The Universal Herbal: Isatis Tinctoria; Dyer's Woad.

The Universal Herbal;
or botanical, medical and agricultural dictonary.
Containing an account of All the known Plants in the World, arranged according to the Linnean system. Specifying the uses to which they are or may be applied, whether as food, as medicine, or in the arts and manufactures.
With the best methods of propagation, and the most recent agricultural improvements.
collected from indisputable Authorities.
Adapted to the use of the farmer - the gardener - the husbandman - the botanist - the florist - and country housekeepers in general.
By Thomas Green.
Vol. I
Printed at the Caxton Press by Henri Fisher.
Printer in Ordinary to His Majesty.
Root-leaves crenate; stem-leaves sagittate; silicles obcordate; stem upright, round, smooth, woody at bottom, branched at top; flowers small, terminating the stem and branches in a close raceme; both corolla and calix yellow; petals notched at the end. The stalks of the cultivated plant rise nearly four feet high, dividing into several branches with arrow-shaped leaves sitting close; the ends of the branches are terminated by small yellow flowers, in very close clusters. The pods are shaped like a bird's tongue, half an inch long, and one-eighth of an inch broad, turning black when ripe. It flowers in July, and the seeds ripen in the beginning of September. Mr. Miller mentions another species, which he calls the Dalmatian Woad, with flowers of a brighter yellow colour, and larger than the above, but it is probably only a variety. It is a native of several parts of Europe, as on the coast of the Baltic and German Ocean, by way-sides in Switzerland, and in England on the borders of corn-fields, as at New Barns near Ely, and by the river Wear near Durham. Linneus says it is a maritime plant; but as it seems probable that it is the plant with which, Pliny informs us, the ancient Britons painted their bodies, it must in that case be a native of our islands. Stow and Hume record, that “Good Queen Bess” took such a dislike to the smell of this herb, that she prohibited its cultivation. We were formerly dependent upon France for supplies of woad, which is much employed by dyers for producing blue, and forming the basis of black and many other colours.

- Propagation and Culture.
It is sown upon fresh land in good heart, for which the cultivators of woad pay a large rent; they generally chuse to have their lands situated near great towns, where there is plenty of dressing; but they never stay long on the same spot, for the best ground will not admit of being sown with woad more than twice, for if it be often repeated, the crop will seldom defray the expense of its culture. After having selected a good spot of land, which should not be too light and sandy, nor over stiff and moist, but rather a gentle hazel loam, whose parts will easily separate; the next is to plough this up just before winter, laying it in narrow high ridges, that the frost may penetrate through them to mellow and soften the clods; then in the spring plough it again cross-ways, laying it again in narrow ridges: after it has lain some time in this manner, and the weeds begin to grow, it should be well harrowed, and the large perennial weeds must be rooted out, and carried off the ground; which should be ploughed a third time in June, with narrow furrows, and as deep as the plough will go, that the parts may be as well separated as possible; and when the weeds again appear, repeat the harrowing, which will destroy them. At the end of July, or in the beginning of August, the land should be ploughed for the last time, and laid smooth. When there is a prospect of showers, it should be harrowed, to receive the seeds, which should be sown either in rows with the drill-plough, or in broad-cast aſter the common method. It will be proper to steep the seeds one night in water, which will prepare them for vegetation, and if they be sown in drills with a plough, they must be covered by an instrument fixed to the plough for that purpose; but those which are sown broad-cast in the common way, must be well harrowed in. If the seeds be good, and the season favourable, the plant will appear in a fortnight, and in a month or five weeks after will be fit to hoe: the sooner the hoeing is performed after the plants are distinguishable, the better they will thrive, and the weeds, being then young, will be destroyed. The method of hoeing these plants is the same as for turnips, with this difference only, that these require less thinning; for, at the first hoeing, if they be separated at the distance of three or four inches, and at the last to six inches, it will be space enough for the growth of the plants. If the thinning be carefully done in dry weather, most of the weeds will be destroyed; but as some of them may escape in this operation, and young weeds will arise, the ground should be a second time hoed in October, in dry weather, when the plants must be singled out to the distance at which they are to remain. The ground will then remain free from weeds till the spring, when young weeds will come up; therefore about a fortnight in April will be a good time to hoe the ground again, as the weeds will then be young, and it may be performed in less than half the time it would require if they were permitted to grow large; besides, the sun and wind will much sooner kill them. This hoeing will also stir the surface of the ground, and greatly promote the growing of the plants: if it be performed in dry weather, the ground will remain free till the first crop of woad is gathered, after which it should be again well-cleared; and if this be carefully repeated after the gathering of each crop, the land will always lie clean, and the plants will thrive better. The expense of the first hoeing will be about six shillings per acre, and for the after-hoeings half that price will be sufficient, provided they are performed when the weeds are young; for if they are suffered to grow large, it will require more labour, and cannot be so well per formed; therefore it is not only the best husbandry to do this work soon, but it will be found the cheapest method; for the same number of men will hoe a field of ten acres three times, when it is performed while the weeds are young, as is required to hoe it twice only, because the weeds have longer time to grow between the operations. If the land in which the seed is sown should have been in culture before for other crops, so not in good heart, it will require dressing before it is sown, in which rotten stable-dung is preferable to any other; but this should not be laid on till the last ploughing before the seeds are sown, and not spread but as the land is ploughed, that the sun may not exhale the goodness of it, which is soon evaporated if it be spread on the ground in summer. The quantity should not be less than twenty loads to eachacre, which will keep the ground in heart till the crop of woad be spent. The time for gathering the crop is according to the season, but it should be performed as soon as the leaves are fully grown, while perfectly green; for when they begin to change pale, great part of their goodness is gone, and the quantity also will be much diminished. If the land be good, and the crop well husbanded, it will produce three or four gatherings, but the two first are the best, and are commonly mixed toge ther when used. The after crops are always kept separate, and if mixed would be of little value. The two first crops will sell from twenty-five to thirty pounds and upwards per ton, but the latter will not bring more than seven or eight, and sometimes not so much. An acre of land will produce a ton of woad, and in good seasons nearly a ton and half. When the planters intend to save the seeds, they cut three crops of the leaves, and then let the plants stand till the next year for seed; but if only one crop is cut, and that only of the outer leaves, letting all the middle leaves stand to nou rish the stalks, the plants will grow stronger, and produce a much greater quantity of seeds. These seeds are often kept two years, but it is always best to sow new seeds when they can be obtained. The seeds ripen in August, and should be gathered when the pods turn to a dark colour; which is best done by reaping in the same way as for wheat, spreading the stalks in rows upon the ground. In four or five days' dry weather the seeds will be fit to thresh out; but if they lie long, the pods will open and let them fall out. Some woad planters feed down the leaves in winter with sheep, which is a very bad method; for all plants which are to remain for a future crop, should never be eaten by cattle, which greatly weakens them. Those who cultivate this commodity, have gangs of people who have been bred to the employment, so that whole families travel about from place to place, wherever their principal fixes on land for the purpose. These persons, however, always go on in one track, just as their predecessors taught them, nor have their principals deviated much from the practice of their ancestors; so that there is a large field for improvement, if any of the cultivators of woad should happily prove men of genius, who could be prevailed upon to adopt the garden culture of this plant. The method practised by some of the most skilful gardeners in the culture of Spinach, would be a great improvement to this plant; for some of them have improved the Round-leaved Spinach so much by culture as to have the leaves more than six times the size they formerly were, and their fatness has increased in the same proportion upon the same land, which has been effected by thinning the plants while young, and keeping them free from weeds. Woad, besides the use of it among dyers, is possessed of several medical virtues. A strong infusion of the tops of the plant operates by urine; and, when continued to be used for a considerable time, is excellent for curing obstructions of the liver and spleen.

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