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A Primer on Growing Your Own Dyes

Dying your own fabrics and yarns can be fun, but to do it on your own, you’ll need a dyer’s garden. Choose an area specifically for this special garden where the plants will have the sunlight needed. When planting your dyer’s garden, be sure the location of the herbs allows you to take them without injuring others nearby. Prepare it as you would for your kitchen herbs.

Creating dyes from herbs usually requires a mordant – an ingredient that binds the dye to the material. Different mordants will produce different colors from the same herbs, giving you a broader range of colors depending on the mordant chosen. Common mordants are alum, chrome, iron, and tin.

Growing Conditions

Agrimony:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 7
  • pH: Tolerant to a wide range
  • Soil: Average, dry
  • Light shade
  • Mordants: Brassy Yellow – Alum; Gold – Chrome
  • Parts used (fresh): Leaves and stems

Barberry:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 4
  • Soil: Moist, fertile, well-drained
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Yellow – Tin or none; Dark Green – Iron; Tan – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh or dry): Yellow – Inner bark, bark, roots; Dark Green – All; Tan – All,

Betony:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 4
  • Soil: Average, well-drained, moderately moist
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Chartreuse – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): All

Bloodroot:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 3
  • pH: Acid soil
  • Soil: Rich, moist, humusy
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Orange – None; Rust – Alum; Reddish pink – Tin
  • Parts used (fresh): Roots

Broom:

  • pH: more acid than alkaline
  • Soil: Poor, ordinary, well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Green-yellow – Alum; Bright Yellow – Alum; Deep Yellow – Chrome
  • Parts used (fresh): Green-Yellow – Tops; Bright / Deep Yellow – Flowers

Chamomile:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 3-4
  • pH: 7.0
  • Soil: Light, dry
  • Mordants: Yellow – Chrome; Bright Yellow – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Flowers

Comfrey:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 3
  • pH: 7.1
  • Soil: Moist, rich
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Brown – Iron
  • Parts used: Leaves

Dandelion:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: Temperate
  • Soil: Any
  • Full sun to partial shade
  • Mordants: Soft Yellow – Alum; Yellow – Tin; Magenta – None
  • Parts used: Soft Yellow / Yellow – Flowers; Magenta – All

Dock:

  • pH: acidic
  • Soil: Any
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Deep Yellow – Alum; Red – Chrome
  • Parts used: Deep Yellow – Roots; Red – Young leaves

Elderberry:

  • Soil: Moist, fertile
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Violet – Alum; Blue-gray – Tin; Blue – Chrome; Soft Yellow – Alum; Deep Yellow – Chrome; Gray – Iron
  • Parts used: Violet/ Blue-gray / Blue – Berries; Soft / Deep Yellow – Leaves; Gray – Bark

Fennel:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 6
  • Soil pH: 6.5
  • Soil: Average, well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Mustard Yellow – Alum; Golden Brown – Chrome; Brown – Iron
  • Parts used (fresh): Mustard Yellow / Golden Brown – Flowers and leaves; Brown – Tops

Foxglove:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • Soil pH: acidic
  • Soil: Fertile, moist, humusy
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Chartreuse – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Flowers

Goldenrod:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 4
  • Soil: Average – poor, well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Yellow-green – Iron; Yellow – Alum; Gold – Chrome; Bright Yellow – Tin
  • Parts used (fresh): Yellow-green – All; Yellow / Gold / Bright Yellow – Flowers

Hops:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 3 (hardy to –35° F)
  • Soil pH: 6.0-7.0
  • Soil: Deep, well-drained, humusy
  • Full sun

Lady’s Bedstraw:

  • Plant Hardiness: Hardy
  • Soil: Deep, light, rich, well-drained
  • Full sun – light shade
  • Mordants: Red – Alum; Purplish Red – Chrome; Plum – Iron; Dull Yellow – Alum
  • Parts used: Red / Purplish Red / Plum – Roots – Fresh or Dry; Dull Yellow – Tops – fresh

Lavender Cotton:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 6-8
  • Soil pH: alkaline to neutral
  • Soil: Poor, light, well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Gold – Chrome; Yellow – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Leaves and flowers

Madder:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 7
  • Soil pH: neutral
  • Soil: Deep, well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Orange – Tin; Lacquer Red – Alum; Garnet Red – Chrome; Brown – Iron
  • Parts used (fresh): Roots

Onion:

  • Soil pH: 6.0
  • Soil: Rich, well-drained, moist
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Tan-Brown – Tin; Gold – Chrome; Reddish Orange – Alum; Dark Tan – Chrome; Burnt Orange – Alum; Brass – Chrome; Yellow – Alum; Bright Orange – Tin; Brown – Iron
  • Parts used (fresh or dry): Tan-Brown / Gold / Reddish Orange / Dark Tan – Red Skins; Burnt Orange / Brass / Yellow / Bright Orange / Brown – Yellow Skins

Oregon Grape:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 6
  • Soil: Well-drained, humusy
  • Shade
  • Mordants: Purplish Blue, Buff-brown, and Khaki Yellow – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Purplish Blue – Fruit; Buff-brown and Tan – Roots; Khaki Yellow – All

Plantain:

  • Plant Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Soil: Average, well-drained
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Dull Gold – Alum; Camel – Chrome
  • Parts used (fresh): All

Pokeweed:

  • Plant Hardiness: Very Hardy
  • Soil: Moist, humusy
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Red / Pink / Brown – Alum; Red – Tin; Rust – Chrome
  • Parts used: Fresh fruit (all but brown, which is dry) and Rust (fresh or dry)

Rosemary:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 8-10
  • pH: 6.5-7.0
  • Soil: Well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Leaves and flowers

Safflower:

  • Soil: Average – poor, dry
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Yellow – Alum; Brass – Iron; Rust – Tin
  • Parts used (fresh or dry): Flowers

Sage:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 4-8
  • pH: 6.4
  • Soil: Well-drained, moderately rich
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Yellow-buff – Alum; Deep Yellow – Chrome; Green-gray – Iron
  • Parts used (fresh): Tops

St. John’s Wort:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 5
  • pH: Acidic or alkaline
  • Soil: Average – poor
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Medium Yellow – Alum; Bright Yellow – Chrome; Orange-red – Tin; Brown-red – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Medium / Bright Yellow – Tops; Orange-red – Flowers; Brown-red – Stems

Sweet Woodruff:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 3
  • pH: 5.0
  • Soil: Moist, well-drained
  • Shade
  • Mordants: Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Tan – Stems and leaves; Red – Roots

Tansy:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 4
  • pH: 6.3
  • Soil: Average
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Yellowish-green and Greenish-yellow – Alum; Dark Green – Iron
  • Parts used (fresh): Yellowish-green – Young leaves; Greenish-yellow – Flowers; Dark Green – Tops

Uva-ursi:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 2
  • Soil: Peaty, moist
  • Full sun – partial shade
  • Mordants: Camel – None; Green – Alum and Iron
  • Parts used (fresh): Camel – Leaves; Green – All

Woad:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 5
  • Soil: Rich, well-drained loam
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Blue – None; Pink – Alum
  • Parts used (fresh): Young leaves

Yarrow:

  • Plant Hardiness Zone: 2
  • pH: 6.1
  • Soil: Moderately rich, well-drained
  • Full sun
  • Mordants: Yellow – Alum; Olive Green – Iron
  • Parts used (fresh): Yellow – Flowers; Olive Green – All

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