These natural coloring materials can be sought after in your garden


First-time foragers are often anxious about choosing the wrong thing to eat and end up with an upset stomach – or worse.

But looking for food doesn’t always mean eating what you find.

Allysun West is looking for its natural coloring materials. The medicinal dye-based textile designer in Portland said artists and laymen alike might want to look for dyes for several reasons.

“Someone may not have access to a space to grow dye plants, someone may need a specific color they don’t have in their garden, or may just want to harvest their dyes from the wild. “West said.

If you’re interested in foraging but want to avoid gastrointestinal upset, finding materials to use as natural dyes is a great way to experiment with the hobby while adding panache to your linens and threads. .

Finding natural dye can also be a fun way to pick up invasive plants. The bright yellow bark of the Japanese barberry, which is invasive in Maine, makes a lavish yellow dye, West said.

“We all benefit from harvesting plants like this,” West said.

There are also deep traditions associated with the practice, said Jackie Ottino Graf, owner of Forage Color at Searsmont.

“The essence of natural dyes means coming from nature, so unless you are planting and harvesting specific dye plants, the landscape color supply is really reminiscent of native traditions,” Graf said. “Plus, it takes you through the woods and fields and uses materials that would otherwise just go through their life cycle. “

Graf had a few recommendations to start with. Black walnuts, she said, are readily available in the fall, and “tennis ball-sized green spongy balls” sticking out of trees are easy to spot.

“They smell like citrus when fresh and can be used fresh or dried,” Graf said. “They give a warm brown to dark brown color.”

Another easy-to-harvest coloring material is birch bark.

“I find fallen logs and remove the bark. Soak for a few weeks and then simmer gently will give pink undertones.

Goldenrod flowers in the Bangor City forest. Credit: Bridget Brown / BDN

Goldenrod is another easy plant to pick, although its peak season is late summer and not cold fall.

“They’re all over the roadsides and spread very easily but aren’t intrusive,” West said. “I have a lot of love for goldenrod because it is so accessible to everyone and creates a really pretty yellow. You might think you get the yellow from the flowers, but most of the color comes from actually stem and green leaves.

West said other natural out-of-season dyes include St. John’s Wort, which blooms in midsummer and makes a brown dye; horsetail, which can be harvested in the spring for a bright lime green coloring; and Rudbeckia, or Echinacea, which can be made into a yellow dye while “the center makes a big purple for printing”.

Graf and West also recommended looking for sumac, with its distinct leaves and magenta “sags” that impart an earthy tone to fabrics.

Drooping sumac leaves are lit by the morning sun in Portland. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

“Sumac is also found pretty much everywhere and is one of my favorite plants for eco-printing and looks gray when in a dye bath,” West said. “Start with one, find it in one place and you’ll see it everywhere. “

Once you have the materials, you can make homemade dye using these natural ingredients.

“All you have to do is cut them or pick out the pieces you need and add the pieces to a pot of water, let it boil for an hour, then add your fabric for another hour. one hour or until it reaches the desired color. West says.

Graf said he thought of making a dye bath with fodder material like “making strong tea.”

“I heat gently and let the plant material stay in the water for several hours to several days before dyeing,” Graf said. “I filter the plant material and add my fibers to the dye, removing [them] when I’m happy with the color.

Graf and West both said there are no major safety considerations they can think of when it comes to finding a natural dye other than the usual considerations for safe and responsible foraging.

“[Make] Of course, you are aware of some poisonous plants like poison ivy, poison ivy, and poison ivy, ”West said.

“As always, only use a designated dye pot for your dye materials. And don’t forget to get permission if you’re harvesting on land that isn’t public.


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