Flax or linseed together with einkorn wheat, emmer and barley is among the oldest crops, which were collected and used already before agriculture. The first fragments of cultured flax come from 7,900 B.C. The first findings in Austria from Schletz (Niederösterreich) come from the Linear Pottery culture about 5,200 B.C. The first findings in Switzerland come from 4,300 B.C. at Egolzwil, Lucerne. In the lower Engadin the cultivation of flax was proven to have occurred 1,880 B.C. from 1700 m elevation at Ramosch.
In the wetland towns of the Prealps flax heckling combs and nets and textiles made out of flax were found. Originally flax was used both as a food plant and as a fiber crop. This multiuse is still common in some regions. Linen or flax fibers are bast fibres. Until the 1950s linseed was primarily cultivated for its fibers. These are also known as hair.
Wil linseed, or biannual linseed (Linum bienne), grows on the coast of the Mediterranean, the Black and Caspian Sea and the Fertile Crescent. The wild plants also occur on the coasts of Southern England. The wild linseed and the domesticated linseed are related and can be crossbreed without difficulty.
Linseed is mainly self-fertilizing, which can easily create a variety of types. Originally linseed was collected for its oily seeds, soon however for its robust fibers as well. The plants of the oil linseed are shorter, branch more, have larger seeds but their fibers are of lower quality. The fiber linseed is taller, less branched, produces smaller seeds and excellent fiber quality. Between these forms there is a large number of intermediaries. The springing or sounding linseed is a form where the seed capsules burst open on their own at maturity. If the capsules stay closed at maturity, this linseed is called threshing or closed linseed.
Linseed belongs to the family of the Linaceae. Conspicuous about the plant are the long main stem, the thin, lance-shaped leaves, the many flowers and the tender, large flower leaves, five in number, which soon after flowering cover the ground. The flower colour of the land plants in general was blue. White linseed occurred from time to time. The fruit capsules are spherical.