Mother Earth Living

Garden Spaces: Grow These Herbs to Make Natural Dyes

By Kathleen Halloran
June/July 2010
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Illustrations by Gayle Ford


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• Yarrow (Achillea hybrids). The plant tops produce mostly yellow, tan and gold colors. It is a tough and hardy perennial in the garden and flowers from early summer to late fall.

• Marigolds (Tagetes spp. and hybrids). The flowers and leaves will produce a variety of colors, depending on the mordant, from bright yellow and gold to dark brown. 

• Yellow cosmos (Cosmos surphureus). This annual flower blooms in yellow, orange, even red, including cultivars such as ‘Bright Lights’, ‘Diablo’ and ‘Sunny Red’. The flowers in a dye bath produce golden colors, oranges and rusty browns.

• Sunflower (Helianthus annuus). This common, cheerful flower is an annual that can tower to 4 or 6 feet by season’s end. It yields a array of soft green colors in the dye bath.

• Hibiscus (Hibiscus hybrids), also called rose mallow. Look for red-blooming varieties of this perennial shrub, and in the garden, give it about 2 feet of space on all sides. Harvest the flowers as they bloom, as they won’t last more than a day or so. The petals can yield many colors, from purple and green to gray, even black.

• Indigo (Indigofera suffruticosa, I. tinctoria). This perennial shrub thrives in warm climates, and elsewhere is an annual. The fresh leaves contain the classic blue pigment.

• Purple basil (Ocimum basilicum purple-leaved varieties such as ‘Dark Opal’, ‘Red Rubin’ and ‘Purple Ruffles’). Annual in most climates, purple basil can reach about 2 feet. Use fresh tops in a dye bath for a variety of greens and browns.

• Marjoram (Origanum majorana). Generally an annual, this oregano relative yields yellows, oranges, browns and grays, depending on the mordant used. It stays under 12 inches and is easy to grow.

• Weld (Reseda luteola). This biennial or annual is a traditional European dye herb, with flower stalks that can reach 3 feet or more. The leaves and flower stalks produce strong yellows and pale greens.

• Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia spp.). This easy, popular perennial plant blooms summer to fall. The leaves and flowers produce golds, browns, oranges and dark greens.

• Goldenrod (Solidago spp.). This native perennial can reach 4 or 5 feet by season’s end, so give it some space. Plant stalks produce yellow and orange to tan, brown and rust colors.

• Zinnias (Zinnia elegans and other species). This easy annual bedding plant is available in both transplants and seeds. Harvest the flowers regularly to keep it blooming all summer. The flowers yield pale yellow colors.


Kathleen Halloran is a contributing editor living and gardening in beautiful Austin, Texas. 

Click here for the main article,  Garden Spaces: Plant a Dye Garden .








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