Friday, 13 March 2009

The Medicinal Uses of Dye Plants

After nearly a week of studious book worming, I find I am finally ready to collate my findings on the medicinal uses of dye plants and try to make some sense of them.

So I present to you a photo of my blanket, parts of which may be used to illustrate future posts:

The point of this project was outlined in a previous post and has to do with the Smithsonian Folklife Festival I am due to attend this summer.

My aim, at the festival, is to try and demonstrate in as entertaining a manner as possible the active constituents of Welsh medicinal plants. And what better way than to show people what colour those constituents are?

So began a long shot of a project to determine the following:

  • Which medicinal/dye plants have been most often used within Wales
  • What specific pigments can be found in these plants
  • And what medicinal uses such pigments can be put to

I'm not a scientist and so it's been a steep learning curve for me to throw myself into all this dyestuff, but I now have a list of the most common pigments and some of their uses. Through sharing these with you, I hope to better understand them myself (and maybe get some help and feedback?).

I should also mention how sorely disappointed I was to find that, having come from the comfy world of plant taxonomy where every plant has its place in the tree diagram of life (according to the kind of systematics that are so dear to the human race), chemical classification appears to achieve nothing of the sort!

I found that through the addition of a few sugars or a lump of carbon a previously cut and dry chemical classification of "phenylpropanoid" (that's a benzene ring with a 3-Carbon side chain don't ya know) can suddenly find itself being yanked off to a completely different chapter of a book and reclassified as a glycoside or some such. If only Linnaeus had had some input on this one.

For those of you who are interested I have cross referenced several resources on this (bookshelf looking surprisingly empty whilst desk has grown a foot in height), but my mainstay has consisted of these two books:
The Medicinal Constituents of Plants by Andrew Pengelly (featured in my Amazon widget)
Dye Plants and Dyeing by John & Margaret Cannon

More on this to follow shortly...

1 comment:

Herbaholic said...

Lovely blanket! I have to ask, did you dye the wool yourself? I've beginning to amass a dyeing herbs section in my little library. I recently came across one that shows you how to use natural mordants and fixatives for the dyes such as urine. Looking forward to future posts on this subject, I'm hoping that fairly soon I'll have something to blog about.