Japanese Indigo

Persicaria tinctoria

Indigo in the garden

Fresh leaf indigo dye liquid

(Fresh indigo leaves blended with ice water and strained)

Fermentation process of indigo (Part of the process for making indigo powder)

Use of Japanese Indigo dates back to the tenth century. Originally used exclusively by the elite class, indigo became widespread in Japan in the Edo Period (1603-1867 AD). The Edo Period banned working class people from wearing silk, bright colors, and patterns. Therefore indigo was one of the only options available to dye fabric. Japanese Samurais were also known to wear indigo due to its antimicrobial properties.

The art of shibori has become synonymous with indigo and is a distinct characteristic of Japanese textiles. Today, many artificial indigo alternatives are used to mimic the color in products like denim, but natural indigo is still revered around the world.

Sow seeds indoors 2-3 weeks before the last frost. Sow seeds in seed starter pods with 3 seeds per pods. Seeds will germinate in 14 days and should be transplanted outdoors when they are about 3" tall, after the last frost. Japanese Indigo requires moist soil at all times, so frequent watering is essential. To maximize growth, tuck the "elbow" of the plant's stem into the soil. This will spread the plant more.

Japanese Indigo should be harvested before the first frost. For maximum color potency, it should be harvested before the plant starts to flower. The leaves are used for fresh leaf indigo dyeing, and both the leaves and stem are used when fermenting the plant for powder.

Fresh leaf indigo dyeing consists of taking the fresh leaves straight from the plant and blending them to make a dye vat. During the process of harvesting leaves, the picked leaves should be immediately submerged in ice water to preserve color potency. Blend the leaves with the ice water and strain out the pulp. Massage fabric into the liquid for about 5 minutes, then rinse in clean water. You will see the color transform from a green to a more blue-green shade. The strained pulp can also be massaged into fabric for some color as well. Fabric does not need to be mordanted with indigo, and fibers that work best are wool and silk. Learn more about fresh leaf indigo dyeing here.

Fresh leaf indigo on boucle wool

Fresh leaf indigo on wool

Fresh leaf indigo on raw silk

Fresh leaf indigo on raw silk

Fresh leaf indigo on raw silk

Fresh leaf indigo on linen

Marigold and walnut bundle dye with fresh leaf indigo overdye on cotton