Centuries ago, natural indigo, or polygonum tinctorium, covered acres and acres of Japan’s fertile Tokushima Prefecture, long revered as the birthplace of Japan’s signature hue. As synthetic dyes became more ubiquitous, the demand for the botanical diminished and growers turned to more profitable crops. Only one indigo field remains along the Yoshino River today, on a farm run by many generations of one family dedicated to keeping this traditional plant—and its beneficial extracts—alive. Junichi and his wife, Miki, have dedicated their lives to cultivating the crop, a notoriously finicky member of the buckwheat family and fermenting it according to techniques passed down from generation to generation to procure pure, perfect pigments coveted by artisans, holistic healers and others. From the first moment I met them, and later when I visited them during the annual harvest, I was impressed by their passion and knew that this most genuine source of Indigo was a perfect fit for Tatcha. I’m delighted to share their very special story for you here.
Q: Why have you continued to grow indigo here when so many have not?
A: We are eight generations of farmers, and we have always grown indigo alongside our other crops, but now that we are the only ones left we want to help preserve this very special part of Japanese heritage and history. I also suffered from an extreme case of psoriasis all over my face, which was aggravated from the stress my work as a rescue firefighter. It was especially bad on my face, and I had tried all kinds of medications and treatments to get rid of it and nothing worked, so I feared that I would live with this disfigurement for the rest of my life. My wife was researching some homeopathic remedies and found one that used Indigo, so she made some soaps with ground up Indigo leaves. It felt really good but what shocked me was that within a few months my face changed completely. What used to look like a monster became completely normal.
Q: Anything else surprise you about Indigo over the years?
A: One of the most interesting things is that if you remove an Indigo leaf from the plant and place it in a cup of water, it will sprout roots directly from the stem—that is how strong its life force is! We also use it for calligraphy ink, eye shadow, all kinds of fabric dyeing. You can even use it in pasta and desserts to turn them blue, but it doesn’t really taste like much. If you roast the leaves it makes a nice tea too.
Chief Treasure Hunter
published February 2015Ingredients
Photo 2: Junichi and his wife, Miki, standing in their indigo field.
Photo 3: The couple on theor wedding day, when Junichi was still suffering form psoriasis that darkened his face.