Western Blue Flax
Linum lewisii Pursh
Family: Linaceae, Flax
Genus: Linum
Synonyms: Linum perenne
Other names: prairie flax
Nomenclature: lewisii = named after Lewis
Nativity / Invasiveness: Montana native plant
Edible plant
Medicinal plant
Description

General: hairless and somewhat bluish-waxy-coated perennial 10-60 cm tall, with several stems, branching above, from a woody root crown.

Leaves: alternate, linear, numerous, 1-3 cm long and about 2 mm broad, 1-nerved, pointed to rounded, slightly smaller upwards on the stem.

Flowers: few in small, open clusters, the flower stalks slender, about as long as the flowers, usually curved back in fruit. The 5 sepals 4-7 mm long, the edges membranous, entire. The 5 petals showy, blue, 10-23 mm long, soon dropped. Stamens 5, joined at the base and forming a very short tube bearing small toothlike staminodia, about 1 mm long, alternate with the filaments. Styles 5, considerably longer than the stamens, the stigmas round. May-July.

Fruits: capsules, rounded, 10-celled, splitting lengthwise along the seams, with 1 or 2 seeds per cell. The seeds are flattened to rounded, often becoming slimy when wetted.


Distribution

From prairies to alpine ridges, usually on dry, well-drained soil, in most parts of MT. Also widespread throughout w. N. America and in Eurasia.
Edible Uses

The seeds of western blue flax are edible cooked. They have a pleasant nutty taste and are very nutritious. The seed has a high oil content and can be eaten on its own or used as a flavoring. It should not be eaten raw because it contains cyanide but this is destroyed in the cooking process.



Medicinal Uses

The plant is antirheumatic, and has agents that relieve and remove gas from the digestive system, and contains substances which give strength and tone to the stomach. The oil in the seed has soothing and lubricating properties, and is used in medicines to soothe tonsillitis, sore throats, coughs, colds, constipation, gravel and stones. When mixed with an equal quantity of lime water it is used to treat burns and scalds. A poultice of the fresh crushed leaves has been used to treat eye problems. A tincture of the entire plant is used in the treatment of diarrhea. The fresh herb is boiled and taken internally for the treatment of rheumatic pains, heartburn, colds, coughs and dropsy. A poultice of the plant is applied to bruises to reduce the swelling. The seeds have agents that soften and soothe the skin when applied locally. An eye medicine is made from them. An infusion of the roots is used as an eyewash.



Other Uses

A drying oil is obtained from the seed. Used mainly for lighting, though it could also be used in all the ways that linseed oil (from Linum usitatissimum) is used - in paints, varnishes etc. An infusion of the whole plant is used as a hair and skin wash. It is said to be very beneficial to the skin and also to help prevent hair loss. A good fiber is obtained from the stems, it is inferior to flax (Linum usitatissimum), but is used for making cloth, nets, string, baskets, mats etc and in paper making. When used for paper making, the stems are harvested in late summer or autumn when they are two thirds yellow and are then retted. The fiber is then stripped from the stem, cooked for two hours or more with lye and then beaten in a Hollander beater.


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