Woad balls

My woad plants were somewhat neglected this year. They mostly went to flower and then to seed, growing about 4ft tall and attracting all manner of insects to their yellow flowers. I collected the seeds as I have read that you can get a dye from them. There are dozens of little woad seedlings popping up in that area of the garden so I should have a good crop next year if I’m better organised.

I’d heard of woad balls- moulded balls of prepared woad leaves which can be stored for future use. To salvage some of the remaining plants I had, I thought I’d give this a go. Many of the sources found online (e.g. The Mulberry Dyer) demonstrate the making of the woad balls but not their future use. I did find an article on Jenny Dean’s website here, which suggested an easier method of use compared to the traditional ‘couching’ (fermentation) which had put me off trying woad balls in the past.


I harvested my relatively scant patch of woad (including leaves off flowering stems) and shredded them up. I tried grinding them up using a small bit of paving slab though eventually just used my hand to smush and knead the leaves. After only 5-10 minutes of elbow grease I got a satisfying pile of pulp which generated lots of green juice. Following instructions from The Mulberry Dyer I left the pulp to stand for a while though I don’t think it actually drained any further liquid during that time. Later I gave the pulp some good squeezing and moulded it into two small balls. There were lots of stalks which seemed to interfere with getting a good, compressed shape so I pulled some of these out.

The greenish liquid which was squeezed from the leaves was reputed to be just chlorophyll with negligible dye material. Of course, I had to test this for sure with a bit of spare fleece, and yeah it turned green but just washed straight out. The rest of the liquid went into the compost.


The woad balls are now drying outside as we have some nice weather coming.


Fingers crossed for a good result.


Meagre harvest of leaves
Grinding the leaves
Shaping the leaves, extracted juice below
Two little woad balls drying in the sun

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