Harvesting Natural Dye Plants

harvesting natural dye plants

Fall is the perfect time to harvest natural dye plants and store for later use. While not all dye plants store well after being cut or gathered, quite a few will yield color just as well later, as they will fresh.

You may have grown some of the plants on this list in your natural dye flower garden. If the plant contains the dye in it’s roots, fall is the time for harvesting. Each dye plant has it’s own specific way to harvest natural dye. When the plant, flower or nut are also food for the wildlife and pollinators, be cautious about harvesting only what you need. Remember you can go back later and gather more. I’ve listed the plants, roots and nuts that I have experimented with. I’m sure you can add others to the list. You can find so much color when harvesting natural dye plants.

Pokeberry

I rate pokeberry as my favorite natural dye, although it can prove to be difficult at times. One key I have found is to wait for the plant to mature and gather large amounts of the berries for the dye pot. I normally try to show restraint when gathering dye sources, but pokeberry is definitely a more is merrier type of dye. Also do not over crowd the dye pot. It is easy to miss that sweet spot of red color and end with a ruddy brown or orange. Read more about pokeberry as a dye, and see my recipe here.

Pokeberry can be stored in the freezer. To save space you can remove the berries from the stem, but this isn’t necessary. Make sure to clearly mark the bag as dye plants and DO NOT EAT as many parts of the poke plant are toxic.

harvesting natural dye plants

Black Walnut

These large green balls are hard to miss. If you have a black walnut tree, I am sure you know what I mean. They practically trip you up when you walk in your yard. The squirrels hoard them for winter so be sure to leave some for the furry critters.

Gather the black walnuts while they are green. The color is in the green hull. It yields a deep brown dye that can be changed to black with the addition of some iron.

Store the green nuts in a zipper freezer bag in your freezer. No need to thaw before making a dye bath. As the water warms the nuts will thaw. Read my complete instructions on Black Walnut Dye here.

Goldenrod

These showy stems of gold dot the fields in fall. Goldenrod is a beautiful plant that is too often confused with ragweed. Nothing about them is similar if you take time to compare the two plants. This is one of the simplest dye plants to use and store. I break the tops of the stems off, fill the dye pot with water and create the dye.

Storing is as easy as allowing the goldenrod to dry naturally, away from direct sunlight. Store in a box or paper bag in a cool area. I keep my extra goldenrod in the corner of the basement utility room.

harvesting natural dye plants
Golden rod dye on left

Acorns

My newest darling from the fall pallet is acorn dye. I am now wondering why I waited so long to try this natural dye plant. Acorns drop by the hundreds if you have oak trees. There should be plenty to share with the local wildlife and still make a deep rich dye pot of color.

Extra acorns can be stored in a zipper freezer bag, in the freezer. Each large dye pot requires 1 to 1 and 1/2 pounds of acorns. (this is about 3/4 of a child size sand pail)

There will be lots of greenish yellow color from the acorns which can be modified with an iron water after bath addition to the dye pot. Full recipe post here! Look forward to a lovely shade of gray.

harvesting natural dye plants

Wild Mint, Smartweed and Other Fresh Green Plants

Wild green weeds will give you a yellow color that can be modified to a green with the addition of iron. Storing these weeds is not effective though, so I recommend you enjoy them while they are plentiful. Fall is when the weeds give a last gasp effort at taking over the world. They are opportunistic in many ways, and provide a great late season food source for pollinators. I use the same procedure as outlined in my spring weed dye post using purple dead nettle.

Madder Root

If you are fortunate enough to keep madder plants alive for three years, it’s time to harvest some of the roots and make a gorgeous reddish orange dye bath. Unfortunately, I have always had to purchase my madder root dye, because I can’t seem to keep the plant alive. This is not only a fall harvest but it’s also the perfect fall color. Rich toned and harvest themed color awaits you.

Fall is the perfect time to harvest natural dye plants and store for later use. While not all dye plants store well after being cut or gathered, quite a few will yield color just as well later, as they will fresh.

Dry the roots. Before using some of the product for the dye bath, break up and smash the roots a bit for more surface area. I like to pop the roots into a small cloth bag so I don’t have to strain them out of the water. This way I can often use the “tea bag” of madder roots again if color is still remaining.

Store your dried madder root in a cool dry environment as you would other dried herbal products.

What natural dye products are you collecting this season? I would love to hear about your harvesting natural dye plants experiments.