Dye Plants

Plants of Many Colors!

Below is a list of some of the dye plants grown at Barbolian Fields. I don’t grow a lot of any one thing, but I might have extra to share. Availability varies from year to year. Please contact us if you are interested.

Dye Plants for 2022

  • Agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria)
  • Alder (Alnus spp.)
  • Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
  • Berberis / Red Barberry (Berberis thunbergii)
  • Broom, Dyer’s; aka Dyer’s Greenweed, Woadwaxen, Broom (Genista tinctoria)
  • Calendula / Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
  • Coreopsis  (Coreopsis tinctoria and others)
  • Cosmos (aka Mexican Star) (Cosmos bipinnatus)
  • Crocosmia, aka Montbretia (Crocosmia aurea)
  • Curly Dock (Rumex crispus)
  • Dahlia (Dahlia coccinea)
  • Fennel, wild & bronze (Foeniculum vulgare)
  • Golden Marguerite, aka Dyer’s Chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria)
  • Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
  • Grapes (Vitis spp.)
  • Gum Plant (Grindelia robusta)
  • Gypsywort (Lycopus europaeus)
  • Hollyhock (dark varieties) (Alcea rosea)
  • Hops (Humulus lupulus)
  • Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria, aka Indigoferum tinctorium)
  • Indigo, Blue False (Baptisia australis)
  • Indigo, Japanese (Persicaria tinctoria, aka Polygonum tinctorium)
  • Kinnikinnick, bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
  • Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum)
  • Loquat (Eriobotrya japonica)
  • Madder (Rubia tinctorum)
  • Marigolds (Tagetes spp.)
  • Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria; Spirea ulmaria)
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Mullein (Verbascum thapsus – L.)
  • Navajo Tea (Cota, Hopi Tea, Greenthread, Field Coreopsis)  (Thelesperma filifolium)
  • Nettles (Urtica dioica)
  • Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium)
  • Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera)
  • Rhubarb (Rheum spp.)
  • Rudbeckia / Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia fulgida)
  • Safflower Zanzibar (Carthamus tinctorius)
  • Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)
  • Scabiosa, Purple Pincushion (“Black Knight”) (Scabiosa Purpurea)
  • Siberian Pea Shrub (Caragana arborescens)
  • Strawberry Tree (Arbutus unedo)
  • Sunflowers, Hopi Black Dye and others (Helianthus annus)
  • Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
  • Tarragon, Mexican (Tagetes lucida)
  • Tithonia, Mexican Sunflower “Torch” (Tithonia rotundifolia)
  • Weld (Reseda luteola)
  • Willow (Salix spp.)
  • Woad (Isatis tinctoria)
  • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Top Dye Plants

Dyeing fabric and fibers with plants is a rather long process (especially if dyeing cellulose fibers, like linen). With all the work involved, I prefer to focus on those plants that reliably give strong, long-lasting colors. Different tannin sources, mordants, and pH shifters are all topics too large for this page – but I will share some of my experiments in the pages to come.

My three top plants for longevity and for achieving primary colors are madder, weld, and woad – red, yellow, blue. Walnut husks are easy for browns to blacks.

I have also had good results with coreopsis, dahlias, golden Marguerite, goldenrod, hollyhocks, marigolds, acorns & willows (primarily for tannins), osage orange, and safflowers (although they are a bit fiddly to work with) – and I would recommend these to beginners.

Experimenting Is Half the Fun

Botanical print on linen – before steaming
Botanical print on linen – after steaming – wearable art!

So many plants; so little time! However, just because a plant produces a dye doesn’t mean it’s ideal for your purpose. But how will you know unless you try?

For example, I used to grow a fair amount of the Hopi Red Dye Amaranth – which sounds like a no-brainer – but I did not find it to be a dye that lasted very long – good with food, but not so great with fabric. Sunflowers have also given me mixed results. I am not ready to give up on these plants!

Hey, if it doesn’t work, you can always over-dye it. Same with if it fades. You might come up with even more interesting blended color combinations!

Although dye plants have been my passion for many years, I still consider myself a beginner, and perhaps always will be. Many of these plants I grow I haven’t even tried yet (I need another lifetime for all this experimentation!)

I only dye with what I can grow or sustainably wildcraft (I’m not using insects, for example). Also, I do not use harsh chemicals for mordants.

Recently, I have been experimenting with foraged mushrooms and lichens and trying eco-dyeing techniques on linen and silk, which is rather exciting. More on all of this in pages to come!

Thanks for checking back in!

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References & Resources

I own or have read most of the books listed below and can highly recommend them. I was surprised to find how many of them were available through our public library!

And here is one from my favorite publishing company, Chelsea Green: “Fibershed” by Rebecca Burgess — looks like a great book and right in line with my way of thinking. I am hoping to pick up a copy in the near future.

Fibershed by Rebecca Burgess
“Fibershed” by Rebecca Burgess, sold through Chelsea Green Publishing

(Affiliate links – thanks for your support!)

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