Ancient Recipes Help Scientists to Reinvent Long-Lost Natural Blue

Recently, scientists have resurrected a purple-blue color that had been lost in time. It’s remarkable because of its long-lasting abilities. The pigment is called folium and can be seen in medieval manuscripts but fell out of use. Luckily, scientists have found ancient recipes that helped them track down folium’s source and have successfully mapped out the chemical structure for its blue-producing molecule.

Ancient Recipes Help Scientists to Reinvent Long-Lost Natural Blue
Ancient Recipes Help Scientists to Reinvent Long-Lost Natural Blue

A Key to Art Conservation

Maria Melo, a conservation scientist in Universidade Nova de Lisboa in Caparica, Portugal, believes in the importance of the chemical information found thanks to the recipes. The idea is to research and mimic ancient colors and find out how to preserve them.

The medieval texts used for the research described the source plant, which was identified as Chrozophora tinctoria by a botanist helping the team. The tiny herb has silvery-green foliage, and the research team found it growing along the roadside and in fields after harvest at a village in the south of Portugal.

Chrozophora tinctoria
Ancient Recipes Help Scientists to Reinvent Long-Lost Natural Blue

Extracting the pigment from its pebble-sized fruits was easy for the researchers, especially in the lab, following the detailed directions of medieval recipes. While making her announcement for the discovery, Maria Melo shares how fun of an experience this was for the whole team, and everyone involved was more than happy with the results.

The team used a suite of analytical techniques to zero in on the dye molecule’s structure and simulated light’s interaction with the candidate molecule to check whether it would give them the desired blue.

The Recipes Gave Us a New Class of Blue

The most popular classes of blue today are the indigo, which is used in denim jeans, and anthocyanin that can be seen in many flowers. Those two are not very long-lasting. However, this is not the case with the newfound hue. Not only is it far more lasting (as you can tell looking at any medieval book, but the fact that it’s a class of its own means so much for future discoveries.