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In our part of the world the ripeness of flax is usually ascertained by two signs, the swelling of the seed, and its assuming a yellowish tint. It is then pulled up by the roots, made up into small sheaves that will just fill the hand, and hung to dry in the sun. It is suspended with the roots upwards the first day, and then for the five following days the heads of the sheaves are placed, reclining one against the other, in such a way that the seed which drops out may fall into the middle. Linseed is employed for various medicinal1 purposes, and it is used by the country-people of Italy beyond the Padus in a certain kind of food, which is remarkable for its sweet- ness: for this long time past, however, it has only been in general use for sacrifices offered to the divinities. After the wheat harvest is over, the stalks of flax are plunged in water that has been warmed in the sun, and are then submitted to pressure with a weight; for there is nothing known that is more light and buoyant than this. When the outer coat is loosened, it is a sign that the stalks have been sufficiently steeped; after which2 they are again turned with the heads downwards, and left to dry as before in the sun: when thoroughly dried, they are beaten with a tow-mallet on a stone.

The part that lies nearest to the outer coat is known by the name of "stuppa;" it is a flax of inferior quality, and is mostly employed for making the wicks of lamps. This, however, requires to be combed out with iron hatchels, until the whole of the outer skin is removed. The inner part presents numerous varieties of flax, esteemed respectively in proportion to their whiteness and their softness. Spinning flax is held to be an honourable3 employment for men even: the husks, or outer coats, are employed for heating furnaces and ovens. There is a certain amount of skill required in hatchelling flax and dressing it: it is a fair proportion for fifty pounds in the sheaf to yield fifteen pounds of flax combed out. When spun into thread, it is rendered additionally supple by being soaked in water and then beaten out upon a stone; and after it is woven into a tissue, it is again beaten with heavy maces: indeed, the more roughly it is treated the better it is.

1 It is the mucilage of the perisperm that is so useful in medicine. As an article of food, the farina of linseed is held in no esteem whatever. In times of scarcity, attempts have been made to mix it with flour or meal, but the result has been found to be heavy and indigestible, and has caused, it is said, the death even of those who have eaten of it in considerable quantities.

2 There are various other methods employed of dressing flax at the present day; but they are all of them long and tedious.

3 And not feminine or servile.

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