If you saw this plant in your garden, you would probably yank it out without giving it a second thought, which is what I did.
I know it may not be much to look at, but this plant has historically played a vital role in the fiber industry, and is still important in the cottage industry.
It’s called woad, or dyer’s woad, and it’s a member of the broccoli family. It is the source of a bright blue pigment that has been used to dye yarn and fabrics since Ancient Egyptians, who used it to dye their clothing. The Celts would paint their bodies with it in order to frighten their enemies. Thus, the tribes of Northern Britain were known as the Picti, or “painted people”. Woad use continued throughout the Middle Ages, and into recent times. Woad dye was commonly mixed with common woodsorrel to produce the famous Robin Hood green. It was purposely introduced to the United States in the early Colonial period as a cash crop, where it has since gone a little out of control, and now can be found almost everywhere. Woad was the favored dye for the uniforms of the French army during the Napoleonic Wars. The vivid blue coloring made them easy to shoot. Woad finally fell out of fashion around 1930, when Asian indigo finally caught up with it after centuries of competition.
Woad continues to be used by home spinners to color yarn and fabrics. There are a myriad of recipes on the internet about how to make the dye yourself; I haven’t tried any of them myself, so I can’t rightly recommend any of them. If you’re interested in trying it yourself, I understand it’s a very lengthy, smelly process.
Dye is not the only use for woad, however. Woad has a long history of use in traditional medicine, and comes recommended by many herbalists today. The leaves and roots contain many antiviral and anticancer compounds that just need bringing out. Chris Dalziel has provided detailed instructions on cultivating, collecting, processing and using woad, which can be found here.
Thanks for reading, and remember, think before you yank!
**Opinions expressed on blogs about which I write are the opinion of the blog authors and DO NOT necessarily reflect my own opinion.