The na­ture of things

Woad and weld

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Edited by Vic­to­ria Marston

TWO of the old­est of dy­ers’ plants are flow­er­ing now. Woad (Isatis tinc­to­ria, top left, bot­tom left) pro­duces tall stems topped by loose, broc­coli-type heads full of tiny, sul­phur-yel­low flow­ers. It makes an un­usual and at­trac­tive, al­though short-lived, gar­den plant. Widely re­puted to have been the source of a tat­too ink used by an­cient Bri­tons and oth­ers, woad’s com­mer­cial value was al­ways in the slen­der leaves that, for sev­eral thou­sand years, pro­vided in­digo-blue pig­ment. How­ever, it’s said that the smell of the fer­ment­ing leaves pro­duced a smell so dis­gust­ing that it was an of­fence to process woad near royal palaces in Tu­dor times.

Orig­i­nally hail­ing from the Rus­sian steppes, its com­mer­cial value soon saw it be­ing widely cul­ti­vated else­where. Nat­u­ralised woad is very rare in Bri­tain, how­ever, ex­cept near es­tab­lish­ments where it’s still grown for its spe­cial pig­ments.

Weld, or dyer’s rocket (Reseda lu­te­ola, top right and bot­tom right), looks just like a way­side weed (which it is), send­ing up tall, way­ward pok­ers stud­ded with tiny, yel­low­ish flow­ers en­joyed by bees and but­ter­flies. Rich in lu­te­olin, it yields a bright-yel­low dye (and when blended with woad, the two pro­duce Lin­coln green). Dur­ing the Mid­dle Ages boom in wool pro­duc­tion in Bri­tain, weld cul­ti­va­tion de­vel­oped on a large scale, es­pe­cially in Kent, Es­sex and York­shire, the plant hav­ing an affin­ity with fastdrain­ing, neu­tral and lime-rich habi­tats. KBH

Il­lus­tra­tions by Bill Dono­hoe

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.