Making Natural Dyes from Plants

photo credit: Kevin Connors | Morguefile.com

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

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photo credit: alvimann@gmail.com

 

Shades of ORANGE

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- 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.
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photo credit: Alvimann-morguefile.com

 

Shades of  BROWN

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- 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)

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photo credit: Alvimann| morguefile.com

 

Shades of  PINK

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- Strawberries

- Avocado from skin and seed – a light pink hue.

- Cherries

- 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

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  BLUE- PURPLE

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- 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)

- Blueberries

- 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

- Sweetgum (bark) – purple / black

- Queen Anne’s Lace

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  RED – BROWN

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- 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)

- Chokecherries

- Madder (root) – red

- Hibiscus Flowers (dried)

- Kool-aid

- 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

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  GRAY-BLACK

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- Iris (roots)

- Sumac (leaves) (Black)

- Meadowsweet makes an amazing black dye.

- Blackberry

- 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

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  RED – PURPLE

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- 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

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  GREEN

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- 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

- Nettle

- 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

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

Shades of  PEACH-SALMON

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- 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

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photo credit: Alvimann | morguefile.com

 

Shades of  YELLOW-WHEAT

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- Alfalfa (seeds) – yellow

- Bay leaves – yellow

- Barberry (bark) – yellow

- Beetroot (yellow) (alum & K2Cr2O7)

- Burdock

- 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.

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Author: PioneerThinking – Ingredients for a Simple Life

Photo credits:  Alvimann | Kevin Connors


86 Responses to Making Natural Dyes from Plants

  1. Sofia says:

    Love your ideas!!

  2. Deb says:

    after you dye your fabric do you throw out the dye that you used for the fabric to soak in? To my understanding what you don’t need you can put in a jar in the fridge for latter but was wondering about the other (used dye)

  3. tierra says:

    what plant from Utah?

  4. One of my elderly Greek neighbours, when her husband was quite ill, asked
    me not to cut the oregano flowers, so she could use the plant for dying.
    Deep brown-black from oregano

    Greek widows traditionally wear black, and not from purchasing a new
    wardrobe!)

    She cut it when it when the stalks were completely dried on the plant.
    She didn’t use the seed heads only, but said they were important.

    Her husband, unfortunately, died that winter.

    – frances

  5. sartaj says:

    plz tell me any body how we can use above natural dyes for paper

  6. cathy says:

    Thanks for this information. For years I have been looking for something about natural dying. I have in the past used certain liquids for dying Aida fabric and had good results. As a herbalist this gives me more scope for the use of mother natures gifts.

  7. June says:

    Can beet juice be stored in jars in a cupboard for use later? Can all the food dyes be stored in a cupboard? I would like to make ahead and but in canning jars and store in the pantry till needed.Thank you
    June

    • cathy says:

      June because these are natural dyes they can be stored in sealed jars for up to several weeks. As for beetroot of course they can but do not add water to them as this changes the colour of their dye to purple whereas beetroot juices is red. Found this out from a friend.

  8. Jill says:

    When you talk about different plants and have (with alum) after it, what do you mean? And when is a mordant used? In the actual dye bath or when the fabric is in the fixative?

  9. su says:

    Thank you for sharing the many list of natural dyes. It will be very helpful for me in completing my assignment regarding natural dyes. I have a question to ask,would you mind answering it, your help will do wonders for me? How can I change grass into a sheet of non woven? Do I need to soak the grass in water, I am very puzzled about the method to turn it into a non woven.

    • cathy says:

      Su take a piece of ply wood and place grasses on in one discretion then add a new layer in the opposite direction. Do this several times then take a heavy book and place on top and allow to dry. This way it isn’t woven and yet becomes paper.

  10. Meredith says:

    Does anyone think this might work for human hair? I am personally interested in the purple and blue colours but every colour of the rainbow is nice to know for the future to change it up. A lot of people my age and ages all over, specifically want these results and are using bleaching or harmful toxic chemical products that damage the hair and I’m sure a lot would appreciate another all natural option, semi permanent or permanent.

  11. suzanne says:

    thanks for the extensive list! can’t wait to get started!

  12. k says:

    Will ginger stain-dye linen or hemp rope

  13. Rebekah says:

    Thanks much for the list of natural dyes. Turmeric is a favorite of mine, and I was unaware that lye gave reds in a turmeric dye bath. I will be trying it!

  14. Leanne says:

    Have been using plants to colour and paint paper with primary children in nature club but wanted to know how to fix the colour with materials. Red cabbage is amazing as is red onion and elderberry – all home grown. Can’t wait to try some of these plant on paper and fabric. Is is absolutely necessary to simmer the fabric in the dye or will it be successful in just warm liquid?

  15. jacob says:

    whats the Fixatives measurements for the rusty nail (black). its not a plant or berry’s fixative

    thanks
    jake

  16. Laura says:

    Accidentally discovered that rose petals will dye fabric.

  17. Kirsty Smith says:

    Really happy to find this site as I need to dress my daughter as a bonfire and didn’t fancy buying loads of different fabrics. I haven’t natural dyed since I was a small child and had forgotten the different plants and results. I am really looking forward to getting my teeth into this project now!

  18. Janine says:

    Just dyed some wool with peony flowers and came up with a beautiful pale lime green color.

  19. Betsy says:

    New to this, thanks for all of the great info.
    Saw some unusual purple berries, in my yard, falling off of japanese yew. They made great dye for paper, but discovered afterwards that everything about this plant except for ripe berries is poisonous. Since I cooked the berries (microwave)with the seeds still attached I am carefully cleaning all of my prep equipment. I’m not sure about the hazards but the color is amazing. Deep blueberry/ grape juice purple.

  20. renuka taneja says:

    hi wonderful site .. wanted to know how to add the mordant .. alum is anordant right .. does one soak it in alum water before the dye bath … do let us know the process in detail .. i work wih kids and would like to experiment with them … does one put glycerine/castor oil in the colour … i had heard from someone that they do do that .. take care renuka

  21. Jamie says:

    Kool-aide is an acid dye and only dyes protein based fabrics (wools, silks, human hair) it will only stain natural fabrics (cotton, linen) and will wash out over time. Kool-aide has to be at least 170 degrees F to adhere.

  22. Meredith says:

    Thanks for the great list! In addition, Meadowsweet makes an amazing black dye.

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