Wild Indigo As a Crop
Answered by: Richard Alan Miller
Question from: Herb Stuck
Posted on: May 18, 2008

I’m a small time Arkansas farmer looking to grow 5-10 plots. Is indigo a viable crop? What parts are used? Roots? Leaves? Have not been able to locate specific info on this plant. Have been dabbling in ginseng, goldenseal, etc. Not looking to get rich just like alternate crops. Any insightful info wanted: buyers, ballpark prices, harvesting.

Wild indigo is native to North America. Baptisia australis grows in moist soils from Pennsylvania to Indiana, North Carolina, and Tennessee, and is native to Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas and Texas.

B. tinctoria grows in poor, dry, acid, sandy soils from Maine to Ontario, Michigan, Minnesota, Florida and Tennessee. Still, other cultivars flourish in a wide variety of climates. The chemistry of Indigofera tinctoria L. includes indigotin, and a glucoside called indican. These can cause dermatitis with dye work, and are mildly irritating to the eyes.

B. tinctoria is stress hardy and the care needed is minimal, other than an annual spring application of a complete fertilizer. It is cultivated for the well-known blue dye, and in southern India is used as a cover-crop for green-manure in coffee plantations and rice fields. A root infusion of the plant is used to kill vermin and a seed tincture is used to kill lice.

The root is sold separately from the herb. A number of East Coast buyers currently use more than 20,000 pounds annually of root, paying from $8.00 to $9.50 per pound. The herb is less, of course, and has a more limited use. It does, however, also contain the dye material chemistries.

The need for this botanical dye has been growing in recent years, making its markets stable. It is now estimated that the total domestic use of wild indigo root is now more than 100,000 pounds per year (and growing).

A related species, said to possess similar properties, Baptisia alba, also called the white wild indigo. It grows primarily in the Southern States and the Western Plains. It has often been substituted for wild indigo, although it usually brings a lower price to the wildcrafter.

Actual marketing information is quite limited for wild indigo because the primary source for the blue dye used to be Indigofera, from India. Wild indigo has always been used domestically, since the early 1900s. It has just now been introduced successfully into world markets.

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