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Table of Contents
RESEARCH ARTICLE
Year : 2019  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 80-83

Indigo Naturalis (青黛) Comes from Blue, but it Excels Blue


1 Department of Nephrology, Yueyang Hospital of Integrated Chinese and Western Medicine Affiliated to Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China
2 Department of Chinese Materia Medica, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai, China

Date of Web Publication19-Jun-2019

Correspondence Address:
Prof. Baican Yang
Department of Chinese Materia Medica, Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Shanghai 201203
China
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None


DOI: 10.4103/CMAC.CMAC_22_19

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  Abstract 


Indigo naturalis (青黛) is also called “indigo flower,” “bright cyan,” and “cyan clam powder.” The alias “indigo flower” shows its complex progress about producing dyes. The alias “bright cyan” vividly displays the visual characteristics of indigo naturalis. Its another alias “cyan clam powder” implies its properties, flavors, and particular morphologic characteristics. The name of “indigo naturalis” emphasizes its wide use in ancient times to paint their eyebrows. Indigo naturalis, which comes from the Persian Kingdom, wins the favor and praise of customers in the respects of dye and cosmetics in both Eastern and Western Regions. It not only shows the infinite charm of dye culture in the Western Regions and provides a visual sensation for people, but also adds new color for Chinese medicine culture.

Keywords: Bright cyan, Cyan clam powder, dye culture, functions, indigo naturalis (青黛)


How to cite this article:
Yao T, Yang B. Indigo Naturalis (青黛) Comes from Blue, but it Excels Blue. Chin Med Cult 2019;2:80-3

How to cite this URL:
Yao T, Yang B. Indigo Naturalis (青黛) Comes from Blue, but it Excels Blue. Chin Med Cult [serial online] 2019 [cited 2019 Aug 24];2:80-3. Available from: http://www.cmaconweb.org/text.asp?2019/2/2/80/260708





Indigo naturalis (青黛) is cold in property, salty in flavor and nontoxic. It can detoxify drugs, cure fever in children, convulsion and twitching. Besides, it can be applied in the therapy of epidemic headache, cold and heat with water decoction. In addition, it can treat herpes simplex, swelling pain, metal-inflicted wound, hematochezia, snake and dog bites with fine powder in shape.

Kai Bao Ben Cao (《开宝本草》Kai Bao Materia Medica).

When the camel bells of the Western Regions come from far and near, they not only brought the most wonderful voice for people living in the Central Plains, but also added rich color to life. Gradually, the colorful dye culture is constituted on the Silk Road. As it is known, both the original tie-dyeing art and the progress of painting eyebrows in ancient times have a close relation with a special dye. This dye is called indigo naturalis. After indigo naturalis was introduced from the Western Regions to China on the Silk Road, it became a good medicine. Obviously, indigo naturalis decorates our daily life and adds new color for Chinese medicine culture.


  Interpretation Of Medical Name Top


According to historical records, indigo naturalis [Figure 1] was originally introduced from the Persian Kingdom (the modern-day Iran) into China as a dye. As a medicine, it was firstly emerged in the medical book Kai Bao Ben Cao (《开宝本草》Kai Bao Materia Medica). This book noted: “indigo naturalis came from the Persian Kingdom, then it was widely used in Luling and Nankang areas as a dye. At the same time, it could clear heat, reduce swelling and detoxify body bitten by poisonous snakes and insects.” Some alias that can reflect the features of indigo naturalis are named by doctors of the past dynasties. For example, the alias “indigo flower” is according to its workmanship. The laudatory title of “bright cyan” is depended by its unique color. In addition, Li shizhen (李时珍) name it “cyan clam powder.”
Figure 1: Indigo naturalis was originally introduced from the Persian Kingdom (the modern-day Iran) into China as a dye

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Interpretation of alias

The original meaning of indigo is a mazarine organic dye. In ancient times, people used to dye white coarse cloth made by hand to blue for luck and beauty. This complex process of producing dyes is called “play indigo” [Figure 2]. In fact, the manufacturing operation of indigo naturalis is similar to “play indigo.”[1] First, the stems and leaves of plants, such as Baphicacanthus cusia Bremek, Polygonum tinctorium, and Isatis indigotica, are picked. Then, those stems and leaves are put into a wooden cask or a big water vat that is filled with water. When those leaves are rotten, stems are peeled, and branches are disjointed, they are taken out immediately. At the same time, some pure lime is added and people will keep stirring them sufficiently until the water is changed from dark green to deep fuchsia.[2] After this chemical reaction is finished, the liquid surface will exhibit a large number of bubbles, which is colloquially known as “indigo flower.”
Figure 2: The complex progress about producing dyes is so called “play indigo”

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The alias “bright cyan” vividly describes the visual characteristics of indigo naturalis. As Shuo Wen Jie Zi (《说文解字》Chinese Characters in Paraphrasing Texts and Words) says: “Bright cyan is used to refer to a bird that comes from a thick forest with cyan feathers.” Hence, the origin of the alias “Bright cyan” is just a bird with cyan feathers, which makes indigo naturalis more colorful and smart. Besides, whether blue or green is on behalf of clarity, simplicity, and elegance. These colors deeply express the ancient people's desires to have a hermetic life in the mountains and be closer to nature. So, blue and green are the popular colors with the highest frequency of application in ancient poetry and ode. Exactly as Wu Changling (吴昌龄) recorded in Dong Po Meng (《东坡梦》The Dreams of Su Dongpo): “Thousands of jades look so bright as if they are all dyed by indigo naturalis. The innumerable conches are so colorful as if they are made of rosy clouds.”

The name “cyan clam powder” reflects its properties, flavors, and particular morphologic characteristics. When it comes to indigo naturalis, people will remind of clam. In fact, there are lots of similarities between indigo naturalis and clam. For example, they both are cold in property, salty in flavor, and can clear away the lung heat. Daige powder [Figure 3], which is composed of indigo naturalis and clam, can be used in the treatment of cough that is caused by liver fire. “Powder” shows the morphologic characteristics of indigo naturalis. Because indigo naturalis is almost fine powder in shape, it gets the alias of “cyan clam powder.” Besides, this alias also indicates the main points of identifying indigo naturalis. It should be powdery in shape, cyan in color, light in weight, and can float on water. What's more, a red flame will arise if it is burnt. In particular, it should be classy if there is even no sand when chewing it.[3],[4]
Figure 3: In clinical practice, indigo naturalis is often used along with clam, such as the famous Daige powder

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Interpretation of indigo naturalis

Xunzi (荀子), who was a great thinker in ancient times, once said in Quan Xue (《劝学》Exhortation to Learning): “Cyan comes from blue, but it excels blue.” In fact, the “cyan” that mentioned above is indigo naturalis. As is known, indigo naturalis is extracted from many plants that are called “Blue,” such as Baphicacanthus cusia Bremek, P. tinctorium, and I. indigotica. However, as a dye, indigo naturalis is truly bluer and more vigorous than the original. Xunzi (荀子) [Figure 4] likes to consider the promising young people who achieve academic success as indigo naturalis. On the contrary, he regarded teachers or seniors as bluegrass. As a black pigment used by women in ancient times to paint their eyebrows, the original meaning of indigo naturalis is just lividity. Just as Liu Xi (刘熙) described in Shi Ming in Shi Ming (《释名》Notes to Nominations): “Eyebrows can be shaved and replaced by indigo naturalis.” Meanwhile, Tao Qian (陶潜) said in Xian Qing Fu (《闲情赋》Ode to Leisure): “I want to be the indigo naturalis in her eyebrows. Then from far to near, she is always charming.”
Figure 4: Xunzi (荀子), who was a great thinker in ancient times, once said in Quan Xue (《劝学》 Exhortation to Learning) “Cyan comes from blue, but it excels blue”

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From indigo flower, bright cyan, to cyan clam powder, all the aliases describe its gorgeous and smart color. During this progress, indigo naturalis also shows the infinite charm of dye culture in the Western Regions, providing a visual sensation for people.


  Indigo Naturalis and Dye Culture in the Western Regions Top


As a dye, indigo naturalis is welcomed between the nobility and the civilian living in the Western Regions. It can be widely used in many aspects, such as cloth dyeing, hair dyeing, and painting eyebrows. It was said that the King of Sassanid Persian Empire once dyed his hair with indigo naturalis. In addition, the Tubo people were accustomed to smearing their faces with indigo naturalis at their parent's funeral. Du Huan (杜环), who was a tourist in Tang Dynasty, once mentioned in Jing Xing Ji (《经行记》Stores on Jorney) that “In Ferghana (the modern-day Kazakhstan), women preferred to decorate their eyes with indigo naturalis rather than use lead powder.” Hence, indigo naturalis can embody people's pursuit of beauty, whether it is working as a dye or cosmetics.

When indigo naturalis was introduced into China, it also won the favor and praise of customers in some respects of dye and cosmetics. Especially, it was widely applied in silk dyeing and painting eyebrows. In ancient times, dyes that could be applied to dye silk were divided into two major categories, including plants and minerals. Plant dyes become the most widely used dyes because of their rich varieties and beautiful colors. As we know, plant dyes are extracted from natural plants' stems, leaves, fruits, or seeds. Then, those dyes can be used to color the silk fibers. After the silk is colored, it is even brighter and gradually becomes the nobility's favorite dress material. As one of the main blue dyes, indigo naturalis has made great contributions. Furthermore, eyebrows are the most important part to express emotions. As early as the Spring and Autumn Warring States period, both the simple women picking mulberry leaves and valued concubines were addicted to inventing varied types of eyebrows to make themselves look more beautiful and moving. Song Yu (宋玉) described the beauty in Deng Tuzi Hao Se Fu (《登徒子好色赋》Deng Tuzi's Fond of Beauty) that “Their eyebrows looked like cyan feathers.” Moreover, Jing Chai (景差) also depicted the beauty in Da Zhao (《大招》Great Tricks) as well that “They all owned cyan and straight eyebrows.” Therefore, prosperous eyebrow culture was formed. For example, distant mountains eyebrows, arch eyebrows, and smoke eyebrows once became fashionable for a time. After indigo naturalis was introduced to our country, even indigo naturalis eyebrows appeared. Li Bai (李白), who was the poetic genius in the Tang Dynasty, said in his poem Dui Jiu (《对酒》Sing While Drinking) that: “the beauty was painted with indigo naturalis eyebrows and dressed in red boots. She was singing shyly because her pronunciation was not accurate [Figure 5].” It is evident that indigo naturalis is widely used in painting eyebrows.
Figure 5: Eyebrows are the most important part to express emotions. Distant mountains eyebrows, arch eyebrows, and smoke eyebrows once became fashionable for a time

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  Functions of Indigo Naturalis Top


By virtue of its color, indigo naturalis is applied in dyeing and cosmetic areas. By coincidence, the medicinal characteristics of indigo naturalis are also associated with its unique color. Because cyan is corresponding to liver, indigo naturalis belongs to liver and has the capacity to clear liver heat. In addition, indigo naturalis, Radix isatidis, and Folium isatidis are all derived from the same medicinal plant. As a result, indigo naturalis is featured with particular effects, including clearing heat, removing toxicity, and cooling blood. In a word, all the functions of indigo naturalis center on “clearing.”

  1. Heat in liver channel: Indigo naturalis can be used to eliminate heat in liver, including the following three parts:


    1. Stagnant fire in liver channel and up-flaming of liver fire: Indigo naturalis is cold in property, salty in flavor, and belongs to liver channel. Therefore, indigo naturalis is good at clearing away liver fire. Whether it is hypochondriac pain; bitter taste caused by stagnant fire in liver channel; or headache, red eyes, and sore throat resulting from up-flaming of liver fire, indigo naturalis can solve these problems effectively.
    2. Convulsions caused by liver heat: Indigo naturalis is good at clearing away liver fire, removing heat, and cooling blood. When confronted with hyperpyrexia, convulsion, and twitching, indigo naturalis can clear heat and relieve convulsion effectively.
    3. Cough caused by liver fire: It is extremely difficult to treat cough resulting from up-flaming of liver fire and due to lack of lung yin. This particular cough is called “wood-fire impairs the metal.” Its clinical features include cough with little sputum, blood in the sputum, and hypochondriac pain. Because indigo naturalis belongs to the liver and lung, it can clear away liver fire and lung heat. As a result, it can relieve cough caused by liver fire. In clinical practice, indigo naturalis is often used along with clam, such as the famous Daige powder.


  2. Carbuncle and maculae: Indigo naturalis is commonly applied in carbuncle and maculae through internal and external uses.[5] Except those common skin disorders, including carbuncle, indigo naturalis is particularly used in some skin diseases characterized by maculae, such as eczema and psoriasis. Indigo naturalis has good curative effect because it can clear heat, remove toxicity, cool blood, and eliminate maculae. In addition, due to its ability of clearing heat and removing toxicity, indigo naturalis is also applied in some infectious diseases, including flu, epidemic cerebrospinal meningitis, epidemic encephalitis B, and mumps.
  3. Bleeding caused by heat: Indigo naturalis is cold in property, salty in flavor, and goes straight into blood. Hence, it can clear away heat and reduce fire. In clinical practice, it is widely used in the therapy of hemoptysis and hematochezia caused by blood heat.


For thousands of years, many types of dyes had been introduced from the Western Regions to the Central Plains. Those colorful dyes greatly enrich people's lives and add some gorgeous colors to Chinese silk culture. Finally, indigo naturalis that comes from the Persian Kingdom becomes the best choice for dyeing and medicinal purposes in both Eastern and Western Regions by virtue of its unique rich color, salty flavor, and cold property.

Financial support and sponsorship

Nil.

Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.



 
  References Top

1.
Kang S, Chen LP, Chen DX, Xiao XY. Producing areas and processing methods of indigo naturalis. World Sci Technol Modernization Tradit Chin Med Mater Med 2015;17:1934-7.  Back to cited text no. 1
    
2.
Fan XF. Some advices for clinical use of indigo naturalis. Lishizhen Med Mater Med Res 2008;19:1027-8.  Back to cited text no. 2
    
3.
China Pharmacopoeia Committee. Chinese Pharmacopoeia (Part 1). Beijing: China Medical Science and Technology Publishing House; 2010. p. 185.  Back to cited text no. 3
    
4.
Li GH, Zhao WF, Wang Y, Xiao XY. The quality analysis of indigo naturalis. Chin Pharm Aff 2009;23:472-6.  Back to cited text no. 4
    
5.
Min ZQ, Ye YJ, Zhang TM, Yang M, Zou WQ. Textual research on the QingDai is not appropriate for decoction. J l Sichuan Traditi Chin Med 2010;2:52-4.  Back to cited text no. 5
    


    Figures

  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4], [Figure 5]



 

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