Also known as Dyer's greenwood, Dyer's weed or woad-waxen, it is a small, tufted shrub bearing racemes of yellow flowers. Cattle eating this wild plant add bitterness to their milk and to the cheese and butter made from it. It is found in England, rarely in Scotland, is wild throughout Europe, and has been established in the eastern part of the United States. It has been purposely cultivated in the United States due to its profusion of yellow flowers. It has been used for several ailments including dropsy, gout, rheumatism, sciatica, and even rabies. During the 14th century it was used to make an ointment called Unguentum geneste, "goud for alle could goutes", et cetera. The seed was also reported to be used in the plaster to heal broken limbs.
All parts of the plant are used to yield a yellow dye, which was used by the ancient Greeks. It has been used in combination with woad to give a green color. In England it was a source of income to the poor who collected the plant and sold it to dyers.
The process of dyeing linen, wool cloth, or leather using this plant was described by Tournefort in 1708 when he saw it being used on the island of Samos. It is still used for the same purpose on some Greek islands. However, as a dye, this plant has been largely superseded by the use of Reseda luteola.
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