5 Historical Sources of Natural Dye You Should Grow on Your Own

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While there have been debates whether to use natural or chemical dyes for your clothes, we can never argue that naturally extracted dyes can be very beneficial to both the dyer and the environment.

Organic dyes are cost effective, especially when you grow them in your backyard. Thus let me give you an idea of plants to grow in your garden and some history and trivia about these plant extracts.

1. Madder (Rubia tinctorum)


This plant has been used worldwide as a dye in the 1500s. Even the ancient Egyptians used its root extracts to paint Tutankhamun’s tomb pink.

When used with the right mineral salts or mordants, this plant can produce different hues of red.

2. Woad (Isatis tinctoria)


Indigo and dark blue pigments derived from this plant were also used in ancient times. Julius Ceasar wrote about the British Celtic people painting themselves with these extracts.

Some Egyptians also wrapped their dead loved ones with clothes dyed in woad.

3. Walnut Hulls (Juglans nigra)

Black walnut contains juglone,  yellow quinone pigments called plumbagin and tannin, which gives it a brownish-black hue. The extracted dye from this plant was even used by the first Americans to colour their hair. The tannins already act as mordants for the dye which can also be used as a dark ink or wood stain.

4. Weld (Reseda luteola)


Chaucer mentions weld in his poem The Former Age, along with the other two European dye staples – the madder and the woad.

Did you know that mixing weld and woad can produce Lincoln green?

5. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus)


Native Americans have used the extracted dye from sunflowers to colour their basketry, wool and sometimes, themselves.

These sunflowers can give yellows, greens, blues, and purple-black hues.


So, if you’re looking for plants to grow next, there go five of the greatest dye sources throughout history.