Isatis tinctoria

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Isatis tinctoria L.

alt=Description of Isatis tinctoria habitus.jpg picture.
flowering plant
Order Brassicales
Family Brassicaceae
Genus Isatis

2n = 14

Origin : Mediterranean, Europe,
Siberia to Japan

wild, cultivated and naturalized

English woad
French pastel ; gaude

Uses summary
  • fermented leaves : indigo blue dyeing


  • biennial herb, up to 1.5 m tall
  • whole leaves, blueish color
  • large panicle of bright yellow flowers
  • fruits: short and flat siliques

Popular names

english woad
french pastel, guède
german Waid
dutch wede
italian guado, gualdo
spanish yerba pastel
catalan glast, pastell, herba del pastell
portuguese pastel
  • See all common names in European languages
  • Gaude, woad and the german word Waid are all of Germanic origins. In French, the plant was called pastel because the leaves are ground into a paste; the word is Languedocian and derives from the Latin word pasta.


Isatis tinctoria L. (1753)

It's a very variable species.




young leaves as used

It was formerly cultivated in large areas of Europe, from Middle East to Afghanistan and N India, Central Asia, Egypt, China, seldom in South America. During the Middle Ages and at the beginning of the Modern Age centres of cultivation were located in S England, S and NW France, Italy (Tuscany) and Germany (Thuringia as well as the lower Rhine area). At that time this species had an international economic importance as a dye plant, the blue dye could be produced from the leaves; it could also be used as an ingredient for certain other colours. Therefore, it was considered in former times as an universal vegetable dye plant. Its cultivation is known from the ancient time, because the Celtic and Teutonic tribes used this species already. After importing the proper indigo (see Indigofera spp.) the cultivation decreased rapidly in the 17th cent. But during the continental embargo of Napoleon I its acreage increased for a short time. The cultivation disappeared completely during the late 19th cent. (also last cultivation in Germany in Thuringia). Large- and glabrous-leaved forms were mainly cultivated. Formerly this plant was also used for medicinal purposes, recently it is propagated in Russia as a forage plant. As a dye plant it is today still cultivated in gardens in central Asia, mainly for preparing home-made cosmetics. Recently cultivation has come into a period of revival in several European countries. From the systematic point of view this species belongs to a very variable group, in which continous variation makes the species delimitation very difficult. It is also not clear whether some of the synonyms represent true species (i.e. I. indigotica) or whether further taxa need to be taken into account. This complex has its centre of diversity from the Middle East to Transcaucasia.


Fermented leaves are pressed into balls called cocagnes in French, and are used to dye indigo blue. Their use declined considerably with the arrival of tropical indigo during the 17th century, and disappeared with industrial dyes.


  • Vaissière Sébastien & Félix Alain, 2006. Le Pastel, Visite en pays de cocagne. Loubatières.