Making Natural Dyes from Plants

photo credit: Kevin Connors |

Did you know that a great source for natural dyes can be found right in your own back yard! Roots, nuts and flowers are just a few common natural ways to get many colors. Yellow, orange, blue, red, green, brown and grey are available. Go ahead, experiment!

Gathering plant material for dyeing: Blossoms should be in full bloom, berries ripe and nuts mature. Remember, never gather more than 2/3 of a stand of anything in the wild when gathering plant stuff for dying.

To make the dye solution: Chop plant material into small pieces and place in a pot. Double the amount of water to plant material. Bring to a boil, then simmer for about an hour. Strain. Now you can add your fabric to be dyed. For a stronger shade, allow material to soak in the dye overnight.

Getting the fabric ready for the dye bath: You will have to soak the fabric in a color fixative before the dye process. This will make the color set in the fabric.

Color Fixatives:

Salt Fixative (for berry dyes) 1/2 cup salt to 8 cups cold water

Plant Fixatives (for plant dyes) 4 parts cold water to 1 part vinegar

Add fabric to the fixative and simmer for an hour. Rinse the material and squeeze out excess. Rinse in cool water until water runs clear.

Dye Bath: Place wet fabric in dye bath. Simmer together until desired color is obtained. The color of the fabric will be lighter when its dry. Also note that all dyed fabric should be laundered in cold water and separately.

Muslin, silk, cotton and wool work best for natural dyes and the lighter the fabric in color, the better. White or pastel colors work the best.

NOTE: It’s best to use an old large pot as your dye vessel. Wear rubber gloves to handle the fabric that has been dyed, the dye can stain your hands. It’s also important to note, some plant dyes may be toxic, check with the Poison Control Center if unsure.

  A Listing of Plant Material Available for Dyes


photo credit:


Shades of ORANGE

________________________________________________________________________________________ Brown_______________________________________________________________________________________________________

Alder (Alnus rubra) (Bark)- orange

– Barberry (mahonia sp.) yellow orange (with alum) very strong & permanent. Any part of the plant will work.

– Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root when cut open)- will give a good orange to reddish orange color.

– Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) – (bark, seed husks) – light yelllow-orange

– Carrot (Daucus carota) – (roots) – orange

– Eucalyptus – (all parts, leaves and bark) beautiful shades of tan, deep rust red, yellow, green, orange and chocolate brown.

– Giant Coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea) Yields bright permanent orange with alum.

– Lichen (orchella weed) (Roccellaceae) – gold, purple, red

– Lilac (Syringa vulgaris) (twigs) – yellow/orange

– Onion (Allium cepa) (skin) – orange

– Pomegranate (skins)– with alum anywhere from orange to khaki green.

– Sassafras (leaves)

– Turmeric (Curcuma longa) dyed cloth will turn orange or red if it is dipped in lye.

photo credit:


Shades of  BROWN


Acorns (boiled)

– Amur Maple (Acer Ginnala) – black, blue, brown from dried leaves.

Beetroot -Dark Brown with FeSO4

– Birch (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set

– Broom – (bark) – yellow/brown

Broom Sedge – golden yellow and brown


– Butternut Tree (Juglans cinerea) (bark) -dark brown – boil the bark down to concentrated form

Coffee Grinds

Colorado Fir – (bark) – tan

Coneflower (flowers) – brownish green ; leaves and stems – gold

– Dandelion (roots) brown

– Fennel – (flowers, leaves) – yellow/brown

Goldenrod (shoots ) – deep brown

– Hollyhock (petals)

– Ivy – (twigs) – yellow/brown

Juniper Berries

Maple Trees (Red Leaf Buds) – red-brown color when dried. Found on branches before new leaves appear only present during early spring and throughout fall.

Oak bark will give a tan or oak color.

Oregano – (Dried stalk) – Deep brown- Black

Pine Tree Bark – light medium brown. Needs no mordant.

St John’s Wort (blossom) – brown

Sumac (leaves) – tan

Tea Bags – light brown, tan

Walnut (hulls) – deep brown (wear gloves)

Walnut (husks) – deep brown – black

– White Birch – (inner bark) – brown

White Maple (bark) – Light brown/ buff – Alum to set

Wild plum root will give a reddish or rusty brown.

Yellow dock (shades of brown)


photo credit: Alvimann|


Shades of  PINK



Avocado from skin and seed – a light pink hue.


Raspberries (red)

Roses and Lavender, with a little mint and some lemon juice to activate the alkaloids can make both a brilliant pink dye and a very tasty pink lemonade.

Lichens – A pink, brown, or wine colored dye can be produced from a lichen known as British soldiers.

– Camilla –It’s a nice pink-magenta. With lemon and salt.

– Grand Fir -(bark) pink


photo credit: Alvimann |


Shades of  BLUE- PURPLE


Dogwood (bark) – blue

Red cabbage

Woad (first year leaves). Woad gives a pale to mid blue colour depending on the type of fabric and the amount of woad used.

Mulberries (royal purple)

Elderberries (lavender)

– Saffron – (petals) blue/green

Grapes (purple)


– Cornflower – (petals) blue dye with alum, water

Cherry (roots)

Blackberry (fruit) strong purple

– Hyacinth – (flowers) – blue

Japanese indigo (deep blue)

Indigo (leaves) – blue

Red Cedar Root (purple)

– Raspberry –(fruit) purple/blue

Red Maple Tree (purple)(inner bark)

– Nearly Black Iris – (dark bluish purple) alum mordant

– Dogwood – (fruit) greenish-blue

– Oregon Grape –(fruit) blue/purple

Purple Iris – blue

Smilex (S. aspera) – blue

Sweetgum (bark) – purple / black

Queen Anne’s Lace


photo credit: Alvimann |


Shades of  RED – BROWN


Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root) – red

Elderberry – red

Whole (or the peel of) pomegranates – Between purple-red to pink from fresh pomegranates, and a brown color from very overripe (beginning to rot) pomegranates.

Red leaves will give a reddish brown color I use salt to set the dye.

Sumac (fruit) – light red

Sycamore (bark)- red

Dandelion (root)

Beets – deep red

Bamboo – turkey red

– Crab Apple – (bark) – red/yellow

Rose (hips)


Madder (root) – red

Hibiscus Flowers (dried)


Canadian Hemlock – (bark) reddish brown

– Japanese Yew – (heartwood) – brown dye

Wild ripe Blackberries

– Brazilwood

– St. John’s Wort – (whole plant) soaked in alcohol – red

Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) (root) – red


photo credit: Alvimann |


Shades of  GRAY-BLACK


 Iris (roots)

Sumac (leaves) (Black)

Meadowsweet makes an amazing black dye.


– Butternut Hulls

Carob pod (boiled) will give a gray to cotton

Oak galls – makes a good black dye.

Sawthorn Oak – (seed cups) – black

Walnut (hull) – black

Rusty nails & vinegar – set with Alum


photo credit: Alvimann |


Shades of  RED – PURPLE


Pokeweed (berries)

Hibiscus (flowers, dark red or purple ones) – red-purple.

Daylilies (old blooms)

– Safflower – (flowers, soaked in alcohol) – red

Logwood (is a good purple but you have to watch it as it dyes quick when the pot is fresh. Also it exhausts fast. We use alum to mordant and using iron can give you logwood gray.)

Huckleberry – lavender (can use it for dye and also for ink.)

Portulaca – (flowers, dried and crushed to a powder) use with a vinegar orsalt mordant, can produce strong magentas, reds, scarlets, oranges and
yellows (depending upon the color of the flower)

Beluga Black Lentils – soaked in water overnight .. yield a dark purplish / black water. The color is washfast and lightfast and needs NO MORDANT and it lasts – a beautiful milk chocolate brown (when super thick) … to a lighter medium brown or light brown when watered down.

Dark Hollyhock (petals) – mauve

Basil – purplish grey


photo credit: Alvimann |


Shades of  GREEN


Artemisia species provide a range of greens from baby’s breath to nettle green.

– Artichokes

– Tea Tree – (flowers) green/black

Spinach (leaves)

– Sorrel (roots) – dark green

– Foxglove – (flowers) apple green

– Lilac – (flowers) – green

– Camellia – (pink, red petals) – green

– Snapdragon – (flowers) – green

Black-Eyed Susans

Grass (yellow green)

– Pigsweed (entire plant) yellow green

– Red Pine (needles) green


– Broom – (stem) green

– Larkspur – green – alum

Plantain Roots

– White Ash – (bark) – yellow

– Purple Milkweed – (flowers & leaves) – green

Lily-of-the-valley (light green) be careful what you do with the spent dye bath. The plant is toxic so try to avoid pouring it down the drain into the water supply.

Barberry root (wool was dyed a greenish bronze-gold)

Red onion (skin) (a medium green, lighter than
forest green)

– Yarrow – (flowers) yellow & green shades

– Mulga Acacia – (seed pods) – green

– Peach – (leaves) yellow/green

– Coneflower (flowers) – green

Peppermint – dark kakhi green color

Peony (flowers) – pale lime green

Queen Anne’s Lace – pale green

Black-Eyed Susans – bright olive/apple green

Hydrangea (flowers) – alum mordant, added some copper and it came out a beautiful celery green

Chamomile (leaves) – green


photo credit: Alvimann |



Jewelweed – orange/peach

Broom Flower

Virginia Creeper (all parts); alum mordant; Peach.

Achiote powder (annatto seed)

Plum tree (roots) (salmon color on wool with alum)

Weeping Willow (wood & bark) makes a peachy brown (the tannin acts as a mordant)

– Virgina Creeper – (fruit) – pink

Balm (blossom) – rose pink

Jewelweed – orange/peach

Broom Flower

Virginia Creeper (all parts); alum mordant; Peach.

Achiote powder (annatto seed

Plum tree (roots) (salmon color on wool with alum)

Weeping Willow (wood & bark) makes a peachy brown (the tannin
acts as a mordant)

– Virgina Creeper – (fruit) – pink

Balm (blossom) – rose pink


photo credit: Alvimann |




– Alfalfa (seeds) – yellow

Bay leaves – yellow

Barberry (bark) – yellow

Beetroot (yellow) (alum & K2Cr2O7)


Cameleon plant (golden)

Celery (leaves)

Crocus – yellow

Daffodil (flower heads after they have died); alum mordant

Dahlia Flowers (Red, yellow, orange flowers) make a lovely yellow to orange dye for wool.

Dandelion (flower)

Dyer’s Greenwood (shoots) – yellow

Fustic – yellow

Golden Rod (flowers)

– Heather – (plant) – yellow

Hickory leaves (yellow) if plenty of leaves are boiled and salt added.

Marigold (blossoms) – yellow

– Mimosa – (flowers) yellow

Mulga Acacia -(flowers) – yellow

Mullein (leaf and root) pale yellow. *careful, because the little fuzzy hairs can make one itchy!

– Mullein (verbascum thapsus) (flowers) bright yellow or light green.

Old man’s beard lichen – yellow/brown/orange shades

– Onion (skins) – set with Alum.

Oregon-grape roots – yellow

Osage Orange also known as Bois d’arc or hedgeapple (heartwood, inner bark, wood, shavings or sawdust) (pale yellow)

Oxallis (wood sorrels) (flowers) – the one with the yellow flowers. Use the flower heads, some stem ok. It is nearly fluorescent yellow, and quite colorfast on alum mordanted wool.

If the oxalis flowers are fermented or if a small dash of cloudy ammonia is added to the dye bath (made alkaline) the fluorescent yellow becomes fluorescent orange. Usually I do this as an after-bath, once I have the initial colour. Useful for shifting the dye shade, and some good surprises in store!

Queen Anne’s Lace

Paprika -pale yellow – light orange

Peach (leaves) – yellow

Red Clover (whole blossom, leaves and stem) alum mordant – gold

Saffron (stigmas) – yellow – set with Alum.

Safflower (flowers, soaked in water) – yellow

Sassafras (bark)- yellow

St. John’s Wort – (flowers & leaves) – gold/yellow

Sumac (bark) – The inner pith of Sumac branches can produce a super bright yellow color.

– Sunflowers – (flowers) – yellow

– Syrian Rue (glows under black light)

Tansy (tops) – yellow

Tea ( ecru color)

Turmeric (spice) –bright yellow

Weld (bright yellow)

White mulberry tree (bark) Cream color onto white or off-white wool. Alum mordant.

Willow (leaves)

Yarrow – yellow and gold

Yellow cone flower (whole flower head); chrome mordant; Brass to Greeney-Brass.

Yellow, Curly, Bitter, or Butter Dock (despite various leaf shapes, all have a bright yellow taproot) gives you a yellow/flesh color.

Author: PioneerThinking – Ingredients for a Simple Life

Photo credits:  Alvimann | Kevin Connors

213 Responses to Making Natural Dyes from Plants

  1. Mary says:

    Our son was allergic to many things when he was growing up. Consequently, I used vegetables to dye his Easter eggs. It has been so long ago, that I don’t remember all the foods I used, but I do remember using yellow onion skins to create a soft peachy-yellow, spinach for light green eggs, and beets for a rosy pink. The eggs were edible so that i didn’t have to worry about him eating them.

  2. Jaq says:

    I tryed dying with iris roots but only got a light brown color when used fresh and a pale purple when i ground it let it dry then used it. It was the same with either salt or vinegar but the colors were deeper with vinegar. Is it a specific kind of iris I’m supposed to use for black? Or am I supposed tp do something else with the roots?

  3. Dimple Sas says:

    how to make the colors thick if we are going to use them with wooden blocks. I mean wooden block printing.

  4. Rina says:

    Hello, I’m trying to start a colonial dying program at a park I work at. I was wondering if I should use cast-iron or copper to dye my wool. To be historically accurate I can’t use steel.

  5. Cathy Lawson says:

    Please provide details for using alum to set dye.

  6. Nicole Smith says:

    Have you used lantana to dye with? I know it’s toxic to animals. I’m curious I have bushes of it growing in my back yard, wondering if it’s safe to use.

  7. Rooster with Bent Feathers says:

    Well that didnt work !!!. Tryed the Poke Berrys & they went from a Cranberry/wine color to a very weak watered down looking Yellowish brown. Good thing i,ve got plenty a berrys left around. when all fails i think i,ll search for my Native Familys way of Dyeing.

  8. Ivona says:

    Hi, thank you for this post 🙂
    Can you provide a little bit more detail on preparation for dyeing with St. John’s Wort? How much of alchocol do I need, how long does it need to soak etc.. Thank you, Ivona

    • margo says:

      Hello Ivona,
      I have some experience with St.John’s wort tincture making but don’t know how to apply the alcohol solution as a dye.
      I collected fresh flower heads (dry also work) and stuffed them in to a glass jar (500ml) and then filled with strong alcohol 70% (strongest I could buy in a liquor store). Made sure the petals are submerged so I would push/bruise them a bit.
      The beautiful red started to show with in half hour.
      For medicinal tincture they say 8 weeks and then pour off the liquid, but for a dye it might be much quicker.
      Would love to try it as a dye so if any one has used the alcohol prep, please post

  9. Jaci says:

    Are any of these dyes toxic if handled in liquid form when ready to use? I am planning a class now for autumn and learning how we can create dyes from harvested plants and how we can use the end product. My young students do put little fingers in their mouths!!

    Regards Jaci

  10. Andrew says:

    Thanks for your post!I had been thinking about it for a long time. So, i should try.

  11. Lynnette Bowman says:

    Wow Inspirational New to this and loving it Thank you

  12. Stephanie says:

    Is it necessary to simmer the fabric or can I just leave overnight?

Leave a Reply