The Blue Gold of Lauragais

The rich history and heritage of this beautiful region of France was shaped by a simple colour – blue.

In medieval Europe the colour blue became a symbol of nobility, and generated growing demand for a reliable blue dye (colorant). One of the few natural sources is the plant Dyer’s Woad (Latin: Isatis tinctoria; French: Pastel).

Loubens-Lauragais beasts of burden

Blessed with a favourable climate, Lauragais was the main cultivator of woad from the 14th to the 16th century.

Dyers of Lauragais

The plant leaves were ground in special mills (moulins), reduced to a paste and rolled into balls called ‘cocagnes’. These balls were skilfully crushed, fermented and dried until they produced the blue pigment used for dying.

The blue pigment was traded at the price of gold throughout Europe. This brought wealth to the whole region, which became known as the Land of Plenty (Pays de Cocagne).

The prosperous woad merchants of the time left a spectacular legacy – the beautiful churches, chateaux and dovecotes (pigeonniers) that are scattered throughout the region and the sumptuous town houses still standing in Toulouse and Albi.

The woad industry declined towards the end of the sixteenth century, with the arrival from the East Indies of indigo, which was cheaper and easier to use.

Man and feathered friend

These days, woad is making a modest comeback. The pigment and oil are used for art materials and industrial paints, textiles, natural beauty products and medical research.

Loubens-Lauragais is a picturesque village just a few kilometres from our home. Last year the villagers organised a festival, to evoke woad activities of the 16th century. Two thousand hours of work went into the preparation; six hundred metres of material were dyed and transformed into medieval costumes for inhabitants, entertainers and volunteers.

The Loubens-Lauragais choir

On 30 June 2013 the chateau gardens, the choir, the village children - and thankfully even the sky - were clothed in blue, in celebration of our Land of Plenty.