02 September 2013

VIBGYOR series 'I' for 'Indigo' - The Indigo plant - source of your Indigo jeans

This post is part of the Chennai Bloggers Club's CBC VIBGYOR BLOG TAG where some
of us will write a post on the colours of VIBGYOR each day starting 1st of September to 
the 7th of September. The colour theme for today's post is INDIGO

Do you all know from where does the color dye of your dark blue/indigo jean or the denim jean comes from ?  I'm not sure how many of us knows it. I came across about it only just when I was preparing this post. The main use of indigo as a dye was considered for a cotten yarn which plays a vital role in the production of Denim cloth for blue/indigo jeans. It is where the quest for indigo dyes came from once upon a time.  I read that this dye for dark blue jeans/Indigo jeans comes from the plant 'Indigofera tinctoria' and let us see about this plant here.

The meaning of Indigo color are being related to intuition, wisdom , perception and it is said to promote deep concentration.

Indigofera tinctoria is one of the plant which acts as a source for Indigo dye. As this plant has been grown worldwide, its native is still unknown. But this plant is said to be adopted by tropical and temperate Asia and several parts of Africa. But this plant is believed to be one of the native plants of India. In India, this indigo plant can be found in the some forests of South India, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Punjab and Orissa.


Botanical Name    :    Indigofera tinctoria

Common Name   :     True Indigo/Nili

English Name      :     Indigo

The Indigo plant('Indigofera tinctoria') comes under the shrub category whose height ranges from 1 or 2 meters. Based on the climatic conditions they are cultivated, the plants were termed as annual/ biennial/ perennial. Its leaflets are pinnate and light green in color. The flowers of this plant comes in variety of colors like violet/pink or some intensive blue which is called as Indigo.

Some facts on this Indigo plant, 'Indigofera tinctoria' :

Indigo is said to be one of the most common dye right from the ancient times. Many Asian countries like India, China and Japan were said to be using this indigo dye for many centuries. Countries like Egypt, Peru, Greece, Rome, Britain and Africa were also been aware of this dye. But amidst of all countries, India is believed to be the oldest nation well known for its Indigo dyeing from the ancient years. It is believed that the Venetian explorer Marco polo was the first one to report about the preparations of Indigo dye in India when he passed through India in 13th century.

This dye plant was considered and said to be one of the cause for Mahatma Gandhi's first satyagraha against some taxation system by the British on the indigo cultivators in Champaran, Bihar, India. Indians were said to be the masters of this dye. This plant 'Indigofera tinctoria' was found to be one of the most high dye yielding plant compared to any other dye plants and hence the English country thought to explore about this in their own place. Before they could establish and cultivate this plant, it is said that India was the supplier of Indigo dyes to the Europe even before the Greek-Rome period. History says that this plant was one of India's foremost profitable export to the old world(Europe) in ancient times. It seems there was a revolt behind Indigo cultivation in a factory at West Bengal, India. Check that entire story behind that revolt in this link Click here

How do we get the dye from this plant ?

The Dye is said to be obtained from the leaves of this plant. The leaves are said to be soaked in water and they are processes to fermentation. This phenomenon helps to convert the glycoside indican (It is the fast occur blue dye)  present in the plant into blue dye indigotin - the indigo dye. Then this precipitate obtained form this phenomenon is said to be mixed with some strong base like lye which is encrusted, dried and powered. This final powder is mixed along with some more substances to give us the various shades of indigo blue colors.

Indigo plant extract sample
Indigo dye powder

Indigo Jeans

Images Source : Internet except the picture of jeans.

In today's technology-centric world, this indigo dye can be easily obtained through many chemical synthetic reactions from the various plants that has a specific chemical compound of Indigo. But once upon a time, few centuries back when the economic condition is too low, the indigo dye obtained from this plant 'Indigofera tinctoria' which is very rare those times were obtained by the above process and it was very expensive those days so that only the rich could afford it. But today due to the invention of synthetic indigo dyes, the demands were met and hence it became the cause for the decline of India's export of natural indigo.

Medicinal uses of the Indigo plant 'Indigofera tinctoria' :

                ~* The plant is said to cure chronic bronchitis.

                ~* It is said that it helps in reducing lumbago(pain in the lower back) and nervous disorders.

                ~* The juice extracted from this plant is used for treating hydrophobia.

                ~* The root and stem of this plant is used for curing heart diseases, hepatitis, fever, insanity and cephalalgia(Headache and head related pain).

                ~* Apart from this plant. the Indigo color is used in the treatment of thyroid problems.

                ~* The Ayurveda and Siddha medicinal systems uses this plant in the treatment of arthritis, vertigo (a sensation of whirling and loss of balance), worm infestations, jaundice, anemia, urinary complications, palpitations( irregular heartbeats) of the heart and asthma.

                ~* The bio-active components of leaves of this plant are used in the treatment of Lung cancer.

                ~* It is also used for hair coloring under specified directions and used for hair related diseases.

Note : Kindly consult any physician before using it.

Sources of Information :


Even though there is a decline in natural indigo dye in the recent past compared to today's synthetic indigo dye, the demand for natural dye is slowly increasing due to its medicinal values and its pollution less natural qualities. It is believed that at present this indigo plant is still being cultivated at many parts in India, especially in northern Karnataka, Africa and Central America.

Hoping that natural methods should be followed rather than the synthetic one for a pollution free environment.


  1. Never knew that indigo flowers look so beautiful!

    1. Yes mam, it looks so nice, even me noticing it for the first time :)

  2. Very informative :) Seems like I hardly knew even one of the facts and I have one more color on my palette now INDIGO :) way to go :)

  3. That's an interesting fact about jeans coloring. Quite amazed to read its varied medicinal uses too.

    1. Even I was stunned while reading about it in the web for the first time. Nature has loads of resources to offer us :) Glad that you liked it :)


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