Monday, April 11, 2016

Indigo for the Dye..or I

Indigo dye plant flowers - Indigofera tinctoria
image from


I've been talking about plants for food and plants for companion plantings, but now I want to bring up a plant that has a different use. Indigo is a plant that grows best in warm humid climates and is used as a natural dye. It is a deep blue often most associate with a denim color. It sets well but also fades but keeps it's beautiful blue tone. Natural dyes and food dyes are something I've been learning more about, I'd like to be able to add a few dye options to our garden this year for dying wool and yarn

The dye is extracted from the leaves so it takes a lot of plants to produce a usable amount of dye. Due to this issue in the 1880's the creator of Baeyer Aspirin, Adolf Von Baeyer, researched the chemical composition of Indigo. Later K. Heumann would build on this research to synthesize pathway to produce indigo, within 14 years they would be creating indigo in a lab. Baeyer would go on to earn a Nobel Prize in 1905 for his work. Of course the downside to this is the amount of harsh chemicals that are used to create this popular dye color. Many companies are now researching a more environmentally friendly alternative.

I'm actually getting my seeds from The Woolery, if you are interested in Indigo or other types of dye plants check with your Ag office, some could be considered invasive and can't be shipped to your area. If you can't find Indigo in your area an alternative is Woad.

Indigo is part of the legume family, the same family as beans and alfalfa. It can grow as a shrub up to 5 feet tall and can be annual, biennial or perennial depending on your garden zone. It can also be used in a short season as a cover crop like other legumes, since it will add nitrogen to the soil.

 The best time to harvest the leaves is just before the blooms emerge, only harvesting half so the plant doesn't suffer. The leaves will need to be soaked in water first, then fermented and then lye is added to the resulting mixture to create the dye. Which can be used to dye fabrics and yarn.

If you are interested in dyeing with natural dyes the US Forest Service has this great page that talks about what plants create certain colors and how they have been used in the past.

Thanks for stopping by and be sure to check out the extensive list of bloggers who are writing daily in the A to Z Challenge! Tuesday is J and I'm talking about Jalapeno Peppers in your garden and a great recipe, too!