If you’ve ever seen the movie Braveheart, then you know it’s a historical fact that the Scots used to paint their faces electric blue to scare their enemies. Just kidding! Braveheart is riddled with numerous historical inaccuracies, but I don’t care. It’s a great movie that was off by a mere few hundred years. The blue paint, woad, was used by the ancient Celts (Picts meaning ‘painted ones’) in the northeastern part of Scotland, and famously associated with Queen Boudicca and her fearsome warriors who painted themselves before going into war. Known as an antiseptic it may have helped to heal battle wounds. Modern experiences of tattooing with woad are not very exciting, claiming it’s caustic and causes scarring when put into the skin. Not to mention it smells like a dead corpse in a peaty bog. Yuck.
Woad is also used as a dye to make beautiful blue cloths. For a time, indigo was considered poisonous so woad was used and later helped indigo to fix better and keep the clothes from fading. Puritans were said to use it to fix the black in their clothes, and up until the 1930’s when the last woad mill in Europe was closed policemen’s uniforms were still dyed with it. Widows wearing black were often known to be wearing ‘widow’s weeds’ coming from the fact that woad, used to dye the garments black, spread like Japanese knotweed and so became known as a ‘weed’. Several states including California, Utah, and Washington forbid its growth because it’s so evasive. The revival of woad is slowly coming back into use as a use against cancer, soap, and the use of shape-shifting and study of past lived during magical rituals.