Ancient, beautiful and infinitely useful, is it any wonder that the vibrant blue common flax is Belarus’s National Flower? From gardens to textiles and even food, flax is a fascinating flower whose uses are belied by its beauty. I wanted to know more about flax’s history, so let’s take a deeper look into how the flax became the National Flower of Belarus.
History of Flax
Linum usitatissimum, linseed, or the common flax, no matter what name you use this tall, thin member of the Linaceae family has long been more than a pretty flower. Its vibrant blue petals worked their way into humanity’s heart by first being useful. Native to the Mediterranean, the oldest proof we have of humans using this plant is 30,000 years old, from what is now the country of Georgia. Researchers found the remains of textiles knotted and dyed – made out of flax fibers – in a cave that had preserved relics from the Upper Paleolithic era.
Flax’s long, straight, and strong fibers became popular for fabric in the Fertile Crescent around 9,000 years ago, when it started being domesticated. Then, it spread as far as Switzerland and China. The ancient Egyptians also used flax extensively. For the Egyptians, flax was a symbol of purity. As such, the linen used to make it was quite valuable for Egyptian priests. Flax was also great for trade, specifically to the Romans, who made sails with it.
In the modern day, flax’s use in textiles has been on the wane since the cotton ‘gin was invented, resulting in an increase in cotton’s popularity. But the gorgeous little flower still has a great impact. Linen paper often goes into paper currency around the world. But it’s even more common in linseed oil, which is a nutritional supplement and an ingredient in wood-finishing products to produce a protective sheen.
Of course, we can’t forget the reason we’re here in the first place: the flax flower’s blue bloom. Over the ages, people haven’t overlooked the common flax’s beauty. It still cultivated in gardens and by florists around the world. Tall and wild, the vibrant blue flax makes a whimsical backdrop for a colorful butterfly garden, and in bouquets it brings an azure pop to any arrangement.
Celebrating the Flax Flower in Belarus
In Belarus, common flax is not just a pretty flower. It is also historically a cornerstone of the country’s economy. People in what is now the independent country of Belarus have been cultivating flax for more than 200 years. Its bright blue flowers appear on the country’s emblem, and there are even folk songs in the bloom’s honor.
But why love it so much? First, the conditions in Belarus are perfect for cultivating flax. It’s almost as if the plant and the land were made for each other. Common flax grows well even without much water and doesn’t need much fertilizer. As such, it’s a very stable crop. Even more importantly, every part of the plant is useful and there’s no need for waste. These two features alone make it a sustainable crop. Finally, linen – the textile made from flax – is both comfortable and hygienic. There are reasons it symbolizes purity, and one of them is that linen is naturally antibacterial and can help reduce bacterial and fungal growth.
Who would have thought such an unassuming flower could be so powerful? Of course, it’s no secret to the Belarussian people who value its beauty and practicality enough to have made it their national flower.
Fun Facts about Flax
- There are rumors that King Charlemagne of France passed laws about growing flax in the 8th century. But interesting as this would be, close research suggests that this is a bit of an extrapolation. At best, flax and hemp were likely included on lists that farmers and stewards were encouraged to grow.
- Flax might be ancient, but its seeds are ground into meal for all kinds of modern foods like crackers, oatmeal, and even frozen waffles. You might have even seen ground flaxseed meal at your local supermarket. Flaxseed meal contains Omega-3 fats, dietary fiber, and even protein. This makes it a great addition to bread, granola, overnight oats, and all sorts of baked goods.
- Speaking of cooking with flax, vegans or people with egg allergies can use ground flaxseed as an egg substitute. Combine three tablespoons of water with one (1) tablespoon of flaxseed meal. After that, let it rest for about ten minutes. The resulting viscous substance amounts to about one egg. Try it in your next muffin, pancake or bread batter.
- Fibers made with flax are two to three times stronger than cotton fibers! This means, linen – which is made with flax fibers – is really tough stuff.
Some fossil evidence suggests that humans have been using flax for 30,000 years, long before its cultivation 7,000 years ago.