True Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria)

In the past, it was not uncommon for certain plants and animals to be used to dye clothing. This flower was just one of those more natural dyes. The dye from this plant is not widely used due to the prevalence of chemical dyes. Let's discover more about this curious plant.

Physical Description and Characteristics

True Indigo is a member of the bean family. It can grow to be up to 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. They have light green pinnate leaves that can be found in sets of 4-7. After the petals fall off, they turn into seed pods which can be up to 2 inches long.

Fun fact: True indigo is one of the original sources for the color indigo. It has been used as a dye dating back to 2300 BCE on mummies in Egypt. However, sometime after that, it got a bad rap, with many believing it to be corrosive. It was not until around the 1500's CE that it was widely used as a dye again.

The interesting thing to note is that the flowers of this plant are a pink or violet color. Many people think the flowers are where the indigo dye comes from, but that would be incorrect. The dye comes from fermenting the leaves, which contain the organic chemical, indican. Fermenting the leaves transforms the indican into indigotin, which provides that deep bluish-purple color.

Habitat and Location

This plant prefers full sunlight, as well as well-drained soil. It can be found in USDA zones 10-12 in the US, and it can be found near the equator all around the world. This is because it is used as a house plant and to make dyes (though not as frequently as in the past).

For instance, it is found in South Africa, New Zealand, some parts of Europe, the southern United States, Central America, and northern South America, Australia, and South Asia. Wars were fought in history over this plant, so it is not shocking that it is found all over the globe.

To see the making of indigo dye from this plant, check out the video below:

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