Indigo - Indigofera suffruticosa

The fresh leaves used in this recipe were grown in my garden in Creston, California (Zone 7 in the Sunset Western Garden Book). I planted the seeds on 2/28/98 in a cold frame. They were transplanted to the garden on 5/10/98.

I didn't get much from one plant, perhaps because it was a long, cold spring. It might have been better to start the seeds a month or so later - but maybe if it had warmed up earlier, the plants would have grown more. The plants were between 2' and 4' tall, and there weren't a lot of leaves on one plant. However, it was exciting to be able to produce such a beautiful blue from my own garden, and I plan to try again next year.

Recipe for Fresh Indigo Leaves

From: Carol Todd


NOTE: The yarn mordanted with Alum gave the lightest blue, then the unmordanted yarn was next in intensity. Copper and Chrome were both a little darker blue and almost identical to each other in color.


9 oz. fresh leaves stripped from stems, gathered 9/23/98
*1-2 oz. presoaked wool
**1 Tbsp. Rit Color Remover (contains sodium hydrosulfite)
1 Tbsp. ammonia or baking soda
Water to cover leaves

Vinegar Rinse
1/3 cup of vinegar
A bucket of cold water

*I dyed 1 oz.of wool at a time. The first ounce came out dark blue after 1 dip. The second ounce came out a slightly lighter shade of blue after 1 dip. I tried another ounce, but the color was pale and uneven.

**As an alternative, you could use Sodium Hydrosulfite (I don't know how much, but I would guess 1 to 3 tsp.), or 1 to 2 Tbsp. Spectralite. Use all of these as fresh as possible, as they seem to lose potency with age. If you don't get good results at first, try increasing the amount.

1) Strip fresh leaves from stems and put them whole into a clean, heat-resistant container (glass or heavy-duty plastic are ok)

2) Cover leaves with hot water. Put a cover on the container and set it into a larger pan of water. Place the two containers on the stove. Over low heat, heat the water in the pot to 160 degrees, over a period of about 2 hours.

3) Strain the liquid into a non-reacting pot. It is a good idea to use a pot with a small to medium diameter to give as much depth as possible to the solution. This will reduce the amount of oxygen getting into the dyebath. Wearing rubber gloves, squeeze the remaining liquid out of the leaves and add it to the dyepot. Discard leaves.

4) Add 1 Tbsp. of baking soda or ammonia to the dyebath to make it alkaline, then pour the liquid back and forth from one container to another for a few minutes. The solution will turn to a dark blue-green or blue-brown.

5) Dissolve the Rit Color Remover (or Spectralite or sodium hydrosulfite) in a jar of warm water. This will act as a reducing agent, taking oxygen out of the dyebath. Add the dissolved solution to the dyebath and stir gently to avoid adding bubbles of air to the mixture. Cover the dyepot and set it in a larger container of water. Keep the dyebath at a temperature of 100-120 degrees. DON'T OVERHEAT IT.

6) After an hour or so, when the dyebath has turned yellow, add the presoaked yarn, gently pushing it below the surface. Leave it for at least 20 minutes, then gently lift it out. Hold the yarn close to the surface of the pot while it drains. Try not to let the dye from the yarn splash back into the pot, as this will add oxygen to your dyebath. The yarn will turn from yellow to blue as it oxidizes.

7) Hang the yarn and let it continue to oxidize for as long as it soaked in the dyebath. You may repeat this soaking and airing process 2 or more times for darker colors.

8) After the desired color is reached, drop the yarn into a bucket of cold water to which 1 tsp. of concentrated acetic acid or 1/3 cup of vinegar has been added. This will complete the oxidation process.

9) Wash in hot, soapy water.

10 Rinse well.

11) Dry in shade.

This recipe was adapted from Rita Buchanan's "A Dyer's Garden" pp.42-44.

Ratio 4 1/2 to 1


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