Definition of woad in US English:



  • 1A yellow-flowered European plant of the cabbage family. It was formerly grown as a source of blue dye, which was extracted from the leaves after they had been dried, powdered, and fermented.

    Isatis tinctoria, family Brassicaceae

    • ‘The distinctive blue dye used by the Picts to tattoo themselves came from the woad plant, which grows wild in the North of Britain.’
    • ‘Blues used in tartan cloth originally came from the native plant woad, which was also used as a form of ceremonial face and body paint by ancient Scots.’
    • ‘Tirien knew that the woad plant could give a blue dye, but she didn't know it could be utilized for other purposes.’
    • ‘Woad robs the soil of nutrients, forcing medieval woad growers in Europe to move frequently in search of uncultivated land.’
    • ‘Industrial crops such as flax and dye-plants (madder, woad, and weld), and other cash crops such as coleseed, hops, and tobacco, increased revenue per hectare, enabling more people to live from the earnings of smaller plots.’
    1. 1.1 Dye obtained from the woad plant, now superseded by synthetic products.
      • ‘Caesar claimed far more widespread use of the blue dye woad, but this was used over the whole body and not for painting or tattooing patterns.’
      • ‘‘All Britons dye themselves with woad which makes them blue,’ Caesar recorded, ‘so that in battle their appearance is more terrible.’’
      • ‘The early Celts are fun to draw, with blue woad tattoos, punk-like spiky hair and walrus-like moustaches.’


Old English wād, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch wede and German Waid.