FAIRY FLAX – Linum catharticum: Linaceae
The plant: A very delicate annual plant, growing no more than about ten cm tall. It grows on both dry and damp grasslands, especially where the soil is calcareous.
The flowers: are relatively small and usually about five mm in diameter. They appear at the ends of the stalks in loose clusters. The flowers can be seen from May to early autumn.
The leaves: grow in opposite pairs and are narrow.
Names, mythology, uses and folk-lore: This plant is easily overlooked unless it is in flower. It has been known as purging flax in some of the older herbalist’s descriptions of the plant – but the plant has a link (seemingly very obscure) with fairies – hence the plant’s present name. This name sounds a lot nicer than purging flax – but purging seems to have been its main herbal use: the bruised plant gently cooked in wine and then drunk, was a powerful purgative – but sadly it is also a powerful emetic (something causing vomiting). Allen and Hatfield quote a herbalist, John Quincy, who said that the flax was only of value in those with a strong constitution!
Regardless of these uses the plant is, quite simply, a beauty to look at.