I'm completely obsessed about woad. The plant is a relative of the cabbage and it creates a gorgeous blue dye. There's a long history of it being used in Medieval times and before. The great thing about it, is it grows well where I live with very little effort.
The blue dye in woad is the same as in Indigo. We have a lovely long thread about this dye and the plants that create it.
But I thought, why not have a thread just for woad?
Indigo doesn't grow well where I live. It needs cosseting, extra irrigation, soil fertility and all sorts of added effort that I'm not interested in giving it. Even though Indigo is more efficient than woad - it produces so much more dye per weight of plant than woad - it is less efficient for me to grow indigo. I don't think that makes sense. But basically, for a tiny amount of effort, I can grow massive amounts of woad and get nearly unlimited blue dye while helping to break up compacted soil. For a lot of effort, I can grow a tiny amount of the more efficient indigo plants and get an itty bitty amount of blue dye.
I'm going to focus my energy on growing woad. Although I admit, I'm still getting to know this plant and what it can do. That's why I started a thread about it, so we can learn together.
My cute little baby woad plants from last spring. I started them indoors last March and planted them out when the frost started to lessen in early April. The ones I planted out after the last frost did better and gave me an extra harvest, so this year I'll plant them out later.
I grew my woad in an area with poor, excessively well-drained soil, and zero irrigation. They had no water or rain from May 1st through to October and did well. They thrived. I got three harvests from them, and could probably have gotten four more. But I wanted to leave the plants to gather energy and make seeds.
Harvesting the dye was interesting. The first attempted, I tried the extraction method
which gives a blue powder that we can store and use later. One kilo of leaves gave me 1 gram of blue powder which (according to what I've read) dyes about 10 grams of fibre.
For the next harvests, I tried making woad balls
. The leaves are mashed up and then shaped into a ball. The theory is that the balls ferment inside as they dry and convert the dye into a useable form.
What I liked best with this method is that it was purely mechanical. No heat, no excess water, no chemicals. This is a traditional European method and I'm looking forward to experimenting with woad balls this year.
Some more links about woad.