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Woad flowers
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Brassicales
Family: Brassicaceae
Genus: Isatis
Species: I. tinctoria
Binomial name
Isatis tinctoria

Isatis indigotica Fortune

Woad (or glastum) is the common name of the flowering plant Isatis tinctoria in the family Brassicaceae. It is commonly called dyer's woad, and sometimes incorrectly listed as Isatis indigotica (a newer and invalid name for the same plant). It is occasionally known as Asp of Jerusalem. Woad is also the name of a blue dye produced from the plant. Woad is pronounced /ˈwoʊd/, to rhyme with road.

Woad is native to the steppe and desert zones of the Caucasus, Central Asia to eastern Siberia and Western Asia (Hegi), but is now found in southeastern and some parts of Central Europe as well. It has been cultivated throughout Europe, especially in Western and southern Europe, since ancient times.


History of woad cultivation

The first archaeological finds of woad seeds date to the Neolithic and have been found in the French cave of l'Audoste, Bouches du Rhone (France). Named Färberwaid (Isatis tinctoria L.) or German Indigo of the plant family (Brassicaceae), in the Iron Age settlement of the Heuneburg, Germany, impressions of the seeds have been found on pottery. The Hallstatt burials of Hochdorf and Hohmichele contained textiles dyed with Färberwaid (dye woad).

Julius Caesar tells us (in De Bello Gallico) that the Britanni used to colour their bodies blue with vitrum, a word that roughly translates to "glass". While many have assumed vitrum or vitro refers to woad, and this misconception was probably repeated for political reasons,[2] it is probable that Caesar was describing some form of copper- or iron-based pigment.[2] The northern inhabitants of Britain came to be known as Picts (Picti), which means "painted ones" in Latin, due to these accounts of them painting or tattooing their bodies.

In Viking age levels at York, a dye shop with remains of both woad and madder dating from the tenth century have been excavated. In Medieval times, centres of woad–cultivation lay in Lincolnshire and Somerset in England, Gascogne, Normandy, the Somme Basin (from Amiens to Saint-Quentin), Toulouse and Britany in France, Jülich, the Erfurt area in Thuringia in Germany and Piedmont and Tuscany in Italy. A major market for woad was at Görlitz in Silesia.[3] The citizens of the five Thuringian Färberwaid (dye woad) towns of Erfurt, Gotha, Tennstedt, Arnstadt and Langensalza had their own charters. In Erfurt, the woad-traders gave the funds to found the University of Erfurt. Traditional fabric is still printed with woad in Thuringia, Saxony and Lusatia today: it is known as Blaudruck (literally, 'blue print(ing)').

Medieval uses of the dye were not limited to textiles. For example, the illustrator of the Lindisfarne Gospels used a woad-based pigment for blue paint.

Woad and indigo

Woad plants in their first year
Indigo Dye
About these coordinates About these coordinates
— Color coordinates —
Hex triplet #00416A
RGBB (r, g, b) (0, 65, 106)
HSV (h, s, v) (203°, 100%, 42%)
B: Normalized to [0–255] (byte)

The dye chemical extracted from woad is indigo, the same dye extracted from "true indigo", Indigofera tinctoria, but in a lower concentration. With the European discovery of the seaway to India, great amounts of indigo were imported. Laws were passed in some parts of Europe to protect the woad industry from the competition of the indigo trade. Indigo was proclaimed to rot the yarns as well. "In 1577 the German government officially prohibited the use of indigo, denouncing it as that pernicious, deceitful and corrosive substance, the Devil's dye." [4] "... a recess of the Diet held in 1577 prohibited the use of 'the newly-invented, deceitful, eating and corrosive dye called the devil's dye.' This prohibition was repeated in 1594 and again in 1603."[5] With the development of a chemical process to synthesize the pigment, both the woad and natural indigo industries collapsed in the first years of the twentieth century. The last commercial harvest of woad until recent times occurred in 1932, in Lincolnshire, Britain. Small amounts of woad are now grown in UK and France to supply craft dyers.[6] The classic book about woad is "The Woad Plant and its Dye" by J B Hurry, Oxford University Press, 1930, which contains an extensive bibliography.[7]

In Germany, there are attempts to use woad to protect wood against decay without dangerous chemicals. Production is also increasing again in the UK for use in inks, particularly for inkjet printers, and dyes, as woad is biodegradable and safe in the environment, unlike many synthetic inks. Isatis tinctoria is viewed as an invasive species in parts of the United States.

Woad and health

Chemicals from woad might be used to prevent cancer, as it can produce high levels of glucobrassicin[8][9]. Young leaves when damaged can produce more glucobrassicin, up to 65 times as much.[10]

Indigowoad Root (Chinese: pinyin: bǎn lán gēn) is a traditional Chinese medicine herb that comes from the roots of woad, but often incorrectly listed under the synonymic name, Isatis indigotica. It is also known as Radix isatidis. The herb is cultivated in various regions of northern China, namely Hebei, Beijing, Heilongjiang, Henan, Jiangsu, and Gansu. The roots are harvested during the autumn and dried. The dried root is then processed into granules, which are most commonly consumed dissolved in hot water or tea. The product, called Banlangen Keli, is very popular throughout China, and used to remove toxic heat, soothe sore throat and to treat influenza, measles, mumps, syphilis, or scarlet fever. It is also used for pharyngitis, laryngitis, erysipelas, and carbuncle, and to prevent hepatitis A, epidemic meningitis, cancer and inflammation. Possible minor side effects include allergic reactions and dizziness; only large dosages or long term usage can be toxic to the kidneys. These treatments have not generally been evaluated clinically.

Invasive and noxious weed

In certain locations the plant is classified as non-native and invasive weed. It is listed as a noxious weed by the agriculture departments of several states in the western United States.[11][12] In Montana, it has been the target of an extensive, and largely successful, eradication attempt. [13]


  1. ^ King Arthur movie mistakes
  2. ^ a b The Problem of the Woad
  3. ^ Werner Sombart, Der Moderne Kapitalismus (15ty ed.) 1928, vol I, p. 231.
  4. ^ Lippincott's Magazine of Popular Literature and Science, Volume 17, No. 100, April, 1876.
  5. ^ D G Schreber, Historische, physische und economische Beschreibung des Waidtes, 1752, the appendix; Thorpe JF and Ingold CK, 1923, Synthetic colouring matters - vat colours (London: Longmans, Green), p. 23
  6. ^ [1]
  7. ^ [2]
  8. ^ Galletti, Stefania; Barillari, Jessica; Iori, Renato; Venturi, Gianpietro (14 August 2006). "Glucobrassicin enhancement in woad (Isatis tinctoria) leaves by chemical and physical treatments". Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture (Wiley) 86 (12): 1833-1836. doi:10.1002/jsfa.2571.  
  9. ^ "War paint plant 'tackles cancer'". BBC online, 13 August 2006. Accessed 2007-06-02
  10. ^ "Celts' warpaint may be weapon to beat cancer". The Telegraph,14 August 2006. Accessed 2007-06-02
  11. ^ "PLANTS Profile for Isatis tinctoria (Dyer's woad)". Retrieved November 24 2009.  
  12. ^ "Prohibited, Regulated and Restricted Noxious Weeds". Retrieved November 24 2009.  
  13. ^ Monica L. Pokorny and Jane M. Krueger-Mangold. "Evaluating Montana’s Dyer’s Woad (Isatis tinctoria) Cooperative Eradication Project". Weed Technology 2007 21:262–269.  

External links


WOAD or Woad may refer to:

  • Woad, the common name of the flowering plant Isatis tinctoria in the family Brassicaceae.
  • WOAD (AM), a radio station (1300 AM) licensed to Jackson, Mississippi.
  • WOAD-FM, a radio station (105.9 FM) licensed to Pickens, Mississippi.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

WOAD, a herbaceous plant, known botanically as Isatis tinctoria (natural order Cruciferae), which occurs sporadically in England in fields, on banks and chalk-pits. The erect branched stem, 1 to 3 ft. in height, bears sessile leaves and terminal clusters of small yellow flowers; the brown pendulous pods are in. long. The ancient Britons stained themselves with this plant. It is still cultivated in Lincolnshire.

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