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Indigofera tinctoria - L.

Common Name Indigo, True Indigo, dye indigo
Family Fabaceae
USDA hardiness 5-12
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Not known
Range Probably originally from Malaysia, the plant now has a pantropical distribution.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (4 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Indigofera tinctoria Indigo, True Indigo, dye indigo

Indigofera tinctoria Indigo, True Indigo, dye indigo


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True Indigo or Indigofera tinctoria is a perennial plant reaching a height of 1-2 m upon maturity. Branches are spreading or ascending and are often woody. The leaves are pinnate. It is one of the major sources of deep blue dye. Medicinally, it is used to treat a wide range of disorders such as epilepsy, nervous disorders, asthma, bronchitis, fever, stomach pain, liver diseases, kidney and spleen diseases, skin conditions, wounds sores, hemorrhoids, gonorrhea, syphilis, snake bites, etc. The plant is also used as cover crop and green manure. It also has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria that form rood nodules and fix atmospheric nitrogen.

Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of shrub
Indigofera tinctoria is a deciduous Shrub growing to 2 m (6ft) by 2 m (6ft) at a fast rate.
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 6.
It can fix Nitrogen.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and prefers well-drained soil. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Anila tinctoria normalis Kuntze Indigofera anil orthocarpa DC. Indigofera bergii Vatke Indigofera ci

Plant Habitats

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves
Edible Uses: Colouring

The deep blue dye obtained from the leaves is sometimes used to counteract the slightly yellow colour of icing sugar[301 ].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Antiasthmatic  Antihaemorrhoidal  Epilepsy  Febrifuge  Kidney  Mouthwash  Skin  Stings  

A leaf infusion (sometimes combined with honey or milk) is used to treat a range of disorders including epilepsy and nervous disorders; asthma and bronchitis; fever; complaints of the stomach, liver, kidney and spleen; and as a rabies prophylactic[299 ]. Applied externally, the leaves are made into an ointment for treating skin diseases, wounds, sores, ulcers and haemorrhoids[299 ]. A tincture of the seed is used in India to kill lice[299 ]. A root preparation is applied to relieve toothache, syphilis, gonorrhoea and kidney stones[299 ]. A watery root paste is applied topically in India to treat worm-infested wounds[299 ]. A root infusion is used there as an antidote against snakebites and to treat insect and scorpion stings[299 ].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Green manure  Insecticide  Soil conditioner  Teeth

Agroforestry Uses: The plant is sometimes grown as a cover crop and green manure[418 ]. Indigofera tinctoria is useful as a green manure, it is used in India, for example, in coffee plantations and as a cover crop preceding rice, maize, cotton and sugarcane[299 ]. In traditional rainfed rice cropping systems in the Philippines, this plant is a popular green manure, increasing rice yield whilst also reducing by 50% the need to supply expensive nitrogen fertilizer[299 ]. The residue remaining after indigo extraction is also applied to the land as manure[299 ]. Another reason to grow Indigofera tinctoria as a green manure is because it is a good nitrogen catch crop, reducing the amount of fertilizer NO3 leaching to the groundwater[299 ]. Other Uses: A deep blue dye is obtained from the leaves[46 , 299 , 301 ]. The leaves and twigs do not actually contain indigo but colourless precursors that must be extracted and then processed in order to produce the indigo dye[299 ]. The harvested leafy branches are placed in a tank containing water to which some lime has been added, and are weighted down with planks[303 ]. After some hours of fermentation, during which enzymic hydrolysis leads to the formation of indoxyl, the liquid is drained off and then stirred continuously for several hours to stimulate oxidation of the indoxyl[303 ]. Afterwards the solution is left to rest and the insoluble indigo settles to the bottom as a bluish sludge[303 ]. The water is drained and after the indigo has dried, it is cut into cubes or made into balls[303 ]. To dye textiles, indigo is reduced to a soluble form by a fermentation process under alkaline conditions. In traditional preparations of the dye, various reducing agents such as molasses are used, together with coconut-milk, bananas and the leaves of Psidium guajava[303 ]. The alkalinity is maintained by adding lime. After the textile has been dipped into solution it turns blue when exposed to the air[303 ]. The twigs are used as toothbrushes[299 ].

Special Uses

Carbon Farming  Coppice  Food Forest  Nitrogen Fixer

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Industrial Crop: Dye  Management: Coppice  Minor Global Crop

A plant of the tropics and subtropics, where it is found at elevations up to 1,600 metres. It grows best in areas where annual daytime temperatures are within the range 22 - 28°c, but can tolerate 7 - 32°c[418 ]. It prefers a mean annual rainfall in the range 1,300 - 1,700mm, but tolerates 640 - 3,000mm[418 ]. Requires a position in full sun, succeeding in any deep, well-drained and moderately retentive and fertile soil[200 ]. Prefers a pH in the range 6 - 7, tolerating 4.3 - 8.7[418 ]. Requires a position sheltered from hot winds[418 ]. Branches are harvested by cutting 10 - 20cm above ground level when the plants are 4 - 5 months old and have formed a closed stand, usually at the flowering stage[299 ]. The crop should be harvested promptly because heavy rains or flooding can destroy it in a few hours. In India harvested branches are tied into bundles of about 130 kg and transported to the dye factory. Up to 3 harvests are possible per year[299 ]. Dye yields can be 1.6 - 5.4 tonnes per hectare[418 ]. This species has a symbiotic relationship with certain soil bacteria, these bacteria form nodules on the roots and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Some of this nitrogen is utilized by the growing plant but some can also be used by other plants growing nearby[755 ]. Flowering Time: Mid Spring. Bloom Color: Red-Orange or Pink. Spacing: 36-48 in. (90-120 cm).

Carbon Farming

  • Agroforestry Services: Nitrogen  Plants that contribute to nitrogen fixation include the legume family – Fabaceae.
  • Industrial Crop: Dye  Botanical dyes replacing synthetic dyes (known as heavy polluters).
  • Management: Coppice  Cut to the ground repeatedly - resprouting vigorously. Non-destructive management systems maintaining the soil organic carbon.
  • Minor Global Crop  These crops are already grown or traded around the world, but on a smaller scale than the global perennial staple and industrial crops, The annual value of a minor global crop is under $1 billion US. Examples include shea, carob, Brazil nuts and fibers such as ramie and sisal.

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Seed - pre-soak overnight in warm water and sow in a seedbed with partial shade. Germination takes about 4 days[299 ]. Semi-ripe cuttings of lateral shoots with a heel[200 ]. Root cuttings.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

dye indigo, Indian indigo, indigo, Indigostrauch - German, nanban-ai - Japanese Romaji, indigo - Swedish. Baludo, Banhebe, Banhepe, Bno, Caro, Carodim-o, Caromessem-o, Carre, Darko, Gara, Garatchendo, Ipute, Tinta, akika, amari, aviri, avuri, avuri (whole plant), avuri ver (root), añil, dye indigo, gali, galiparna, gari, indian indigo, indigo, indigo plant, indigostrauch, indigotier, kadu avuri, kadunili, karunili, kondannili, kalkesi, nanban-ai, neel, neela amari, neelamar, neeli, neeligida, nil, nila, nilam, nilbam, nili, nili chettu, nilika, nilini, nili, nilini, nilpu?pa, nili (leaf), nili (root), nili (whole plant), nilika, nilini, olleneeli, qing dai, rangapatri, rangapatri, true indigo,

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Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

Africa, Asia, Burkina Faso, Burma, East Africa, East Timor, Ethiopia, Guiana, Guinea, Guinée, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, India, Indochina, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, SE Asia, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Venezuela, West Africa, West Indies, Zambia,

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status : This taxon has not yet been assessed

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Indigofera arrectaBengal Indigo, Java indigo, Natal indigoPerennial2.0 10-12 MLMHNM224
Indigofera cassioides Shrub3.5 8-11  LMNM111
Indigofera decoraChinese indigoShrub1.0 5-7 MLMNM213
Indigofera hebepetala Shrub1.2 7-10  LMNM101
Indigofera hendecaphyllaCreeping indigo, spicate indigo, trailing indigoShrub0.5 10-12 FLMHFSNDM004
Indigofera heteranthaIndigo BushShrub3.0 6-9  LMNDM101
Indigofera kirilowiiKirilow's indigo, IndigoShrub1.5 5-7 MLMNM01 
Indigofera pseudotinctoriaIndigoShrub1.0 6-10 MLMNM10 
Indigofera suffruticosaAnil Indigo, Anil de pastoPerennial1.5 10-12 FLMHSNDM024

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

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A special thanks to Ken Fern for some of the information used on this page.

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