so ancient that there is no tradition of its introduction. The Scan dinavian and other northern tribes knew its use, and the mummies of Egypt are covered with it. Immense quantities arc still made at the mouth of the Nile, where it forms almost the sole clothing. It supplies most of Africa and Italy to a great extent. From Egypt its use passed into Greece, and thence into Italy. Be sides being used as apparel, the rags when worn out and made into a paste, are converted into paper. The seeds of the flax are mucilaginous and emollient, and an infusion constitutes a medicinal drink. They also yield an oil, well known in commerce as linseed oil, which differs from most expressed oils, as in congealing in water, and not forming a solid soap with fixed alkaline salts. The oil has no remarkable taste, and is used in lamps, and occasionally in cookery, and also forms the base of all the oily varnish made in imitation of China var nish. It is much used in coarse painting, as where there is not much exposure to weather. Lime water and linseed oil constitutes one of the best applications to recent burns. The cakes which re main after the oil is expressed are used for fatting cattle and sheep, for which they are very serviceable : they are occa sionally used as manure. Flax-seed has been used instead of cereal grains in years of scarcity, but it is a heavy and unwholesome food.
By attention and careful cultivation good flax may be grown on various soils : the soil best suited is a sound, dry, deep loam, with a clay subsoil. Draining is almost necessary for flax lands, for on too damp grounds good flax will not grow. In Flanders flax is grown in the year of a seven course shift, or the fifth year of a ten course shift. It is hardly advisable to cultivate it more frequently than once in seven years. It is usually grown after a grain crop, as oats coming after old lea, or a green crop ; or it grows well after potatoes coming after lea. The ground should be ploughed two or three times, once in autumn and twice in spring; it should be harrowed twice early in spring, to bring the land into good tilth, and clean it thoroughly from weeds and roots. The Riga and Dutch
seeds produce the finest flax. The seed of this country, though it gives an abun dant crop, yet produces a coarse branchy stem, and should only be used on deep loamy soils. Two bushels, or a little over per acre, is the fair quantity for sow ing. It is better to sow thickly, for the stems grow taller and straighter, with only two seed capsules at top, and the fibre is superior in fineness and length. Grass-seed and clover should not be sown with it, but carrots may be drilled in between the rows, if flax be so sown. The ground should be wed fre quently, and pulled carefully. The best tune for pulling is before the seed is quite ripe • if pulled two soon there is waste in the after preparation • if too late, the fibre is coarse. When the seedS begin to change from green to pale brown, then the flax should be pulled. The separation of the seed from the stem is culled rippling. It should be done on the field, and the ripple is a comb or row of iron teeth screwed into a block of wood ; this is screwed on a plank resting on stools. A sheet is spread underneath, and by drawing the flax across the comb, the seeds are sepa rated, and fall upon the sheet • these are afterwards riddled and fanned, to sepa rate chaff, &c., and then dried. Hereto fore flax has been prepared by cold steep ing in river water, the flax being fully immersed. Here the soft parts of the plant ferment, and the fibre separates away. The time of steeping varies from eight to fourteen days. The plant is then removed, and spread on grass to dry. It is now fit for breaking and skutching. The treatment of flax and hemp should be carried on alike, the fibre of both being capable of being ob tained in same way. There can be no doubt that chemical processes, and steam with warm water, will completely super sede the cold water and grass processes. Breaking is sometimes performed by beating the flax with the hand and ham mer, which bruises the wood and sepa rates the fibres ; a rude machine, called a hand-brake, is sometimes used for this purpose. The machines do this work more effectually. They consist of many deeply fluted rollers of wood or iron, whose teeth work into each other, and thus break the wood across, while the yielding fibre is not injured.