Dyer's Woad: A New Experiment on an Old Industry
This summer I am going to plant woad. Â What is woad? Â It's a highly prolific plant used to produce indigo. Â 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. Â Indigo is a blue pigment that is produced naturally in a number of plants, from the indigo plant to woad. Â For those of you who know your Celtic history, woad produced the blue pigment used by the Picts for painting their bodies. Â It also has a very lasting color, one that is resistant to washing, bleach, and pollution. Â 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. Â Unfortunately, that's just the problem. Â It's not that simple to process at a commercial level, though some farmers in England have had some success. Â But what are the ratios of dye to plant matter processed? Â That is what I intend to find out. Â 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. Â I hope to have enough plant material to produce a significant amount of indigo, to determine the feasibility of producing woad. Â 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. Â We will see.But that is just one part, what about the market? Â Is there a market for natural indigo? Â I believe there will be, but finding it will be a little more difficult. Â 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. Â Then, finally, there is pricing. Â How much should indigo made from woad cost? Â 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. Â That price may not be an accurate reflection, and cannot be relied upon. Â 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. Â 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.