Indigo: The Plant That Changed the World

Local News

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- Indigo; the natural dye that’s history is as vibrant as it’s color. It’s roots run globally from countries in Africa, Asia, and right here in South Carolina.

The John’s Island Public Library is teaming up with the International Center for Indigo Culture and Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission for a series on the history, culture, and revival of Indigo dye.

Heather Hodges, Executive Director for the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission, explains how the Gullah Geechee’s contributions to indigo are often overlooked.

“Many Americans are totally unfamiliar of the contributions of the Gullah Geechee to the state. Indigo is just one of those stories, and it’s an important one,” says Hodges.

Another panelist wants people to know the method in which Indigo is produced and how they hope to see it thrive in the future.

“Indigo is coming back in South Carolina. And even though our state flag is that same blue, we think there’s many many opportunities for all kinds of design in the future with the plant that we grow.”

David Harper

David Harper is the Treasurer for the National Center for Indigo Culture. He and his wife grow and produce their own indigo dye.

They use the same method that was used in the 1700s. Extracting indigo dye is through a fermentation process.

The plant is harvested, bundled, and soaked in warm water for 24 hours. Then, the mixture is beaten and calcium hydroxide is added to help the blue pigment separate.

The liquid is strained with cloth; leaving behind a vivid indigo paste. That concentrated form can be diluted with water and makes the dye.

The color blue from the indigo has been seen as a symbol of wealth and royalty from it’s scarcity and value in the past. Today, the members of the International Center for Indigo Culture want it to be seen as a color of peace.

“It carries a lot of weight from the past, but a lot of promise for the future,” says Harper.

The library plans to have a indigo dying workshop in November. If you’d like to try your hand at dying, click here for more information.

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