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Fairy Flax

Linum catharticum

Please keep in mind that it is illegal to uproot a plant without the landowner's consent and care should be taken at all times not to damage wild plants. Wild plants should never be picked for pleasure and some plants are protected by law.
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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Linaceae (Flax)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
60 centimetres tall
Fens, grassland, heathland, meadows, moorland, sand dunes, seaside.

White, 5 petals
Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum) produces dainty and petite flowers that are a delight to behold. These delicate blooms are typically pale blue or white, though occasionally, they may exhibit shades of pink or lavender. Each flower consists of five slender, pointed petals that radiate from a central point, forming a star-like or saucer-shaped appearance. The petals are often translucent, giving the flowers an ethereal and delicate quality. The flowers are relatively small, typically measuring around 1 to 1.5 centimeters (0.4 to 0.6 inches) in diameter. Fairy Flax flowers are known for their simplicity and elegance, adding a touch of beauty to grassy meadows and other natural habitats where they thrive. They are a lovely and subtle example of nature's artistry.
Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum) produces small, rounded fruit capsules that are typically less than 1 centimeter (0.4 inches) in diameter. These capsules are often referred to as "seed capsules" or "pods." They are usually pale green or brown in color, and when mature, they split open to release numerous tiny seeds. Each capsule contains multiple seeds, and these seeds are small, round, and brown in color. The seeds are quite tiny, measuring just a few millimeters in size. Fairy Flax fruit capsules are not typically a prominent feature of the plant's appearance but play a crucial role in its reproductive cycle by dispersing seeds for propagation.
The leaves of Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum) are slender and lance-shaped, measuring approximately 1 to 2 centimeters (0.4 to 0.8 inches) in length. They are typically arranged alternately along the stem of the plant. The leaves are simple, meaning they are not divided into leaflets, and they have a smooth texture with entire (uninterrupted) margins. The color of Fairy Flax leaves can range from bright green to a slightly bluish-green hue, and they are often quite delicate and narrow. These leaves contribute to the overall delicate and graceful appearance of the plant, complementing its tiny, star-like flowers.
Fairy Flax (Linum catharticum) emits a subtle and delicate aroma when its leaves or flowers are crushed or bruised. The aroma is often described as pleasant and mildly sweet, with hints of freshness. While it is not as intense or overpowering as the scents of some other flowers, it adds to the overall charm of the plant when encountered in meadows or grassy habitats. The aroma of Fairy Flax can be subtle and may not be immediately noticeable unless you intentionally handle the plant, making it a subtle delight for those who take the time to appreciate its fragrance while enjoying its delicate appearance in the wild.
Other Names:
Purging Flax, White Flax.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Linum catharticum, also known as fairy flax or purging flax, is a species of wildflowers in the genus Linum, and the family Linaceae. It is native to Europe, Asia and North America.

Linum catharticum is an annual or perennial herb, growing up to 2 feet tall. It has delicate, blue to purple flowers that bloom in the spring and early summer, and have five petals. The leaves are basal and linear with a smooth edge and reaching 2 inches in length. The plant is known for its tall, thin, blue-purple flowers that are often described as delicate and wispy.

Linum catharticum was traditionally used in medicine to treat various ailments, such as skin conditions, constipation, and respiratory problems. However, it should be noted that the plant should not be consumed in large amounts as it can cause purging, due to the presence of a toxic compound called linamarin, that when metabolized by the body can produce hydrogen cyanide.

This plant is also cultivated for ornamental and medicinal use and it can be found in gardens and meadows around the world. It prefers well-drained soils and full sun exposure. It can be propagated by seed and the seeds are often sown in autumn or spring. It can be also propagated by divisions and cuttings.

It's also worth mentioning that some species of this plant might be considered invasive in some regions, so it is important to check for any potential risks before introducing it to an area.


Fairy Flax, also known as Linum catharticum, is a small, delicate wildflower that belongs to the Linaceae family. It is commonly found in dry grasslands, heaths, and open woodlands across Europe and North America. This charming flower is loved by many because of its beauty, but it also has some interesting historical and medicinal uses.


Fairy Flax is a petite, annual or perennial herbaceous plant that typically grows up to 25 cm in height. It has a slender stem that branches out, forming a loose and airy-looking bush. Its leaves are narrow, about 1-2 cm long, and arranged alternately on the stem. The flowers are delicate, with five petals arranged in a star shape, and come in shades of pale pink, white, and blue. The blooms are typically only open in the morning and close up in the afternoon, making them a charming addition to any garden.

Historical Significance

Fairy Flax has been associated with many legends and myths over the years. In ancient times, it was believed that the flowers held magical powers and were associated with the fairy world. According to folklore, if you picked the flowers, you would be cursed with misfortune. However, if you wore a garland of the flowers, it would bring you good luck.

Medicinal Uses

Fairy Flax has been used for centuries as a medicinal plant. It was believed to have purgative and laxative properties and was often used as a treatment for constipation. It was also used to relieve symptoms of asthma and coughs, as well as to stimulate appetite.

Today, Fairy Flax is still used in herbal medicine. Its leaves and stems contain linamarin, a compound that can break down into hydrogen cyanide when ingested. Although this can be harmful in large quantities, the plant is still used in small doses as a mild laxative and diuretic.

In addition, Fairy Flax has been used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of ailments, such as sore throat, bronchitis, and bladder infections. It is also sometimes used to treat skin conditions like eczema and dermatitis.

Gardening Tips

Fairy Flax is a hardy plant that can thrive in a variety of growing conditions. It prefers well-drained soil and full sun to partial shade. It can be grown from seed and is a great addition to wildflower gardens or rock gardens. The plant self-seeds easily, so it is important to deadhead the flowers to prevent it from spreading too aggressively.

In conclusion, Fairy Flax is a charming and versatile plant with a rich history and many uses. Whether you are interested in its medicinal properties or simply enjoy its delicate beauty, this wildflower is a lovely addition to any garden.

Blog Continued...

Fairy Flax, also known as Cathartic Flax, is a low-maintenance plant that is easy to grow, making it an ideal choice for novice gardeners. It is known for attracting bees and butterflies, making it a great addition to pollinator gardens. The plant is also a host to several species of butterfly larvae, including the Wood White butterfly.

In addition to its medicinal uses, Fairy Flax has also been used in traditional dyeing. The plant contains a blue dye that has been used to dye textiles for centuries. The blue dye was traditionally used to create a deep, rich color, but it was not as popular as indigo because it required a lot of plant material to create a small amount of dye.

Fairy Flax is also an important plant for wildlife. It is a source of food for many animals, including birds and insects. The plant's seeds are also an important food source for some small mammals.

However, Fairy Flax is considered a weed in some areas because it can be invasive and can spread quickly. It is important to research the plant's growing habits and to control its growth if necessary to prevent it from overtaking other plants in the area.

Fairy Flax has also been used in traditional medicine to treat eye infections and other eye-related conditions. Its seeds contain mucilage, a substance that can help soothe and protect the mucous membranes of the eye. The seeds have been used to make a poultice or eye wash to treat eye irritations and infections.

The plant's fibers have also been used in traditional weaving to make textiles, especially in the northern regions of Europe. The fibers are similar to flax fibers, but they are much finer and softer, making them ideal for creating delicate fabrics.

Fairy Flax is a beautiful and delicate plant that is an excellent addition to a naturalized or wildflower garden. It is also an important plant for bees and other pollinators, making it a valuable asset to any garden focused on promoting biodiversity.

Overall, Fairy Flax is a versatile plant with a rich history and many uses. It is a charming and easy-to-grow plant that can be used in a variety of ways, from herbal medicine to textiles. Whether you are interested in its beauty or its medicinal properties, Fairy Flax is a lovely plant that deserves a place in any garden.

One interesting fact about Fairy Flax is that it is an important indicator plant for soil conditions. The plant prefers dry, sandy or gravelly soils with low nutrient content. It is often found in disturbed areas or in habitats that have been subjected to fire or other disturbances. Because of its preference for these soil types, Fairy Flax can be used as an indicator plant to help determine soil conditions and the health of the ecosystem.

Fairy Flax has also been used in traditional ceremonies and rituals. In the ancient Celtic tradition, the plant was associated with the goddess Brigid and was used to create garlands and wreaths in her honor. In some parts of Europe, the plant was used to decorate homes during the Christmas season.

The plant's Latin name, Linum catharticum, is derived from its medicinal properties. The word "Linum" means "flax" in Latin, and "catharticum" refers to its purgative properties. The plant was traditionally used as a laxative, and it was believed to have cleansing and purifying properties.

Fairy Flax is a beautiful and delicate plant that has a rich history and many uses. Whether you are interested in its medicinal properties, its importance to wildlife, or its role in traditional folklore and culture, Fairy Flax is a fascinating and valuable plant that deserves our attention and appreciation.


Fairy Flax filmed at these two locations:
  • Barrow Wake, Gloucestershire: 25th June 2023
  • Hutton Roof, Cumbria: 9th July 2023

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Distribution Map

Reproduced by kind permission of the BSBI.

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