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Species of Indigofera are mostly shrubs, though some are small trees or annual or perennial herbs. Most have pinnate leaves. Racemes of flowers grow in the leaf axils. Most species have flowers in shades of red, but there are a few white- and yellow-flowered species. The fruit is a legume pod of varying size and shape.
Several species, especially Indigofera tinctoria and Indigofera suffruticosa, are used to produce the dye indigo. Colonial planters in the Caribbean grew indigo and transplanted its cultivation when they settled in the colony of South Carolina and North Carolina where people of the Tuscarora confederacy adopted the dying process for head wraps and clothing. Exports of the crop did not expand until the mid-to late 18th century. When Eliza Lucas Pinckney and enslaved Africans successfully cultivated new strains near Charleston it became the second most important cash crop in the colony (after rice) before the American Revolution. It comprised more than one-third of all exports in value.
Health and medicine
Several species of this group are used to alleviate pain. The herbs are generally regarded as an analgesic with anti-inflammatory activity, rather than an anodyne. Indigofera articulata (Khedaish in Arabic) was used for toothache, and Indigofera oblongifolia (hasr in Arabic) was used as an anti-inflammatory for insect stings, snakebites, and swellings.
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