Natural indigo dye produces a distinctive blue color that synthetic dyes simply cannot replicate. Historically, this natural pigment is extracted from the leaves of various plant species including wood, indigo, and polygonum. These plants contain the greatest concentration of blue dye molecules, making them ideal to use for the meticulous extraction process.

 

             

 

India was the earliest major center for the production and processing of indigo dye. The Indigo fera tinctoria species of the indigo plant was largely domesticated in the country before the final product—which is the indigo dye—made its way to the Romans and the Greeks, who valued it as a luxury. Of the three primary colors, blue was considered the rarest and most regal mainly because it can only be generated from a particular species of plant (unlike red and yellow, which are easily derived from many kinds of flora and fauna).

 

Exactly how do the green leaves of the indigo plant produce the blue hue of the indigo dye? The extraction process is equally complex and magical. Indigo farming involves a number of meticulous steps that should be carried out with precise timing. After the leaves are harvested, they are soaked in water and left to ferment. This causes the pigment to detach from glucose, leaving indigo white in the water as the leaves are taken out. Only when the leaves are fermented and exposed to air does the blue color of the dye appear. The proper whisking motion is required so that the blue color will settle at the bottom, forming a watery clay. The sludge of blue pigment dye is then sundried or heated, and then molded into pigment cakes.

 

In the early 1900s, over 30,000 acres of land were reserved for the cultivation of Indigo, producing and shipping 4,000 tons of the natural blue dye per year. Today, however, synthetic dyes are becoming more prevalent, pushing aside the tradition that has been kept alive for hundreds of generations. Indigo farming in India has since dwindled, leaving only one family currently engaged in the trade. Fortunately, there are companies that still support its legacy and tradition, keeping natural indigo dye alive through their traditionally produced and designed shirts, sarees, and apparels.