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WOAD Question

Poster: Betty & David Eyer <Betty_and_David@compuserve.com>

I am replying to the lady who was inquiring about growing woad.  I
apologize, but I inadvertantly deleted the post from my pc and cannot
remember her name.  

I planted woad last spring and it is doing well in my garden as we speak. 
I tested it for dye last summer, and got a pleasant, but somewhat light
blue on wool and silk.  I have posted to various fibercraft lists and found
my results to be fairly normal - it takes a LOT (10-12 full size plants?)
to get a deep blue on a pound of wool, and extracting it from a new plant
is not as easy as using purchased indigo. 

It is good to start it fairly early in the spring or start it in the fall
and let it over winter.  The latter is the method that it uses to self seed
and if the plant has a chance to get established, then it will do well over
the winter.  It likes a rich, loose soil and it will exhaust any plot it is
put in after a few seasons.  I put mine in a small elevated bed full of
composted soil and lots of mulch. That plot tends to stay rather damp, but
the woad doesnt seem to mind.    

When it is very small, it looks like almost every other weed in your
garden, so I recommend that you start it indoors and move it to a well
weeded garden once it is large enough to recognize.  It is slow to get
going.  I planted mine in late March and in May, I thought it had been a
failure and started weeding the plot.  When I noticed my gloves turning
blue-green, I decided that I was making a terrible mistake and stopped.  
It sort of like a loose cabbage, with big, elongated leaves, somewhat
thicker on the ends than close to the root.  It will get to be larger than
a dinner plate  before it seeds.  It seeds by sending up tall stalks with
little pods.  

The plant is most potent in mid summer, but will give color throughout the
warm months.  It is a biennial and self seeds on its second season. 
CAUTION: it is a very prolific self seeder and is considered a noxious
weed!  If left to itself, once established, it will TAKE OVER!  When the
seeds begin to develop, wrap them in cheese cloth or similar and remove
them for later use once they are fully developed.  Do not let them drop in
your garden or blow about your yard.  6 woad plants in full seed will
supply you and all of your friends with plenty of plants.  I got my seeds
in the mail from an electronic friend on a fibercraft forum.  It is illegal
to sell the seeds commercially in some states and I have never seen the
seeds for sale.  I have a very few seeds, but should have plenty next fall.

There is a good description of using fresh indigo in the book 'A Weaver's
Garden' by Rita Buchanan.  Her methods work very well for woad.  She also
discusses woad's cultivation and a brief history.   Although I have not
done enough experimentation to speak with real authority, I believe that a
fermentation vat will work better at getting the most out of woad than a
quick, chemical vat.  I left some sample pieces in the mash left over from
my test and put it out on the patio for two months.  I got better color
from that sample than from the chemical vat.  

I have never used fresh woad for er....ah.... ceremonial reasons.  However,
crushing a fresh leaf in mid summer and rubbing it vigorously on the pulse
area of your wrist will convince you that its alleged mental effects are
not mythical.  

Magdalena de Hazebrouck

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