Making Natural Dyes from Plants

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 dyeing.

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 (Mordant):

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

Other Mordant: Cream of tartar, iron, tin, alum or chrome

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

Shades of ORANGE

 

- 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) (roots when cut open - fresh)- mordant: alum - will give a good orange to reddish orange color.

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

- Carrot (Daucus carota) - (roots) - orange

- Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

- 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.

- Golden Marguerite  (Anthemis tinctoria)(fresh or dried flowers) - mordant: chrome - golden orange

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

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

- Madder (Rubia tinctorum ) (fresh roots) - mordant: tin - orange

- Onion (Allium cepa) (yellow skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: tin - bright orange

- Onion (Allium cepa) (red skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: alum - reddish orange

- Onion (Allium cepa) (yellow skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: alum - burnt orange

- Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (fresh or dried fruit)  mordant: chrome - rust

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

- Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)  (fresh or dried flowers) - mordant: tin - rust

- Sassafras (leaves)

- St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - (fresh flowers) - mordant: tin - orange/red

- Sunflower

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

- Weld

 

brown

Shades of BROWN

- Acorns (boiled)

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

- Barberry - (all plant, fresh or dried ) - mordant: alum - tan

- 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

- Burdock

- Cascara sagrada

- Coffee Grinds

- Colorado Fir - (bark) - tan

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

- Comfrey ( Symphytum officinale) (leaves) - mordant: iron - brown

- Dandelion (roots) brown

- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (fresh flowers, leaves) mordant: chrome - golden brown

- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (fresh tops) mordant: iron - brown

- Geranium

- Goldenrod (shoots ) - deep brown

- Hollyhock (Alcea) (petals)

- Hops

- Ivy - (twigs) - yellow/brown

- Juniper Berries (Juniperus)

- Madder (Rubia tinctorum ) (roots) - mordant: iron - brown

- Oak bark will give a tan or oak color.

- Onion (Allium cepa) (red skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: tin - tan/brown

- Onion (Allium cepa) (yellow skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: iron - brown

- Onion (Allium cepa) (red skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: chrome - dark tan

- Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) (fresh roots) mordant: chrome - tan

- Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) (fresh roots) mordant: alum - light yellow brown

- Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) (fresh, all plant) mordant: alum - khaki gold

- Oregano - (Dried stalk) - Deep brown- Black

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

- Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (dried fruit)  mordant: alum - brown

- Potentilla (Potentilla verna) (fresh roots)  mordant: chrome - brown/red

- Poplar

- Raspberry (tan)

- St John's Wort (blossom) - brown

- St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - (fresh stems) - mordant: alum - brown/red

- Sumac (leaves) - tan

- Sunflower (tan)

- Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratium) (fresh leaves, stems) mordant: alum - tan

- Tea Bags - light brown, tan

- Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi) (fresh leaves) - camel

- Walnut (hulls) - deep brown (wear gloves) - 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)

 

Shades of PINK

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

- Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (roots - fresh)- mordant: alum - reddish pink

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

- Cherries

- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)(all plant - fresh) - magenta

- Grand Fir - (bark) pink

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

- Madder (Rubia tinctorum ) (roots) - pink

- Pokeweed

- 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.

- Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (fresh fruit)  mordant: alum - pink

- Sorrel

- Strawberries

- Woad (Isatis tinctoria) (fresh, young leaves) - mordant: alum - pink

Shades of BLUE - PURPLE

- Blackberry (fruit) strong purple

- Blueberries

- Cherry (roots)

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

- Dogwood (bark) - blue

- Dogwood - (fruit) greenish-blue

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) - lavender

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh berries) - mordant: alum - violet

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh berries) - mordant: tin- blue/gray

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh berries) - mordant: chrome - blue

- Geranium (Geranium sylvaticum) - blue/gray

- Grapes (purple)

- Hyacinth - (flowers) - blue

- Indigo (leaves) - blue

- Japanese indigo (deep blue)

- Lady's Bedstraw (Gelium verum) (roots -fresh or dried) - mordant: iron - plum

- Raspberry -(fruit) purple/blue

- Red cabbage

- Red Cedar Root (purple)

- Red Maple Tree (purple)(inner bark)

- Mulberries (royal purple)

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

- Oregon Grape (Mahonia Aquifolium) -(fresh fruit) mordant: alum - blue/purple

- Queen Anne's Lace

- Saffron - (petals) blue/green

- Purple Iris - blue

- Smilex (S. aspera) - blue

- Sweetgum (bark) - purple / black

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

- Woad (Isatis tinctoria) (fresh, young leaves) - blue

 

Shades of RED - BROWN

- Bamboo - turkey red

- Bedstraw (Galium triflorum) (root) - red

- Beets - deep red

- Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) (root) - red

- Brazilwood

- Burdock

- Canadian Hemlock - (bark) reddish brown

- Cascara sagrada

- Chokecherries

- Comfrey ( Symphytum officinale)

- Crab Apple - (bark) - red/yellow

- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) (root)

- Dock (Rumex spp.) (fresh young leaves) -mordant: chrome - red

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.)

- Fennel

- Geranium

- Hibiscus Flowers (dried)

- Hops

- Japanese Yew - (heartwood) - brown dye

- Juniper

- Kool-aid

- Lady's Bedstraw (Gelium verum) (roots -fresh or dried) - mordant: alum - red

- Madder (Rubia tinctorum ) (fresh roots) - mordant: alum - lacquer red

- Madder (Rubia tinctorum ) (fresh roots) - mordant: chrome - garnet red

- Onion

- Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (fresh fruit)  mordant: alum -  red

- Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) (fresh fruit)  mordant: tin - red

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

- Poplar

- Potentilla

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

- Rose (hips)

- St. John's Wort - (whole plant) soaked in alcohol - red

- Sumac (fruit) - light red

- Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratium) (fresh roots) mordant: alum - red

- Sycamore (bark)- red

- Wild ripe Blackberries

 

Shades of GRAY-BLACK

- Alder

- Blackberry

- Black Walnut

- Butternut Hulls

- Elder

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh bark) - mordant: iron - gray

- Carob pod (boiled) will give a gray to cotton

- Iris (roots)

- Meadowsweet makes an amazing black dye.

- Oak galls - makes a good black dye.

- Poplar

- Raspberry

- Rusty nails & vinegar - set with Alum

- Sawthorn Oak - (seed cups) - black

- Sumac (leaves) (Black)

- Sunflower

- Walnut (hull) - black

- Yarrow

 

Shades of RED - PURPLE

- Basil - purplish grey

- 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.

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

- Dark Hollyhock (petals) - mauve

- Daylilies (old blooms)

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

- Lady's Bedstraw (Gelium verum) (roots -fresh or dried) - mordant: chrome - purplish 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.)

- Pokeweed (berries)

- 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)

- Potentilla (Potentilla verna) (fresh roots)  mordant: iron - purple-red

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

 

Shades of GREEN

- Agrimony

- Angelica

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

- Artichokes

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

- Bayberry ( Berberis vulgaris) (all plant: fresh or dried)  - mordant: iron - dark green

- Black-Eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) - bright olive/apple green

- Broom - (stem) green

- Camellia - (pink, red petals) - green

- Chamomile (leaves) - green

- Coneflower (flowers) - green

- Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh leaves) - mordant: iron - dark green

- Foxglove - (flowers) apple green

- Grass (yellow green)

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

- Larkspur - green - alum

- Lilac - (flowers) - 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.

- Majoram (Origanum Majorana) - (fresh whole tops) - mordant: alum - green

- Majoram (Origanum Majorana) - (fresh whole tops) - mordant: chrome - olive green

- Mulga Acacia - (seed pods) - green

- Nettle

- Peach - (leaves) yellow/green

- Peony (flowers) - pale lime green

- Peppermint - dark kakhi green color

- Pigweed (entire plant) yellow green

- Plantain Roots

- Purple Milkweed - (flowers & leaves) - green

- Queen Anne's Lace - pale green

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

- Red Pine (needles) green

- Sage (Salvia officinalis) (fresh tops) - mordant: iron -  green gray

- Snapdragon - (flowers) - green

- Spinach (leaves)

- Sorrel (roots) - dark green

- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (fresh tops) mordant: iron - dark green

- Tea Tree - (flowers) green/black

- Uva Ursi (Arctostaphylos Uva-ursi) (fresh, all plant) - mordant: alum and iron - green

- White Ash - (bark) - yellow

- Yarrow - (flowers) yellow & green shades

- Yarrow ( Achillea Millefolium) (Fresh, all plant ) mordant: iron- olive green

 

Shades of PEACH-SALMON

 

- Achiote powder (annatto seed)

- Balm (blossom) - rose pink

- Broom Flower

- Jewelweed - orange/peach

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

- Virginia Creeper - (fruit) - pink (all parts); alum mordant; Peach.

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

 

CHARTREUSE

Shades of CHARTREUSE

- Betony (Stachys officinalis)  (all plant - fresh ) - mordant: alum - chartreuse

- Broom ( Cytisus scoparius) (tops) - mordant: alum - green yellow

- Feverfew ( Chrysanthemum Parthenium) (fresh leaves, stems) - mordant: chrome - greenish yellow

- Foxglove ( Digitalis purpurea) (fresh flowers) - mordant: alum - chartreuse

- Goldenrod  (Solidago spp.)(all plant - fresh) - mordant: iron - yellow/green

- Nettle (Uritca dioica) )(all plant - fresh) - mordant: alum- yellowish green

- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) (fresh flowers, leaves)  mordant: alum - yellow-green

- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (fresh young leaves) mordant: alum - yellowish green

- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) (fresh flowers) mordant: alum - greenish/yellow

 

Shades of YELLOW-WHEAT

- Agrimony (fresh leaves, stems) - mordant: alum - brassy yellow

- Alfalfa (seeds) - yellow

- Bay leaves - yellow

- Barberry ( Berberis vulgaris) (inner bark, fresh or dried) - yellow

- Barberry  ( Berberis vulgaris) (roots, bark, fresh or dried) - mordant: tin  -  yellow

- Beetroot (yellow) (alum & K2Cr2O7)

- Broom ( Cytisus scoparius)(fresh flowers) - mordant: chrome - deep yellow

- Broom ( Cytisus scoparius) (fresh flowers) - mordant: alum - bright yellow

- Burdock - yellow

- Cameleon plant (golden)

- Chamomile, Roman (Chamaemelium nobile)(fresh flowers) - mordant: chrome - yellow

- Chamomile, Roman (Chamaemelium nobile)(fresh flowers) - mordant: alum - bright yellow

- 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 (Taraxacum officinale)  (fresh flowers) - mordant: alum - soft yellow

- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)  (fresh flowers) - mordant: tin - yellow

- Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh roots) - mordant: alum - deep yellow

- Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh leaves) - mordant: alum - yellow

- Dock (Rumex spp.)(fresh late leaves) - mordant: chrome - gold

- Dyer's Greenwood (shoots) - yellow

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh leaves) - mordant: alum - soft yellow

- Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) (fresh leaves) - mordant: chrome- deep yellow

- Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) (fresh flowers, leaves) mordant: alum - mustard yellow

- Fenugreek - yellow

- Fustic  (Chlorophora tinctoria or Maclura tinctoria) (wood)  -  yellow

- Golden Marguerite  (Anthemis tinctoria)(fresh or dried flowers) - mordant: tin - yellow

- Golden Marguerite  (Anthemis tinctoria)(fresh or dried flowers) - mordant: alum - yellow buff

- Goldenrod  (Solidago spp.)(flowers - fresh) - mordant: alum - yellow

- Goldenrod  (Solidago spp.)(flowers - fresh) - mordant: chrome - gold

- Goldenrod  (Solidago spp.)(flowers - fresh) - mordant: tin - bright yellow

- Grindelia - yellow

- Heather - (plant) - yellow

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

- Horseradish - yellow

- Lady's Bedstraw (Gelium verum) (tops -fresh) - mordant: alum - dull yellow

- Larkspur -  yellow

- Lavender Cotton (Santolina Chamaecyparissus) (flowers, leaves -fresh) - mordant: chrome - gold

- Lavender Cotton (Santolina Chamaecyparissus) (flowers, leaves -fresh) - mordant: alum - yellow

- Marigold (Tagetes spp. or Calendula spp.) (flowers - fresh or dried) - mordant:  alum - yellow/tan

- Marigold (Tagetes spp. or Calendula spp.) (flowers - fresh or dried) - mordant:  chrome - gold

- Mimosa - (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.

- Nettle (Uritca dioica) )(all plant - fresh) - mordant: chrome - tan

- Old man's beard lichen - yellow/brown/orange shades

- Onion (Allium cepa) (yellow skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: alum - yellow

- Onion (Allium cepa) (red skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: chrome - gold

- Onion (Allium cepa) (yellow skin - fresh or dried) - mordant: chrome - brass

- 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

- Plaintain (Plantago major) (fresh, all plant) - mordant: alum - dull yellow

- Plaintain (Plantago major) (fresh, all plant) - mordant: chrome - camel

- Pomegranate (peel) - yellow

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

- Saffron (stigmas) - yellow - set with Alum.

- Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)  (fresh or dried flowers) - mordant: alum - yellow

- Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius)  (fresh or dried flowers) - mordant: iron - brass

- Sage (Salvia officinalis) (fresh tops) - mordant: alum -  yellow

- Sage (Salvia officinalis) (fresh tops) - mordant: chrome -  deep yellow

- Salsify - yellow

- Sassafras (bark)- yellow

- St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - (flowers & leaves) - gold/yellow

- St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - (fresh tops) - mordant: alum - medium yellow

- St. John's Wort (Hypericum perforatum) - (fresh tops) - mordant: chrome - bright yellow

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

- Sunflower - (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 ( Achillea Millefolium) (Fresh flowers) mordant: alum - 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.com - Ingredients for a Simple Life

Copyright Pioneerthinking.com

Photo credits: Alvimann | Kevin Connors

206 Responses

  1. F. SHIMBO

    Portulaca

    Hi there, Thanks for a wonderful website!

    Might I suggest using the flowers of Portulaca as dyes? I’ve found that the flowers, dried and crushed to a powder, and used with a vinegar or salt mordant, can produce strong magentas, reds, scarlets, oranges and yellows (depending upon the color of the flower) on wool, and less strong colors on cotton. They are not as lightfast as I’d like, but wonderful to work with.

  2. T. BROOKS

    Several Dyes

    Beluga Black Lentils …. soaked in water overnight .. yield a dark purplish / black water … that I let sit outside in the southern California sun for a day or two … and then I paint with it on cotton … and 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 ….

    “Timeless Seeds” out of Montana grows these Beluga Black Lentils, which I buy at my local Whole Foods market …. They are a great starting point for playing with edible / safe material to create LASTING COLOR on shirts … and clothing.

    Also, I boiled some Pine Tree Bark … and put the water in my spritz bottle … sprayed around a dolphin stencil on my white cotton shirt … and voila … the dye has stayed … a second nice light-medium brown dye that needs NO MORDANT !

    So happy to make colors – TOTALLY HEALTH-ILY …. and have them stay on shirts ….

    Also, a recent trip to Sedona, Arizona brought me face to face with the coolest ORANGE DIRT dyed shirts … so I brought a bucket of dark orange-red earth home to LA with me … added some purified water …. “painted” through a silk screen onto some white cotton shirts … and the “paint” seems to be staying …. through two washes with detergent so far … I have a hopeful PLEASE PLEASE feeling that the colors will last … as I believe the iron that gives the clay it’s color…. will remain wash fast and light fast for the most part !

    I’m off to find more …. my mission is to find colors that I can use to paint on cotton … colors which need NO MORDANT … or at least NO METAL MORDANT … I will use lemon juice, vinegar, salt … stewed leaves … or other “edible” / “organic” elements to mordant the colors .. but I don’t want to use alum or mordants ….

    This is my fun, my mission ….

    I just wanted to share to yall the happy findings I’ve come up into so far !

    If anything is ringing a bell right now – feel free to share … Thanks !

    Aloha …lots of love

  3. KEENAN

    Walnut Husks

    Hi, I read your list and I’m surprised and disappointed that Walnut isn’t on your list. Walnut husks (NOT the nut) when chopped up make a very potent stain–and it’s already color fast–no salt or vinegar needed. I chop up some walnut husks, both green ones, but also parasitized ones that are blackened, and throw them in the blender, adding some water so that they actually blend and the dye is made! It is not necessary to heat, just dip your cloth into this black gunk. I quick dip in the cold gunk leaves a dark green color. Simmering the cloth makes a dark brown to almost black.

    Rinse the clothes off outside with a hose, as it will dye everything it touches! Wash them once all together to get any excess dye off.

    Walnut husks are a powerful, easily gathered (in the fall), versatile and potent dye.

  4. LEAH

    I noticed that you didn’t have Jewelweed. It makes a lovely orange/peach color.

    Peppermint makes a dark kakhi green color.

    Queen Anne’s Lace give a pale green

    Black-Eyed Susans give a bright olive (apple?) green

    Hope this helps your list.

  5. AUDREY

    Iris Flower

    Hello! I was just on your web page looking through the listings of plant-based dyes, and I wonder if you’ve ever tried using iris flowers? I haven’t, but this spring I had some gorgeous purple ones that bloomed from bulbs I planted last year. One of them was knocked over by hard rain, and I brought it inside and put it in a vase on a glass-topped table, still wet from the downpour. When I looked at the glass table later, there were deep purple drips dried on the glass which came up a lovely deep purple on a white towel when I cleaned them off. I’d love to experiment with this, but it’ll have to be next year as the irises are finished for the season, darn it.

    Anyone there ever tried iris blooms as a dye? Maybe I’m reinventing the wheel here. Thanks …

  6. LEANNE B.

    I haven’t seen Dahlia on the list. Red, yellow, orange Dahlia flowers make a lovely yellow to orange dye for wool.

  7. KATIE K.

    Hi there, I’ve heard that oak galls makes a good black dye, although I’ve never tried this myself.

  8. Kelly. A.

    Hi, in the San Francisco Bay Area there is a weed fully in bloom in Jan. and Feb. And being a weed is quite hardy, prolific and hard to eradicate. Oxallis, 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.

  9. Barbara J

    I just tried Camilla and it’s a nice pink-magenta. with lemon and salt. Smelled nice too.

  10. Julie

    I live in the Pacific Northwest. We use alder bark for orange, old man’s beard lichen for various yellow/brown/orange shades, depending on the bark it grows on, and Oregon-grape roots for yellow.

    I’m looking for a source of madder root to grow in my garden. Do you know where it can be purchased? The only place I’ve found so far is in Malta, which is a little far for me to travel.

  11. Bruce B.

    Huckleberry gives a good lavender color and I have used it not only for a dye but also for ink.

  12. Joanna S

    Hi, your site is so helpful! The inner pith of Sumac branches can produce a super bright yellow color. Also, the berries are listed under pink/red, but mine have actually turned both a grey and a yellow-y color. I didn’t not use any mordants for these, and I steeped them for about 2 days in a hot bath, but the color was great. Thanks for the info on all the rest!

  13. K.Walker

    The red leaf buds of many maple trees make a nice red-brown color when dried, found on branches before new leaves appear only present during early spring and throughout fall.

  14. K.Christine

    Yellow Dye- turmeric (spice) – -bright yellow.

  15. T.Bradford

    Brazilwood – any of the red wood trees in this family produce a red color the trees are actually named after the dyes.

    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.

    Pomagrante – with alum anywhere from orange to khaki green. Yellows in the orange end of the spectrum on wool and yellow green or khaki on cotton. It is high in tannin so to get the khaki color I don’t add the alum. This dye was and still is used in India. The skins are dried for future use in dyeing when the fruit is processed for food. Pomagrante color varies with the variety and the darker skinned fruit gives stronger colors. They can be grown in areas of the US. We had a bush in west texas and they are grown in california

    – T. Bradford

  16. E.A. PINKERTON

    Just a note regarding Dyer’s Woad…it is considered a noxious weed in some states, so if you decide to grow it in your garden, it is probably best to grow it in a pot, and make sure that your seeds aren’t scattered by the wind.

  17. TRICIA, U.K.

    Hi I am from the UK and have only just started to dye from natural materials. I recently lost a large branch in a strong wind from our Weeping Willow. I found that I was able to get the most beautiful peachy brown from the wood and bark. The beauty of this is that is was very colour fast as the tannin acts as a mordant. Just thought that you might like to add that to the list. Love your website.

  18. Margo

    I stumbled across a very nice dye by deadheading my “near black” iris. It stained my fingers a very dark purple. I used an alum mordant and a silk scarf….beautiful color! Sort of a dark blue purple. Love it.

  19. C.W.I Ellis

    I have found that carob pod, boiled, will give a gray to cotton. Being of high tannin content, it can be used alone: I guess that the same would work from carob powder or syrup.

    Regards and may God keep you well.

  20. TERESA

    Hi! You really should mention that neither salt nor vinegar is actually a fixative. Vinegar is a pH modifier, that can be used to help in takeup of dye, and salt is an assist used to “open up” the fibers to take dye more readily, but neither one actually does anything to set the dye. You need a mordant to actually get colorfast colors. Alum is the easiest to obtain of these, McCormick’s makes alum that is sold in the spice or canning section of most grocery stores. You need to add some alum to water, bring it up to a simmer, and simmer your fiber to be dyed in the alum.

    – Teresa H.

  21. Eric

    With so much mystery surrounding lichen dyes, I decided to do some experimenting of my own. A pink, brown, or wine colored dye can be produced from a lichen known as British soldiers. This is a very distinctive lichen, unlike some of the others used for dyeing so it is impossible to mistake. In order to extract the dye, place the lichen in a glass jar and cover with ammonia. The lichen will soak up a lot, so it may be necessary to add more to cover it completely. Put a lid on the jar or rubber band several layers of plastic wrap over it. Within a minute or two, the ammonia will turn very dark. If a light is shone through it, it will look ruby red, but this is deceiving; the majority of the dye color is brown. Allow this mixture to soak overnight. The next day, or anytime after that (time can’t hurt) pour the ammonia out and through a coffee filter to remove debris. Don gloves and wring the remaining ammonia out of the lichens, which will now be very soft and spongy.

    If you plan to make multiple batches, save this lichen, as a bit more dye can be leached out of it with further ammonia soaking, then that mixture is poured over fresh lichen to conserve all the dye possible. The ammonia should be extremely dark at this point. To make a dye bath, thin it out, 1 part ammonia to 2 parts water will produce a medium-light pink on wool, mohair, and most likely silk. It barely dyes cotton or linen at all.

    Simmer prewashed and wet yarn in this mixture (Outside, please, the concentrated fumes would be very dangerous if done indoors) The dye will achieve its maximum shade rather quickly, some of which will go down the drain when washed, properly mordanted and pre-washed, or not. (this is because the dark dye bath liquid will cling to the fibers, making it seem darker than the final product) It will be shockingly light for the depth of color in the dye bath. If you want to push the pink toward wine (albeit a light wine color), add vinegar to the dye bath and simmer for a few more minutes. The acid will unlock the ability of the brown dye to color the cloth. In the basic ammonia solution is was bound up and therefore could not taint the pink. A little brown color will serve to darken the pink, making it seem like a stronger shade. Pull the cloth out immediately to prevent further darkening. If you let it go too long, however, the cloth will end up being unmistakably brown with a pink undertone. In order to get a pure brown, acidify the dye bath with vinegar after exhausting the pink dye (this is probably after only one batch of material has been dyed). Anything simmered in this dye bath will come out a medium-light brown, and the dye bath will be entirely exhausted. Be careful when using lichens as dyes as they grow very slowly and harvesting them in any great quantity will undo perhaps hundreds of years if growth. The lichen I used is growing in vast quantity on the old wood fence in my backyard. Since it is being torn down very soon and replaced, I figured I’d harvest all that I could and not let it go to waste. Good luck.

  22. DEEPALI

    Beetroot

    Hi, I am Deepali G. from Indore, India & am doing a project on dyeing of cotton, P/C & Polyester with beetroot. I’ve successfully applied the dye on the cotton fabric. It gave different shades with different mordants.

    Dark Brown With FeSO4.
    Shades of yellow with alum & K2Cr2O7.

    I’d suggest you try it sometime.

  23. IAN S.

    Woad

    Woad (first year leaves). Woad gives a pale to mid blue colour depending on the type of fabric and the amount of woad used. The dye itself is indigotin, the same dye present in indigo; however indigo contains 10 times more indigotin, hence the deeper the colour.

    Woad is a relatively easy plant to grow, however it will easily over-run your garden if you let it. the best way to prevent this is after its second year (its a biennial plant) when the yellow flowers are present prune the plant so just a couple of the yellow flower clusters are left as this will provide more than enough seeds for regrowth.

  24. Eric

    Hibiscus

    Dark red or purple hibiscus flowers make a red-purple dye. If it happens to be winter and you are dying to dye (pun totally intended) buy some hibiscus flower tea (I used pompadour brand hibiscus flower and rose hip tea) and simmer a bunch of bags in water to make a strong dye bath.

  25. A.S.

    Daylilies

    I am a gardener and grow daylilies. One particular variety is quite tall and orange when blooming. When the bloom closes after one day of blooming, I have often been touched by the old bloom which bleeds a red/purplish juice from it and it will stain my clothing. I have just experimented with these blooms on a paper towel and pressed the juices with a rolling pin and the colors are really beautiful. Of course it is not all over as though you were in a liquid state, but maybe it could be used to do designs on paper. I tried it with an old handkerchief and the colors stained the fabric, but I didn’t get quite the nice bleeding into the fabric with a little red and yellow from the bloom as it did on the paper towel.

    If anyone has any other suggestions, I would be interested in the paper dye as well as the fabric dye with these particular plants. Thanks.

  26. Eric

    Tumeric

    Cumin, listed for yellow on your dye list does not provide color at all. All you get is water scented like Mexican or Indian food, which smells great, but isn’t what I wanted. Perhaps the writer had meant curry powder, which contains a high percentage of turmeric, which is already listed for yellow. Turmeric dyed cloth will turn orange or red if it is dipped in lye. Pour water through wood ash in a coffee filter to make lye, then pour this over the dyed cloth and allow to sit. The color changes very rapidly, so be prepared to pull the cloth out and wash it quickly, or thin down the lye before use.

  27. ALMA S.

    Paprika

    I noticed that your web page said red onions give a red dye. In the past when I have used red onion skin as a dye, I have gotten a medium green, lighter than forest green, but very nice. You also might want to add paprika, which gives an ever so slightly orange shade of pale yellow and is hard to wash out.

  28. Eric

    Several Dyes

    Domestic plum tree’s roots also work with the same method described for the wild plum roots. I have never been able to work with the wild variety, but the dye bath seemed fairly weak for the amount of domestic plum root bark that I used. Perhaps hybridization has thinned down the dye content or the soil on the east coast doesn’t have high enough levels of the minerals needed for strong dye production. In any case, the dilute bath made a wonderful peach, almost salmon color on wool with alum.

    Despite some sites’ reports that yellow dock can be used as a yellow dye, yellow dock can only be used to produce shades of brown on wool. The yellow constituent disappears upon drying the root, and dissipates while boiling.

    When I used barberry root, I left the dark layer of the root under the bark on. I have never heard anyone say to remove it, but it probably should be taken off. Instead of the yellow-orange I’ve read so much about, the wool was dyed a greenish bronze-gold. In sunlight it “shines” a lovely gold color as opposed to the green tone with indoor lighting. It’s a great color but looks pitiful when placed next to the atomic yellow of a skein of wool dyed in turmeric.

    The bark of the white mulberry tree, which is a terrible weed, at least on my property, will not dye a very dark shade, but does impart a great cream color onto white or off-white wool. I used alum as a mordant and the bark was very fresh. Since the mulberry does contain tannins, an iron mordant would probably have produced deeper browns or grays.

    Best Regards, Eric

  29. Eric

    Yellow, Curly, Bitter, Butter Dock

    Your site has an excellent list of natural dye plants and thought these few may be useful to you.

    Yellow, Curly, Bitter, or Butter Dock (despite various leaf shapes, all have a bright yellow taproot) -yellow/flesh color. I have only experimented on lengths of cotton cording I had lying around, so results on wool may be drastically different. I read that this plant can produce a fairly clear yellow. Unfortunately I could only find a small plant with thin roots. It would have been difficult for me to peel all the roots of their thin bark/skin, so I decided to boil them with it still on. This produced a “wheat” shade on the cotton cord, a few shades yellower than a flesh tone. Alum seems to help the dye stick better, but is by no means necessary. Forget iron on the cotton cloth. It comes out a horrible dingy gray-brown. If I attain a true yellow with peeled roots I will send another e-mail.

    When dyeing with turmeric, whose color stands up next to artificially dyed clothes, make sure you wear gloves and be careful not to splash. Otherwise your hands will be bright yellow for a week and whatever you splashed the dye on will be yellow almost forever. I learned the hard way.

    If using 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. As long as there are no toxic mordants in the bath, I suggest you dump it outside.

    Pokeberry is an easily accessible dye in my area, but it needs to be mordanted with alum or it will wash right out. It still is not very lightfast.

    Regards, Eric

  30. NOLITA W.

    Many Dyes

    Hi, I’ll be trying a bunch of different stuff for dyes pretty soon (waiting for wool and cocoons).

    I’m going to try different dried herbs from the health food store, and Mexican market :). First on the list is annato. It’s been mentioned though.

    I’m pretty sure dried hibiscus flowers will make a shade of red. I’ve drank hibiscus tea and a single tea bag makes an intensely tart, deep red tea. It’s high in vitamin C too (not sure how that would affect dye, unless ascorbic acid affects dye). I’ll just dump a box of it in my microwave safe bowl and start to microwave slow cooking :P. (I bought those disposable microwaveable bowls with lids just for crafting to be safe, and they’re both good and cheap). My stove’s electric so I can’t go full-on pioneer no matter what.

    Plain old tea makes a nice ecru like color. It’s what they use in movies to prematurely age fabrics.

    Oh, nearly forgot, Henna should make for a lovely color (I just need to experiment with mordants and curing time, will get back to you).

    Dollars to doughnuts, using a copper pot changes results(chemical reaction).

    I’m just going to use what’s close at hand, and when I think about it, that’s what the pioneers did too. So I’m adding kool-aid to the list, even if they didn’t have red dye # 33 in the 19th century 🙂

  31. CAITLIN

    3 Best Dyes

    Madder, weld, and Japanese indigo are the three very best natural dyes for temperate areas. Madder makes shades of red, weld yields a bright yellow, and Japanese indigo gives deep blues. They are all quite colorfast.

  32. RICHARD H.

    Yellow Dyes

    Two new dyes for your “Yellow” list:

    (1) Red Clover (whole blossom, leaves and stem); alum mordant; Gold.

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

    One new dye for your “Peach” list:

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

  33. DERRICK

    Tea

    Don’t forget tea. Any style of tea bag you can buy from the store or homemade tea if you live in an area where growing that is possible makes a very light nice brown.

  34. LANEKNIT

    Red Cedar Root

    Red Cedar root = Purple dye (Alum mordant.) Cameleon plant gives you a beautiful golden color (Alum mordant.)

  35. D.BOYLE

    Grass makes a nice shade of green. Just boil it in water, remove grass and use the remaining as dye.

  36. M. LANGENFELD

    Acorns

    When preparing acorns, the byproduct of making them edible can be used as a natural dye. I cracked open the acorns with a large stone. To make the nutmeats edible you boil them in hot water and strain, then boil again with new water, until the water runs clear. When boiling them the water will turn brown (natural tannins boiling away from the acorns.) This brown liquid (natural tannic acid solution) can be used with a vinegar-based fixative for a very dark brown color to cloth. The brown color was thrown away on my first try. As I said, it is a byproduct of boiling hulled acorns, for eating. Thought this might be useful to you.

  37. BJ

    Red Maple Tree

    The inner bark of the Red Maple tree when combined with an iron mordant yields shades of Purple.

    Shavings or sawdust from the heartwood of the Osage Orange tree yields shades of yellow.

    These were done on wool. I’m not sure how they would react with other fibers.

  38. K. BRATCHER

    Goldenrod makes a beautiful yellow. The color ranges from a deep golden to pale yellow depending on how much goldenrod you use and how well the material takes the dye. Also, elderberries make a lovely deep lavender color! These both are colorfast and will not fade.

  39. GEM STONE

    Onion skins and lichen makes a gorgeous gold colour.

  40. NANCY

    Hi, what about dandelion flower for yellow.

  41. Libby H.

    I just thought you might want to know that onion peels make a great orange or yellow mattering on how long you leave it in the dye bath and whether you are using cotton or wool. I usually dye gray wools so I am usually just looking for a tint and not looking for a super bright color.

  42. R. JOHNSON, SEA BREEZE SOAP, LOS FRESNOS. TX

    Annatto Seed

    Hi, my partner and I added a new fragrance to our soap line and wanted a peachy color to complement it. For a 36 bar batch we used about 4 pinches of achiote powder (annatto seed) and were pleased with the color. It has minute flecks of a dark red in it also. We use only additives that are non-toxic and edible. Hope this helps.

  43. R. BRODSKY, FT WORTH, TEXAS

    Hedgeapple – For a pale yellow the wood and inner bark of Bois d’arc or hedgeapple. (Maclura pomifera)

  44. EMMA, WEST SUSSEX

    Blackberry season is nearly upon us at harvest time so go picking and make beautiful strong purple dyes!

  45. Joy

    Daffodil – You can add daffodil flower heads (after they have died). They make a lovely shade of gold/yellow. We used alum as a mordant.

  46. S. REINHART

    Do you know about Cochineal? It’s not a plant but it grows on a plant. The little white fuzzy bugs that look like mealy bugs that are found on the “pads” of Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) They are an infestation to the plant so it helps the plant if you scrape them off.

    Scrape them off the pads with a pocket knife into a plastic bag — its OK if you squish them. At home spread them on a cookie sheet and toast for about 10 minutes in the oven, till they dry up. Now you can store them or use them right away.

    Make the dye bath as you describe on your web page. Use alum for mordant. On wool these will give you an intense bright red (or pink if you have used too much water. Other mordants give different colors. This was the red dye used in the blankets that were produced by the indians in the
    California Missions. The plant became widespread in California because it was cultivated to produce this dye material. The color is safe, it has also been used as a food coloring.

    Do you know about barberry (mahonia sp.) — it makes a wonderful yellow orange (with alum) very strong and permanent. It too was grown at the missions for this purposed. Any part of the plant will work.

    Giant Coreopsis (Coreopsis gigantea — a threatened species endemic to the islands off the coast of Santa Barbara California) Yields bright permanent orange with alum. Any part of the plant will work. The color of spaghetti sauce. (I got some of this when our local botanic garden was pruning their specimens.) I’m going to be trying this with the garden variety soon as I have heard this also works.

    I know there are some mushrooms that yield nice blues. I’d like to know more about that.

    Thanks for your website!

  47. PIXIEPHREAK

    Mullen, leaf and root, makes a nice shade of pale yellow. I’ve heard that adding dilute sulfuric acid makes it green, though I’ve not tried it. Also, be careful, because the little fuzzy hairs can make one itchy!

  48. S. HOFFMAN

    You have a really interesting list of plant dyes. Some dyes you may want to add:

    Syrian rue is a great yellow dye, and actually glows under a black light!

    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.

    Turmeric and cumin will permanently color anything bright yellow with only a little acidic fixative. Saffron will do the same to a lesser amount.

    Mulberries provide a royal purple color.

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

    Sumac fruit provide a light red (but not pink). However, these are already acidic, so their use may require a stronger acid than most or simply be ready to use straight off the plant.

    Osage orange is hedgeapple/boit d’arc

    Paint:
    Ocherous red clay (i.e. dirt) can be used to make a nice red-orange color. I don’t know how well it binds to cloth, but it can be mixed with egg yolk to make great paint. (egg tempera technique)

    Malachite and turquoise can be ground up and used the same way to make similar paints, but green and turquoise colored, respectively.

    Just some stuff I’ve seen around. I have used all but the sumac, and they all work wonderfully.

  49. B.FORD

    Wild plum root will give a reddish or rusty brown.

  50. B.FORD

    Any color of fall leaves will yield the color of the leaves or a color close to the color of the leaves. For example hickory leaves gives a good yellow if plenty of leaves are boiled and salt added.

    Red leaves will give a reddish brown color I use salt to set the dye. I use this in my Cherokee Baskets.

    Bloodroot will give a good orange to reddish orange color. It grows on branches and creeks here in Easter Oklahoma. It is a traditional dye used by the Cherokee to dye with. Oak bark will give a tan or oak color

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