Indigo History 101


There are more than 300 species of plants that contain blue dye and they are in many different botanical families all around the world, the one thing they have in common though, is the chemical indican in their leaves.

Indigo, the blue dye is formed mainly through a chemical process of air oxidation with this chemical and because of this process they differ from all other natural dyes.

The most famous is Indigofera tinctoria which is considered an Old World indigo and is the plant that gave indigo its name as it's from India.

Indigofera tinctoria

Indigofera tinctoria

Indigofera suffruticosa, also called Mayo indigo and plantanillo, is from Central and South America and is the source of blue used by the Mayans, Aztecs and Incas to color their fibers. It's also the blue used to create the famous Mayan Blue in the ancient temples and on pottery.

Indigofera suffruticosa

Indigofera suffruticosa

Both of these indigos are in the Legume family and fix the nitrogen in the soil which also makes them valuable to help rebuild our damaged Earth.

Isatis tinctoria, is woad and has been Europe's source of blue almost since the beginning of time. It's currently being grown again in France and England as an important dye crop.

Persicarium tinctoria or Japanese indigo comes from the areas of the Far East such as China and Japan and has been used for centuries to create the beautiful blue and white textiles they are know for.

Persicarium tinctorium.jpg

It's starting to be grown here in the U.S. as a dye crop since it thrives in a much cooler climate than the Indigoferas.

In Africa and South East Asia there are numerous plants that have indican in their leaves and they've been used just as long as all the others as a source of blue.

Carolina Indigo

Carolina Indigo

Here in the Lowcountry of the Southern U.S., we have the native Indigofera caroliniana, or Carolina Indigo. It was never used as a dye source by the Native Americans in the region but was cultivated somewhat by the early settlers as it has a small amount of indican in it's leaves.

We'll be telling this Carolina Indigo story a lot over the next few months with indigo hero Elisa Lucas as our lead. Stay tuned...

Experience Sea Island Indigo first hand here on our September retreat.