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Herb of the Week: Woad, Isatis tinctoria

This unassuming plant with pretty yellow flowers has a long and fasciating history!

A member of the humble cabbage family (Brassicaceae), woad is celebrated for the blue dye extracted from its leaves. The earliest recorded example of woad dyed textiles dates to 2500BC, and woad has been traded, used in textiles and ceremonies ever since - one of the most well-known uses is that of a warpaint used by the ancient Britons.

Trade in woad reached a peak in Britain in the middle ages - in the 15th century it was one of the most important imports into the country, which reflected the growth of the textile industry. Over the following centuries woad was rejected in favour of indigo, imported from India, which gave a much stronger blue colour.

Nowadays there's renewed interest in this fascinting herb, due to its use as a biodegradeble ink and its possible cancer fighting properties.

All the plants featured in our 'Herb of the Week' series are available from St Kitts Herbery at the time of publishing. Please contact us to check availability at other times of the year.

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