What is a “woad”? I’ll be honest, I didn’t know until I stumbled across the word in a book I’m reading on color and design called “The Color Design Sourcebook“.
Woad is a plant that’s been around for centuries, and it’s famous for being a natural blue dye (click here for a little woad history). According to Webster’s a woad is “a European herb (Isatis tinctoria) of the mustard family formerly grown for the blue dyestuff yielded by its leaves.” It’s where Indigo comes from. I never knew that.
Apparently, I should. There’s six degrees of separation going on here. I mentioned woad is a part of the mustard family, otherwise known as the Brassicaceae family, which includes cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli. I grow broccoli and other members of the brassica family in my vegetable garden. Every year the yellow flowers would come. Turns out they are woad flowers! WOAD flowers!
Color’s history is fascinating. It’s not something we think about. Color has just been around. No one asks where it comes from. But that wasn’t always the case. If you wore deep, dark or very bright colors back in the Elizabethan days (and way before), then color represents your social position. Only the wealthy could afford expensive dyes, like scarlet and red.
It’s not as complicated as you might think to make your own dye. I’m not planning on it, but in case you’re interested and live in the right areas of the world, here’s how you do it: http://www.woad.org.uk/html/extraction.html Woad is a biennial. The first year, it’s small and kind of resembles lettuce.
If it’s not harvested in the first year, the plant morphs into a tall bush with bright yellow flowers.
I shall never look at a pair blue jeans or yarn and not think of woad. Woad about you? I can’t help it.
For you King Arthur fans, this one is for you. Woad Warriors.