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Woad – Use for Treatment of Viral Diseases

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The plant woad

The history of woad, (Isatis tinctoria), is most interesting. Its uses range from wood preservatives and biological paint to pharmaceuticals. The British used woad during the period of occupation under the Roman Empire to dye their faces blue before battle.

Woad  was used in Europe until the 17th century to dye clothes blue, until it was replaced by the Indian indigo plant. Until then, trading in the plant was very lucrative.

The city of Erfurt (Germany), for example, became rich through trade in woad which financed the construction of the University of Erfurt. 

But its healing properties have also been known for a long time. Hildegard von Bingen already used woad to treat paralysis. In traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), woad is valued for the treatment of viral diseases.

Use in Chinese medicine

Woad is firmly anchored in Chinese medicine and is mainly used there against viruses. The plant was also used during the SARS epidemic in 2003. Ban Lan Gen – as it is called in China – has been used as a remedy for 3000 years. In Chinese medicine, the root of woad is used to treat flu-like infections, mumps and measles.

Particular attention is paid to its use in dengue fever. This viral disease is transmitted by mosquitoes and is mainly found in tropical areas and Latin America. To date, there is neither a vaccination nor effective treatment methods for the disease. Experiments on mice suggest that the woad extract can prevent a serious course of disease in the case of dengue fever. This assumption has yet to be confirmed in human clinical trials. However, the effect is attributed to the anti-inflammatory properties of the plant.

Anti-cancer effect of woad

As we explained in our article on nasturtiums, the mustard oils, (glucosinolates), found in many plants have an antibacterial effect. The leaves of woad contain a high proportion of glucosinolate glucobrassicin – 20 times more than broccoli.

Glucobrassicin inhibits the hormonal or chemical growth of cancer cells. This discovery is particularly interesting in the case of liver, breast, colon and uterine cancer. So far, however, it has only been tested on animals. Whether the plant can be used to prevent cancer remains to be investigated more thoroughly.

Further areas of application for woad

Woad can be used not only internally but also externally. It is often contained in cosmetic products for stressed skin. The results of animal and human studies with woad also suggest a positive treatment effect for psoriasis.

Woad is available in tea mixtures for sore throats, (pharmacy), as alcoholic extracts for colds or as a cream for the skin.


Woad is a real gem among medicinal plants. The plants have been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, and today it is not very well known in Europe. The results from various studies show that woad could be used as a natural antibiotic and even in future cancer prevention and treatment.

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