Indigofera tinctoria is the name for true indigo, a plant whose dark purple dye was once a primary object of trade. Although several other plants are used for a similar purpose, including false indigo (baptista australis) and dyer’s woad (isatis tinctoria), true indigo is the most coveted. The dye, which is made from the fermented leaves, was once so noteworthy that indigo is even used to describe the color in the rainbow before violet. The history of the dye seems to have developed in India, but eventually, as most important trade items did, it made its way to the major ancient civilizations, namely the Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Romans and Greeks. These days, synthetic dyes have largely replaced indigo use. However, it still has a very important purpose in cases where natural dye is preferred. The plants form 3-6 feet tall shrubs whose leaves can be harvested at any time. It is a member of the legume family and as such it forms a beneficial relationship with bacteria that fix nitrogen into the soil. This means is can help improve soil quality for surrounding plants, making it a great companion plant.
Growing Information: Seeds can be started indoors 4-8 weeks in advance if a head start is desired, or they can be direct sowed once the danger of frost has passed. Sow at a depth twice the thickness of the seed. Optimal germination temperature is between 68 and 85 degrees Fahrenheit. The seed coats are somewhat hard. Some growers will choose to nick or file the seed coat and soak for 24 hours prior to planting. Seedlings can be transplanted when they have two sets of true leaves, and care must be taken to gradually expose them to the sun. They prefer a fertile, well-draining soil with a mix of sand and loam. Alkaline soils are best. Seedlings should be set at a final spacing of about three feet.
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