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woad, name for a perennial plant (Isatis tinctoria) of the family Cruciferae (or Brassicaceae; mustard family) and for a blue dye obtained from its leaves. The plant is believed to be native to S Russia, but was in cultivation (and escaped) throughout Europe in early times. The pigment was obtained by fermentation and oxidation of a colorless glucoside, indican. Indican is also present in the leaves of the unrelated indigo, the other major blue vegetable dye plant. Although the dye obtained from indigo is superior in vividness of color, fastness, and ease of processing, woad growers and distributors of the Renaissance prohibited the sale of indigo in Europe for more than a century. In 1392 the Saxon town of Erfurt, Germany, had gained enough wealth through the woad trade to establish its own university. By the mid-17th cent., however, woad had been largely replaced by its successor—partly because of the low prices of indigo imports from the New World. Both woad and indigo have been eclipsed by the synthetic aniline dyes perfected in the late 19th cent. Woad was also extensively used for brilliant blue paint pigments. The ancients used it medicinally for ulcers and other ailments, and the early Britons painted their bodies with it. Woad is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Capparales (or Brassicales), family Cruciferae (or Brassicaceae).


See J. B. Hurry, The Woad Plant and Its Dye (1930, repr. 1974).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Isatis), a genus of plants of the family Cruciferae.

Woad is an annual or biennial, less commonly perennial herb with alternate leaves and yellow flowers. The fruit is a monospermous hanging silicle. There are about 60 species of woad in Asia and Europe and 37 species in the USSR growing on flooded meadows, steppes, and dry rocky slopes, primarily in the Caucasus and Middle Asia and less commonly in the steppe zone of the European USSR and in Western and Eastern Siberia. The most common species is Isatis tinctoria, whose leaves yield a dark blue coloring (indigo) used to dye cloth. Its fruits contain 30 percent fatty oil. It was once widely cultivated in Western Europe as a dye plant, but this almost stopped when indigo began to be produced synthetically. Sometimes woad, mainly Isatis emar-ginata, is grown for fodder.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a European plant, Isatis tinctoria, formerly cultivated for its leaves, which yield a blue dye: family Brassicaceae (crucifers)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
Growers of woad, a plant indigenous to Britain that contains low concentrations of indigo, furiously opposed use of logwood extract.
They point out that woad production can provide farmers with a new source of income at a time when returns from traditional sources are plunging.
In return the ships would take back casks of Toulouse woad, a dye vital until the growth of the indigo trade after 1498, when the Portuguese reached India.(7) Woad from Toulouse, or else from the other main centres of production in Picardy or Thuringia, was one of many commodities traded in by Gilbert Maghfeld, Chaucer's creditor.(8)
The Castros became identified in Burgos with the importation into Spain of English woolen cloth; the Bernuys made fortunes from the blue dyestuff, woad, which they purchased in Toulouse and sold in Spain, and indeed they served as the revivers of the Toulouse woad industry in the absence of local entrepreneurs; the Quintanaduenas family exported Spanish wool to a developing market in Rouen and then shipped Rouen's woolen and linen cloth, as well as miscellaneous other products, to many locations, including Spain and the New World.
In Ancient Britain, the Picts used a plant called woad to dye themselves which colour?
It has many claims to fame including the little-known fact that the famous blue tunics of Napoleon's 'Grande Armee' were once produced here by using its woad or pastel.
Sara explained the background to the project: "In medieval times, when the house was built, Coventry was a centre for the weaving trade and the city was best known for its fine woad dyed blue cloth, 'Coventry Blue.'.
We might not bathe in milk while torching cigars with tenners but we won't be painted in woad and living in caves either.
Here's gentian violet, the woad of the ancient Britons.
There was a time when it was less a case of 'first choose your (possibly virtual) colour palette' as 'first venture yonder in search of the plant called Woad, gather ye some leaves, tear and steep well, and lo!