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30 Amazing Plants From Your Garden To Use As Dye

by Nikki Tilley June 22, 2016

30 Amazing Plants From Your Garden To Use As Dye

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By Nikki Tiley
(Author of The Bulb-o-licious Garden)

In today’s world, we grow edible plants so we can eat healthier, but very few people think of growing plants to dye with. There has been some evidence that the commercial products used to make vibrant colors in our clothes can be just as dangerous as the commercial chemicals used in growing our food. The solution? Growing your own dyes!

Plant dyeing was once the only source of dye available and used for anything from paint and makeup to fabric coloring. Not everyone is aware, but an abundance of natural sources of dye come from plants, many of which we grow in our own gardens.

History of Dye Plants in Gardens

While the art of creating dyes from plants isn’t as commonplace as it once was, it can still be a fun and rewarding activity for gardeners and children alike, especially when used as a teaching tool in the garden. For instance, did you know most plants have histories dating back centuries or longer?

Indigo, for example, has been grown and cultivated for thousands of years specifically for its blue colored dye. In fact, Egyptian mummies were found to have indigo-dyed cloth. It has been popular for use in paintings since the Middle Ages and for dyeing blue jeans in more modern times. But that’s not all this plant is famous for. Indigo was once commonly used for its medicinal properties as well, such as in Chinese medicine where the plant was used as a pain reliever, fever reducer, blood and liver purifier and for treating inflammation.

Joe-pye weed is another plant with an interesting past. While many view the plant as just a weed, it’s far from that. In fact, its pretty purplish-pink flowers make an attractive addition to gardens, and both the flowers and seeds have been used throughout history in producing pink or red dye.

In addition to its coloring properties, this plant was also utilized for healing. Joe-pye is said to have been named after an Indian healer in New England that used the plant medicinally to induce sweating in people with typhus fever. Going back even further, the genus name, Eupatorium, is said to memorialize another healer, first-century Mithradates IV Eupator, king of Pontus, who was reputed to have used a plant from this genus as a pain reliever.

Growing and utilizing plants for dyes is a great way to incorporate this into history lessons. Many historical gardens and similar places offer information for dyeing plants. Additionally, there are tons of companies that specialize in this area, like the Woolery, a fiber arts supplier which provides many books and related resources on plants for the dye pot, including seeds for growing specific dye plants.

 

30 Plants for the Dye Pot

So if you’re interested in learning a little history in a fun, hands-on way, why not start by growing some of these plants in your garden. Since there are far too many to name, let’s start with 30 plants commonly grown and used for dye pots.

indigo dye plantIndigo
Blue:

  • Indigo (Indigofera tintoria) leaves
  • Woad (Isatis tintoria) leaves
  • Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) berries
Purple:

  • Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) berries
  • Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) berries
  • Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) berries

pokeberry dye plantPokeweed

Joe-Pye Weed wild flowers, Eutrochium, growing in a fieldJoe-Pye Weed
Pink:

  • Camellia (Camellia) flowers
  • Rose (Rosa) flowers
  • Joe pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) flowers, seeds
Red:

  • Madder (Rubia tinctorum) roots
  • Amaranth Hopi Red (Amaranthus cruentus) flower bracts
  • Dyer’s woodruff (Asperula tinctoria) roots

madder dye plantMadder

Macro of false saffron (Carthamus tinctorius) flowerSafflower
Red/Yellow:

  • Lady’s bedstraw (Galium verum) roots
  • Calliopsis (Coreopsis tinctoria) flowers
  • Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius) flowers
Orange:

  • Carrot (Daucus carota) roots
  • Butternut (Juglans cinerea) seed husks
  • Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) yellow/orange flowers

Carrots on grass, selective, focus.Carrots

Weld plantWeld plant
Yellow

  • Weld plant (Reseda luteola) leaves, stems
  • Marigold (Tagetes) flowers
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) leaves, stalks
Brown

  • Alder (Alnus glutinosa) bark
  • Onion (Allium) skins
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) roots

Dandelions in the meadow. Bright flowers dandelions on background of green meadows.Dandelions

fruits of black walnut treeBlack Walnut
Black

  • Gipsywort (Lycopus europaeus) plant juice
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) roots
  • Walnut (Juglans nigra) hulls
Green

  • Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) leaves
  • Nettle (Urtica dioica) leaves
  • Common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) roots

flowering lily of the valleyLily of the Valley

Note: Often, to get colors to take easier, mordants (such as alum) are used when dyeing plants. Depending on the type of mordant or plant used, there may be slight variations in the ultimate color. For more information, you can check out Woolery’s Natural Dye Plants and Mordants page.

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The above article was paid for and sponsored by the Woolery. The information contained in this article may contain ads or advertorial opinions.

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8 person already talking about this.
    Terry
    Answered on August 16, 2017Reply

    Great article, but I think you should mention the toxicity of these plants. While a relative of Joe Pye weed was used for medicine in former times, it is extremely toxic, and those with children or even curious dogs may not want it in their garden. Lily of the valley is also toxic.

    Montserrat
    Answered on July 27, 2017Reply

    M'agraderia saber-ho tot i no en ser res. Hem podeu ajudar?

    Moltes gràcies

    Montserrat

    Mie Lauwers
    Answered on February 10, 2017Reply

    For all these who are interested in dying with plants read this book: Colours from Nature by Jenny Dean (Search Press)

    thuy
    Answered on January 16, 2017Reply

    Carrot is a good choice for dye. Already try, thanks

    Matthew Chrispell
    Answered on December 18, 2016Reply

    Onion skins are also not colorfast.

    Dana Watsham
    Answered on December 2, 2016Reply

    Honestly, why reommend elderberries, blueberries, beetroot and the like for dye?

    They will produce an immediate result - but the colour is neither wash-fast nor light-fast. It will fade very rapidly to muddy gray, and thus both ruin good yarn and ruin people's joy in creating from sustainable sources.

    If you wish to get people to appreciate plant dyes, why not point them to real knowledge resources instead?

    ann insomniac
    Answered on July 3, 2017Reply

    I appreciate plant dyes and have not had any issues like you suggest. Were the mordants you used not fresh? I am sitting, as I type this, on a 35 year old pillow I dyed the yarn for that project. The pillow is not gray. The orange color from the onion skins is still lovely and a distinctive shade of orange.I always placed a generous bundle of strands of each color in the work for repairs. I have not repaired anything yet. Wool is awesome! My friends tell me the various pillows, footstools,and other practical gifts I made them have met the challenge of time. I hope my grandchildren will sit on some of my seat covers.Those are now over 35 years old.

    Vincent George
    Answered on July 7, 2016Reply

    I didn't know that so many of these plants would produce a dye. I'm good with all of them but blackberries. I am going to eat all of my blackberries. You can get your purple from somewhere else.

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