Biology of Woad


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field of woad in flowerWoad (Isatis tinctoria) is a native of the Mediterranean and belongs to the family Cruciferae (the brassicas), as do broccoli, cabbage and rape seed.

The neon yellow flowers, which appear in May, have a wonderful fragrance and attract plenty of bees.

The black seeds are winged, resembling small tongues, and can produce an olive dye.

  1. 1st year woad plants
  2. 2nd year woad plants
  3. Collecting woad seeds

1st year woad plantWoad is a biennial plant. That is it grows for two years before dying down.

In the first year, it forms a low-growing cluster of leaves like spinach.

The leaves are harvested for dye production at this stage, and in the first year only, because they have little or no colour when they reach the second year.

Woad plants in 2nd yearIn the second year, the plant produces tall stems up to five or six feet in height that are surmounted by sprays of small, neon yellow flowers.

The leaves become longer and thinner and the plant looks quite different.

After producing seeds, the plant dies down.
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Woad plants producing seed
When the harvest is finished, leave a couple of strong plants for seed production. It is best to dig up the other plants before they become too large and, therefore, difficult to dig up.

Collect all the seeds as soon as they are ripe. The seed stalks can also be used in flower arranging.

Be careful not to let woad self-seed, as it can be an invasive plant (see Facts about Woad). It does not however spread vegetatively.

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