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Isatis tinctoria - L.

Common Name Woad, Dyer's woad
Family Brassicaceae or Cruciferae
USDA hardiness 6-9
Known Hazards None known
Habitats Cliffs and cornfields, often on chalky soils[17, 200].
Range C. and S. Europe. Naturalized in S. and C. England.
Edibility Rating    (2 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential Yes
Medicinal Rating    (3 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Isatis tinctoria Woad, Dyer

Isatis tinctoria Woad, Dyer


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Isatis tinctoria is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 1 m (3ft 3in) by 0.5 m (1ft 8in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 7 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from June to August, and the seeds ripen from August to September. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Insects.
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 and can grow in very alkaline soils.
It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

 Cultivated Beds; East Wall. In. South Wall. In. West Wall. In.

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Leaves
Edible Uses:

Leaves - they require long soaking in order to remove a bitterness, and even then they are still bitter[177, 179]. There is no record of the seeds being edible, but they contain 12 - 34% protein and 12 - 38% fat on a zero moisture basis[218].

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.
Antibacterial  Antiviral  Astringent  Cancer

Woad has rather a mixed press for its medicinal virtues. One author says it is so astringent that it is not fit to be used internally - it is only used externally as a plaster applied to the region of the spleen and as an ointment for ulcers, inflammation and to staunch bleeding[4]. However, it is widely used internally in Chinese herbal medicine where high doses are often employed in order to maintain high levels of active ingredients[238]. The leaves are antibacterial, anticancer, antiviral, astringent and febrifuge[148, 176, 218, 238]. It controls a wide range of pathogenic organisms, including viruses[218, 238]. It is used internally in the treatment of a wide range of disorders, including meningitis, encephalitis, mumps, influenza, erysipelas, heat rash etc[238]. The leaves are harvested in the summer and can be used fresh or dried[238]. They are also macerated and the blue pigment extracted. This is also used medicinally, particularly in the treatment of high fevers and convulsions in children, coughing of blood and as a detoxifier in infections such as mumps[238]. The root is antibacterial and anticancer[176]. It is used in the treatment of fevers, pyogenic inflammation in influenza and meningitis, macula in acute infectious diseases, erysipelas, mumps and epidemic parotitis[176]. Its antibacterial action is effective against Bacillus subtilis, haemolytic streptococcus,, C. diphtheriae, E. coli, Bacillus typhi, B. paratyphi, Shigella dysenteriae, S. flexneri and Salmonella enteritidis[176]. Both the leaves and the roots are used in the treatment of pneumonia[218]. The root and the whole plant have anticancer properties whilst extracts of the plant have shown bactericidal properties[218].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Dye  Preservative

Woad is historically famous as a dye plant, having been used as a body paint by the ancient Britons prior to the invasion of the Romans[238]. A blue dye is obtained from the leaves by a complex process that involves fermenting the leaves and produces a foul stench[6, 14, 46, 57, 100, 238]. The dye is rarely used nowadays, having been replaced first by the tropical Indigofera tinctoria and more recently by synthetic substitutes[238]. Nevertheless, it is a very good quality dye that still finds some use amongst artists etc who want to work with natural dyes. A very good quality green is obtained by mixing it with Dyer's greenwood (Genista tinctoria)[238]. Woad is also used to improve the colour and quality of indigo, as well as to form a base for black dyes[244]. The leaves are harvested when fully grown and 3 - 4 harvests can be made in total[244]. Recent research in Germany has shown that (the dyestuff in?) this plant is a very good preservative for wood[Radio 4 Farming programme].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

An easily grown plant, it prefers a well-drained fertile soil in a sunny position[14], though it succeeds in ordinary garden soil[1]. Prefers neutral to alkaline conditions[238]. Plants deplete the soil of nutrients and cannot be grown successfully on the same site for more than two years[4]. Plants are hardy to about -15°c[200]. Woad is a biennial, or occasionally a short-lived perennial plant. It has a very long history as a dye plant, being used by the ancient Britons to give a blue colouring to the skin. At one time woad was widely cultivated for this blue dye obtained from its leaves but with the advent of chemical dyes it has fallen into virtual disuse[4]. It is currently (1993) being grown commercially on a small scale in Germany as a wood preservative (An item on BBC's Radio 4 Farming Programme). Plants self-sow freely when they are grown in a suitable position[14], though they tend not to thrive if grown in the same position for more than two years[238].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

Temperature Converter

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Plant Propagation

Seed - sow spring in situ. Fresh seed can also be sown in situ in late summer, it will take 20 months to flower but will produce more leaves[169].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

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Found In

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

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 :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Isatis glauca Perennial1.0 6-9  LMHNM001
Isatis japonica Biennial0.0 -  LMHNM001
Isatis lusitanica Annual/Biennial0.6 -  LMHNM10 

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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Readers comment

   Sun Jul 25 06:57:43 2004

The German name is F?rber-Waid or F?rber Waid, it is also known as "Th?ringer Waid" Holzschutz. A German firm sells a wood preservative based on this plant, for information http://www.prowira-gmbh.de/waid.htm

mike roberts   Tue Jan 22 2008

All About Woad History, Cultivation of Woad, Preparation, Use of the Dye, and more, brought to you by Teresinha Roberts who cultivates Woad and other traditional dye plants

Dr. Renate Kaiser-Alexnat   Sat Jul 21 2007

Färberwaid (Isatis tinctoria L.): History, biology, cultivation, processing and using of woad

   Sat May 10 2008

Isatis indigotica is not the same as Isatis tinctoria. I. indigotica is native to northern china, and supposedly has a slightly higher indigotin content.

Michael Angel   Sun Nov 23 2008

It is interesting that Celts used this anti-bacterial and astringent herb before going into battle In the days when minor battle wounds were deadly.

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