Dyer's Woad: A New Experiment on an Old Industry

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This summer I am going to plant woad.  What is woad?  It's a highly prolific plant used to produce indigo.  Utah, it seems, is an ideal place for woad to grow, as Cache County has it listed as a weed and removes around 22 tons of the stuff each year, just to bury in a landfill.  Indigo is a blue pigment that is produced naturally in a number of plants, from the indigo plant to woad.  For those of you who know your Celtic history, woad produced the blue pigment used by the Picts for painting their bodies.  It also has a very lasting color, one that is resistant to washing, bleach, and pollution.  Unlike synthetic dyes, it is produced using environmentally friendly methods and no toxic residue or wastes.So it would seem that in the prevailing eco-friendly political environment, processing woad on a large scale would be ideal.  Unfortunately, that's just the problem.  It's not that simple to process at a commercial level, though some farmers in England have had some success.  But what are the ratios of dye to plant matter processed?  That is what I intend to find out.  So this spring I am going to sow some woad seeds into the space between the road and the sidewalk, which is currently a barren wasteland of deteriorating red lava rock and a hotbed for weeds.  I hope to have enough plant material to produce a significant amount of indigo, to determine the feasibility of producing woad.  But from what I have read, you can only get about 2 grams per kilogram weight of fresh leaves, making it difficult to get a decent amount of indigo from woad.  We will see.But that is just one part, what about the market?  Is there a market for natural indigo?  I believe there will be, but finding it will be a little more difficult.  Most likely I could sell some on the Internet to those with special interests, and eventually perhaps I could move to the farmer's markets to cater to the local residents that are interested in their own pigments that are natural.  Then, finally, there is pricing.  How much should indigo made from woad cost?  A cursory cost of indigo pigment comes to $32.95 for 100 milliliters, or about 3.4 ounces of pigment. That is based on a search for indigo pigment, and not necessarily natural indigo pigment.  That price may not be an accurate reflection, and cannot be relied upon.  Ultimately I see a future for this industry in Utah, as woad grows well here in the dry conditions, and more "green" industries are growing in their significance.  Perhaps one day an effective woad processing plant can be built in the Cache Valley area, providing a place for the County government to dump all the unwanted woad, perhaps for a decent return on their bounty.