Herbs for Natural Dyeing

On the recent Amsterdam Herb Walk, we talked a little about using herbs as natural fibre dyes.  There are a great number of native herbs which can be used to create beautiful colours.  Some are long lasting others tend to fade over time.  I love the idea of dyeing wool for knitting projects and have a lovely book on the subject by Jenny Dean. Previously I have collected bags full of onion skins with the intention of dyeing a skein of wool but have never quite got around to it.  This week, spurred on by the conversation, I have been looking for something a little more colourful to brew up in the dye vat.  There are some very useful blogs online, particularly from the USA.  Woad blues and Madder pinks and reds are, I think, amongst the most beautiful.  Many of the herbs can be found locally and seeds are available from specialist sources for the more unusual.

Here’s a list of colours and plants, to wet the appetite of  those who enjoy creating natural colour. It is adapted from the Blue Castle Fibre Arts website. It is not an exhaustive list and if you hover on the photos I have added, you’ll see some other possibilities.  You’ll also see that many of the dyes come from plant roots (e.g. madder) or protected species (e.g. lichens), so not so practical for the urban forager, unless you can grow your own.  Another very useful site is the Californian Backyard Dyer blog.  There are many more, full of tips about how to set about natural dyeing with herbs. I’d love to hear from anyone who has tried natural dyeing (or wants to) on a small scale and am determined that my next wooly jumper will be hand-dyed from a plant I have grown myself.


 Birch (Betula alba) Fresh inner bark

Bed-straw (Gallium boreale) Roots

Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) Roots

Dyer’s Woodruff (Asperula tinctoria) Roots

Evergreen Alkanet (Anchusa sempervirens)

Gromwell (Lithospermum arvense)

Lady’s Bedstraw (Gallium verum) Roots

Marsh Potentil (Potentilla Comarum) Roots

Madder (Rubia Tinctorum) Roots

Potentil (Potentilla Tormentilla) Roots


Devil’s Bit (Scabiosa succisa) Leaves prepared like woad

Dog’s Mercury (Mercurialis perennis)

Elder (Sambucus nigra) Berries

Indigo (Indigofera tintoria)

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) Berries with alum and salt

Red bearberry (Arctostaphylos Uva-Ursi)

Sloe (Prunus communis) Fruit

Whortleberry or Blaeberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus) Berries

Woad (Isatis tinctoria)

Yellow Iris (Iris Pseudacorus) Roots


Agrimony (Agrimonia Eupatoria)

Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) Fresh inner bark

Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) Stem and root

Birch. Leaves

Bog Asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum)

Bog Myrtle or Sweet Gale (Myrica Gale)

Bracken (Pteris aquilina) Roots, also young tops

Bramble (Rubus fructicosus)

Broom (Sarothammus Scoparius)

Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula and R. cathartica) Berries and Bark

Common dock (Rumex obtusifolius) Root

Crab Apple (Pyrus Malus) Fresh inner bark

Dyer’s Greenwood (Genista tinctoria) Young shoots and leaves

Gorse (Ulex Europæus) Bark, flowers and young shoots

Heath (Erica vulgaris) With Alum

Hedge stachys (Stachys palustris)

Hop (Humulus lupulus)

Hornbeam (Carpinus Betulus) Bark

Kidney Vetch (Anthyllis Vulnararia)

Ling (Caluna vulgaris)

Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh potentil (Potentilla Comarum)

Meadow Rue (Thalictrum flavum)

Nettle (Urtica) With Alum

Pear, Leaves


Polygonum Hydropiper

Polygonum Persecaria

Poplar, Leaves

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) Leaves

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

Sawwort (Serratula tinctoria)

Spindle tree (Euonymus Europæus)

Stinking Willy, or Ragweed (Senecio Jacobæa)

Sundew (Drosera)

Teasel (Dipsacus Sylvestris)

Way-faring tree (Viburnum lantana) Leaves

Weld (Reseda luteola)

Willow, Leaves

Yellow Camomile (Anthemis tinctoria)

Yellow Centaury (Chlora perfoliata)

Yellow Corydal (Corydalis lutea)


Elder (Sambucus nigra) Leaves with alum

Flowering reed (Phragmites communis) Flowering tops, with iron

Larch. Bark, with alum

Lily of the valley (Convalaria majalis) Leaves

Nettle (Urtica dioica and U. Urens)

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) Berries and leaves, with alum


Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Bark

Birch (Betula alba) Bark

Hop (Humulus lupulus) Stalks give a brownish red colour

Onion, Skins

Larch, Pine needles, collected in Autumn

Oak (Quercus Robur) Bark

Red currants, with alum

Walnut, Root and green husks of nut

Water Lily (Nymphæa alba) Root

Whortleberry (Vaccinium Myrtillus) Young shoots, with nut galls

Dulse (Seaweed)



Byrony (Byronia dioica) Berries

Damson, Fruit, with alum

Dandelion (Taraxacum Dens-leonis) Roots

Danewort (Sambucus Ebulus) Berries

Deadly nightshade (Atropa Belladonna)

Elder (Sambucus nigra) Berries, with alum, a violet; with alum and salt, a lilac colour

Sundew (Drosera)

Whortleberry or blaeberry (Vaccinium myrtillus) It contains a blue or purple dye which will dye wool and silk without mordant


Alder (Alnus glutinosa) Bark, with iron

Blackberry (Rubus fruticosus) Young shoots, with salts of iron

Dock (Rumex) Root

Elder (Sambucus nigra) Bark, with iron

Iris (Iris Pseudacorus) Root

Meadowsweet (Spirea Ulmaria)

Oak, Bark and acorns

I’m off to order some Woad and Indigo seed now …