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Chapter: Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry : Fibres, Sutures and Surgical Dressings

It is the pericyclic fibres which are removed from, the stem of Linum usitatissimum Linn., belonging to family Linaceae.




Biological Source


It is the pericyclic fibres which are removed from, the stem of Linum usitatissimum Linn., belonging to family Linaceae.


Geographical Source


It is mainly found in United States, Russia, Ireland, North-ern Europe.




Flax fibres are one amongst the oldest fibre crops in the world. The use of flax for the production of linen dates back to 5000 years. It was the chief source for the preparation of cloth fibre till the other fibres like jute and cotton came to market. The manufacture of cloth from flax fibre in Northern Europe dates back to the period of preRomans and it is also believed that the pilgrims were the ones to introduce flax to the United States.


Cultivation, Collection, and Preparation


Though Eurasia is the native of flax it has been transplanted from its origin to most of the temperate zones of the world due to its favourable climatic condition (cool moist climate) for its cultivation. The most suitable soil for its growth is alluvial soil with deep friable loams, moderately fertile humus-rich soil, and it does not grow well in dry sandy and strong clays.


Linum usitatissimum is an annual plant which grows to a height of 4 ft. It bares in itself flowers with blue or white colour and these flowers mature into bolls. Each boll consists of 10 seeds, which are sown by the end of March or in early April. The flowers come up in the month of June and the bolls are collected after a month time before they are ripe. Flax should be pulled as soon as the lower part of the plant begins to turn yellow and soon after it is been pulled, it should be tied in bunches and put into water for retting. Standing pools are beneficial for the purpose of retting because it provides better colour and a superior quality in all aspect. The process of retting through fermentation permits bacteria to break down the woody tissues and also to dissolve the substances binding the fibre cells due to enzyme action. The branches when put in water it should be tied in small sheaves and immersed firmly with the help of a weight placed above, to facilitate equal and proper watering. In warm condition, watering process is sufficient for 10 days with proper and timely examination of the pools (after the seventh day), to check if the flax are rotten. It often happens that by the twelfth day the flax get rot irrespective of the climatic condition and it is advised to have less amount of water than excess quantity. After retting, the stems are washed and allowed to dry on grass and beaten using a machine scutched; to separate the fibres from other material and to crush the pith. The bark remaining after the process of beating is then subjected finally for combing (hackling) for the removal of traces of nonfibrous matter like wood and parenchyma and parallel pericyclic fibres are obtained.




The length of fibre cells ranges from 1.2 to 5.0 cm and the length of fibres cell bundles ranges from 30 to 90 cm. The short and broken fibres are called ‘tow’. Flax is hygroscopic in nature. Flax fibre is soft, lustrous and flexible. It has more tensile strength than cotton fibre but less elasticity.




The flakes are a collection of 20 fibres, which are joined to each other through their pointed ends. The individual fibres when observed under the microscope show cells which are of polygonal.


Chemical Composition


The flax chiefly consists of pecto-cellulose.




Linen cloths can be prepared which is used as a filtering medium. The ‘tow’ is used in making coarse fabrics and cordage, while the long fibres are used for strong threads and fine linens. Flax fibre is also utilized as raw material for the high-quality paper industry for the purpose of printed currency notes and cigarette paper.


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