Adams Herbs



(Isatis tinctoria/indigotica)

Anti-infective and immunomodulator

Isatis in bloom
Isatis in bloom.  Photo: Pethan
OTHER NAMES: Woad, Dyer’s Woad

PARTS USED: Leaf, Root

USED IN: Immmune Dragon Super Brew

NOTES: Originating most likely in what is Russia today, Isatis has naturalized all the way from Japan to Scotland, and is now considered an invasive weed in the western United States.  Everywhere it has grown (except for in the United States, that is), it has been used and appreciated.  That doesn’t mean everyone used it the same way, however. 

In China, Isatis was called Ban Lan Gen, and respected for its ability to treat sore throat, fever, liver disease, life-threatening diarrhea, and just about every other pathogenic ailment known to mankind.  It may not have been one of the great, revered tonics for energy, vitality, and decades of long life.  But it was certainly a crucial part of the Materia Medica for surviving what might kill you today.

In Western Europe, on the other hand, it was called Dyer’s Woad, and its use was pretty much limited to dying things a pretty blue color.  You know -- clothing, faces, etc.  You ever see those movies where the Celtic warriors go into battle all painted-up blue and swirly in tribal patterns, usually led by Mel Gibson? That was Dyer’s Woad.

For the time being, then, let's focus on the Asian traditions.  Like almost every herb out of the Asian traditions, Isatis was rarely used on its own. But it shows up in a sort of who’s-who of classic, centuries-old wellness formulas, including Jade Screen, Sho-Saiko-To, and Yin Chiao (the 400-year-old basis for many modern cold'n'flu products, including best-selling "developed by a schoolteacher" Airborne™).

Regardless of the formula where it's found, Isatis is one of the most important immune herbs we have. It’s considered to have an especial affinity for infections of the throat.  The leaf and root are somewhat interchangeable, although I tend to prefer the leaf for acute conditions, and the root for chronic ones. The leaf is a stronger direct antiviral. The root works more to modulate the immune response, increasing immune function, but dampening the excess inflammation that a robust immune response can create.  Since Isatis is a Brassica-family plant, the root is technically a radish, so it’s not surprising that it also stimulates and supports liver function, like other radishes.

Old plate of Isatis
Atlas des Plantes de France, 1891.
Research with Isatis is kind of funny. The plant is so accepted, so well established in China as a medicine, that the research has moved right over testing if it actually works, to examining how it works, and trying to discover strange and surprising new ways in which it might work.

So we’ve got test tubes studies showing how different fractions inhibit herpes viruses replication and block adhesion, a well-designed study using Isatis eye drops for bacterial conjunctivitis, another where an Isatis cream reduces psoriasis, and at least three where it’s injected into chickens as an adjunct to standard vaccines to provoke a more robust immune response. There are about a dozen on how the plant's growth conditions effect the levels of active constituents, and over 50 trying to find out exactly what those constituents are. Apparently, one of them is called 1-O-beta-D-glucopyranosyl- (2S,3R)-3-hydroxymethyl-N-  (2'-hydroxynonacosanoyl)- trideca-9E-sphingenine – try and say that five times fast!

Unfortunately, nobody ever did the research showing that Isatis works in the first place. That, it seems, is just a given.

SAFETY: Both Isatis leaf and root appear quite safe. As always, however, use common sense, i.e. don’t take an immunomodulator while you’re on immunosuppressive drugs, and don’t take the whole bottle all at once.

DOSING: For acute cold’n’flu use, 2-4 grams a day or 2-4 droppersful of the tincture, in divided doses.

MISCELLANY: A few Isatis plants rode as passengers on the first Chinese space ship.  One giant leap for herbal medicine...



© 2009 Adam Herbs. This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Use common sense. Don't jump into a full therapeutic dose of anything the first day. Trust your experience more than someone's learned opinion. If you're dealing with something scary or serious, work with a professional. If the professional appears incompetent, find a better one.