Growing Japanese indigo for dyeing wool
This is Master Natural Dyer Zuni Ishikawa’s garden plot at Juniper Street Community Garden. The green, leafy plants in the foreground are Japanese indigo (Polygonum tinctorium, a species of buckwheat). The species name “tinctorium" is used for many dye plants. She harvested the plants several weeks ago for an indigo dyeing class. The stalks are now regrowing and will continue to grow until our first frost, so she will get a second, smaller, harvest of the dye plant. The upper photo shows Zuni’s indigo-dyed Navajo-Churro yarn for sale.
A number of unrelated plant species with leaves that produce the indigo dye molecule are found around the world. “True” indigo is a tropical species from India that produces an especially high amount of indigo, but the many Japanese indigo-dyed textiles were traditionally dyed blue with Japanese indigo. Woad is the European indigo species. In Flagstaff’s alpine climate at 7,000 feet elevation, Japanese indigo is probably our best indigo species (even though buckwheat species are frost intolerant, they are actually cool season crops that prefer cooler growing temperatures).
Do you know which indigo species are best for your climate?