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

203 Responses

  1. Sue

    What sort of vinegar do I use for a fixative thanks

  2. GiGi

    I would use turmeric

  3. Aimee

    Great list, however why is “Kool-Aid” listed? That is about as unnatural of a dye as possible, like suggesting we use Twinkies…

  4. Kayla

    Reply To Amber: with silica gel you can over dry them, don’t be afraid to take a peak at them every once in a while with a soft brush, just brush some of and check. There is a Borox /corn meal mixture that you can use that will not over dry your flowers, unfortunately though the silica can.

  5. 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.

  6. Jaq

    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?

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

  8. Poke berries without mordent, in just warm, water for the day turned a gorgeous fushia, almost boiling for an hour went to red. Adding vinegar turned them lavender and purple.

  9. 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.

    • Ezpisode

      Fantastic article! I’m planning on using natural dyes for some garments I’m making. I’m interested in using the petals from Jacaranda trees, which bloom in October! They’re a beautiful violet colour and I’m hoping it turns out well. Thanks for sharing your method of extraction with us.

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