Alkanet Root: A Potent Pigment

Alkanet root is from an herb that belongs to the borage family and which is best known as the source of a red dye. The alkanet plant has a bright blue flower, but the root of the plant has a black exterior and a dark red interior. The root is the source of the dye. Alkanet root dye is oil soluble but insoluble in water. The botanical name for the alkanet plant is Alkanna tinctoria. The alkanna part of the name comes from the Arabic word for henna.

Note that henna is the name of another plant (Lawsonia inermis) that is also used for its medicinal and dyeing properties. The tinctoria part of the name comes from a Greek word that means paint. That word is anchousa and it was applied to many members of the borage family. Other names for alkanet include bugloss and dyer’s bugloss. 

For centuries, European farmers in the Central and Southern parts of the continent have cultivated alkanet. There is documentation of its value that goes all the way back to Dioscorides who made notes about the plant in his Materia Medica. Dioscorides believed alkanet to be an effective remedy for ulcers. 

Alkanet is perceived as an invasive species in the US. You can find it growing throughout the Northeast as well as in the Midwest. 

Alkanet root flavor profile 

Alkanet is used mainly for its color rather than for its flavor. Alkanet root has a mildly astringent taste. 

Health benefits of alkanet root 

While the primary use of alkanet root is for dying, it is also used in folk medicine as a remedy for various conditions. Alkanet’s health benefits come from compounds in it like: 

  • Minerals: You can get calcium and potassium from alkanet. 
  • Tannins: Alkanet is a good source of tannins, which can provide antioxidant and anti-carcinogenic benefits. 
  • Mucilage: Alkanet is a good source of the soluble fiber known as mucilage that you can find in other plants like okra and chia seeds

You can use alkanet to treat or prevent health problems like: 

  • Inflammation: Alkanet can act as an anti-inflammatory, which means that it can help to improve blood circulation and prevent associated problems. Use it to improve circulation as well as to provide relief from symptoms like headaches and rheumatism. 
  • Insomnia: Alkanet essential oil is sometimes used to treat insomnia and the problems that often go with it like anxiety and depression. 
  • High blood pressure: One of the alkanet plant’s most significant benefits is its ability to regulate blood pressure. As a result of this benefit, it can reduce your risk of both heart attacks and strokes. 
  • Respiratory ailments: Alkanet is often taken internally for congestion and persistent coughs. 
  • Chronic Pain: Alkanet root is often decocted in wine and used to provide relief from chronic pain. 
  • Health concerns: Alkanet root has the potential for hepatotoxicity due to the fact that it contains pyrrolizidine alkaloids. The dye should never be consumed. Because of the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, alkanet may be carcinogenic if consumed over a long period. 

Common uses 

While the leaves and flowers of the plant can be eaten as vegetables, the roots have limited value as food. One common use of alkanet root is to give color to oils. You can add it to vegetable oils, for example. Those oils can then give a bright color to your dishes.