Common flax is a member of the Linaceae family which includes about 150 plant species widely distributed around the world. Some of them are grown in domestic flower beds, as flax is one of the few true blue flowers. (Most "blue" flowers are really a shade of purple.)
L. usitatissimim is grown both for seed and for fibre. The seeds produce linseed oil which is one of the oldest commercial oils and which has been used for centuries as a drying oil in painting and varnishing.
Flax fibres are amongst the oldest fibre crops in the world and the use of flax for the production of linen goes back 5000 years. Pictures on tombs and temple walls at Thebes depict flowering flax plants. The use of flax fibre in the manufacturing of linen cloth in Northern Europe dates back to pre-Roman times.
Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It is stronger than cotton fibre but less elastic. The best grades are used for linen fabrics such as damasks, lace and sheeting. Coarser grades are used for the manufacturing of twine and rope. Flax fibre is also a raw material for the high quality paper industry.