Dye Plants for Eco Printing

I garden in Canadian Zone 5A (USDA Zone 4) in the Ottawa Valley. My aim in eco printing is to use the plant materials that grow around me, and to buy dyes only when it is not easy to grow the dye plants, process them or obtain a desired colour. My idea is  to use what I have available, collect the minimum, process as simply as possible, use “green” mordants like alum and iron and let nature lead.

One of the plant writers whose work I admire greatly (and who lives in Zone 4 near Ottawa) is Diana Beresford Kroeger, a scientist and researcher passionate about ecology. Her book “Bioplanning the North Temperate Garden” (now reprinted as “A Garden Life”) has been my faithful eco planting companion for many years. Look her up – you will be edified. Her current writings are about our global forests and their healing work.  Her bioregional plant references helped me choose native plants for my own garden.  Later, I was inspired to use bioregional plants for eco printing because they were local and native.

I have collected many of the plants listed below from my garden or foraged them locally, except where otherwise indicated, and have used them to eco print my textiles as described in my blog pages. Not all are native for I am not so strictly “granola” about the plants in my garden! I grow a few exotic plant pets like carob and eucalyptus for use as dye plants. I note the colours I have obtained and plant parts used.  Of course, you might want to try other plant parts for your own eco printing. I continue to depend on the many wonderful dye books and online dye and plant resources mentioned in my blog. However, since most dye books do not deal with dyes for contact printing,  another dyer’s advice or recipe might not offer the information we are looking for.

Experiments are the way forward. Dye colours obtained from eco (contact) prints can vary by season, plant part, mordant, dye assistant, textile or fibre type, extraction process, water temperature, acidity or alkalinity conditions and many other interacting factors. Often, colours obtained by contact printing will differ from those obtained by immersion dyeing with the same plant. Greens, for example, arrive more frequently with an eco print process than as a result of immersion dyeing. Thus it is wise to keep good notes, research widely and share results.


-Using alum acetate as pre-mordant

-Other colours or shades can be obtained by adding a dye assistant such as iron, vinegar, ammonia, baking soda, cream of tartar etc.

-Dyers often differ in the results they obtain. Experiment!

Dyer’s Alkanet (Alkanna tinctoria) Root (blue with alkali, red with acid)

Alder (Alnus sp.) Leaves. (yellow, brown, dark grey)

Red Amaranth (Amaranthus). Whole plant (deep pink-red)

Apple (Malus sp.) Bark (Rosy-tan). Leaves (yellow).

Purple Basil (Ocimum basilicum). Leaves (purple-blue)

Bay Laurel (L.nobilis). Leaves, fresh (green).

Barberry (Bereberis spp.) Twigs (orange)

Bedstraw (Galium spp. Roots (reds)

Bee Balm (Monarda didyma “Cambridge”) Red flowers. Peach-rose

Beech (Fagus americanus) Leaves (Rich browns)

Birch (Betula spp.) Leaves (yellows, greys)

Blackberry (Rubus spp, e.g. fruticosus) Whole plant (olive green and khaki; leaves (purple and dark green in fall).

Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta). Blossoms (green).

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria Canadensis) Orange red (roots)

Borage (Borago officinalis). Flowers (blue), roots (purple).

Broom (Cytisus scoparius) Flowering tops, shoots (yellows)

Red Cabbage (Brassica spp.) Leaves (blue and purple; violet-red with vinegar). Kale. Teal greens

Camomile (Chamaemelum nobile) Whole plants( Yellows, greens )

Carrot  (Daucus carota). Leafy tops (green). Roots, shredded (orange)

Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa). Pods (dark brown). Also carob pods

Cherry (Prunus spp.) Bark (brown). Leaves: purple, dark green.

Coreopsis (Coreopsis verticillata, c.tinctoria). Flowers (red-orange). Stems (browns and oranges; greener when dried)

Chokecherry ”Schubert” (red). (Prunus virginiana and spp). Leaves (blue-purple-green-black-grey).

Chrysanthemum, matricaria (Daisy) family: Yellow, green. Chartreuse with baking soda

Clover (Trifolium pratense) Pink flowers (yellow)

Coral Bells “Palace Purple” (Heuchera). Leaves (blue-purple).

Cosmos (Cosmos sulphureus) Flowers (bright orange)

Crocus sativus (Purple Crocus) Petals (blues) Stamens (orange)

Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) Twigs, bark (reds, khaki)

Dyer’s Greenweed (Genista tinctoria) flowering tops, new shoots. (yellows)

Dahlia. Flowers, fresh or dried. (oranges).

Dandelion. (Taraxacum officinale) Yellow green (flowers) Red (root)

Dayliliy (Haemerocallis fulva) Dead or dried flowers (orange-red)

Delphinium  (Larkspur) Flowers (blue)

Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) Leaves (green) Berries (dark blue, purple,pink) Unripe berries (red)

Eucalyptus sp. Leaves, stems, seeds. (E. cinerea: yellow, orange, red; E. camaldulensis: browns; E. globulus: greens, yellows)  A rainbow.

Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) Whole plant (green)

Fig (Ficus carica). Leaves. (greens, chartreuses).

Perennial Geranium/Cranesbill. (Geranium macrorrhizum and spp.). Leaves (greens, yellows); purple flowers (purple-violet).

Ginkgo biloba. Leaves (Hansa yellows.)

Golden Rod. (Solidago canadensis). Flowers (yellows, golds); stems and leaves (greens). Young spring shoots (brown)

Hazelnut (Corylus spp.)  Leaves (greens) Catkins (khaki-brown)

Heather (Calluna vulgaris) (Erica sp.) Whole plant (Yellow)

Red Hibiscus (Hibiscus rosa-sinensis). Flowers, dried or fresh (reds, pinks, rusts). “Sorrel “/Roselle. (H. sabdariffa) Pink, purple (Caribbean tea, dried blooms)

Horsetail (Equisetum) Greens (stalks)

Impatiens spp. Incl Jewelweed. Flowers (Reds, pinks, peach)

False Indigo (Baptisia australis). Leaves (greens).

Indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) powder. (Blue)

Iris, Flower (blue) Rhizomes (black)

English Ivy (Hedera helix) Leaves (grey-greens).

Lichen: Parmelia Saxatilis: Whole plant (cinnamon-bronze)

Lobelia. Flowers (blue)

Logwood dye powder. Blues and purples.

Lupins (Lupinus) Flowers and leaves (yellow, green)

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) Leaves (blue)

Madder  (Rubia tinctoria) Roots (red)

Southern Magnolia(Magnolia grandiflora and spp). Dried leaves. (browns, tans).

Mahonia spp. Fruit (blues) Leaves (greens)

Japanese Maple (acer palmatum). Fall leaves, multi coloured. (red, brown, blue, green, yellow). A rainbow.

Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum and A. saccharinum) Leaves (Yellows, browns)

Golden Marguerite/Dyer’s Camomile (Anthemis tinctoria). Flowers (yellows); leaves ( greens).

French/African Marigold (Tagetes patula and spp). Flowers (yellows, oranges, rusts); calices (green).

Marigold (Calendula). Flowers (yellows).

Meadow Rue (Thalictrum) Whole plant. (yellow)

Milkweed (Asclepias spp. ) Whole plant (greens)

Mint (Mentha spp.) Whole plant (greens)

Moosewood (Acer pensylvanica)  Leaves (green with Cu and ammonia)

Mountain Ash (Sorbus spp. )/Rowan. Berries (salmon pink) Leaves (gold-tan)

Mulberry(Morus alba) Leaves (greens) and berries (purples)

Mullein (Verbsacum) Whole plant (grey, Fe; bronze, Cu)

Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica) Whole plant (greens)

Oak (Quercus spp.) Leaves (browns, golds). Acorns (browns, tans)

Red Onion skins (green). Yellow Onion skins (yellows) (Allium cepa).

Osage Orange (Maclura pomifera). Dye powder, orange.

Blue Pansy(Viola sp.) Flowers (blues).

Peony (Paeonia spp) Leaves (greens)

Persian Berries /Buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.) Yellow.

Plum (Prunus spp.) Leaves (blue-green-purple) Fruit (blue, red)

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americium). Berries, NB Poisonous.

Pomegranate (Punica granatum) Peel (tannin source)(dye) Fruit (orange)

Portulacca red flowers (red)

Poplar (Populus spp.) Leaves (pinks, greens)

Privet (Ligustrum vulgare) Leaves (green) Berries (blue)

Queen Anne’s Lace/Wild Carrot (Daucus carota/Ammi maijus) Flowers (chartreuse)

Radish (Raphanus raphanistrum) Root (red)

Rooibos (tea), dried leaves. (rusty reds). Grocery

Rose (Rosa spp.) Leaves (greens) Petals (various) Hips (scarlet, pink)

Serviceberry and Saskatoonberry (Amelanchier spp.)  Leaves (purple and green) and berries (dark blue, purple, pink).

Safflower (Carthamus tinctorius). Dried petals. (Pinks, reds, yellows). Special processes.

Sage (Salvia officinalis) Leaves (green) (Salvia coccinea) Blossoms (pink, red)

Saint John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) Reds (in alcohol), yellows (whole plant)

Purple Sandcherry (Prunus cistena). Leaves (purple, blue).

Saw-wort (Seratula tinctoria and spp. )

Scabious (Scabiosa columbaria) (Succisa pratensis) Scabious. Whole plant (blue)

Smokebush (Cotinus coggygria). Fall leaves, multicoloured. (green,

orange, red, blue, brown, yellow). A rainbow.

Spruce (Picea spp.) Cones (rust reds)

Sweet Gum (Liquidambur styriacifolia). As for Smokebush. Bark (purple)

Sumac (Rhus typhina). Leaves (yellows, greens, tannin source for mordanting). Berries (pinks, reds, rusts). Yellow green overdyed with yellow onion skins gives orange

Sunflower (Helianthus spp.) Yellows, greens. H. “Hopi”: purple from seeds. NOT on cellulose fibres.

Tansy (Tanacetum vulgaris) Yellow (flowers) Green-greys(leaves)

Black Tea (Camellia sinensis) dried leaves (browns, blacks; greys with iron). Grocery.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Whole plant (greens).

Tomato (Solanum lycopersicum) Whole plant. Tan/alum; green/Cu.

Turmeric (powder) Golden yellow

Vetch (Vicia spp.) Green (flowers) and others.

Wallflower (Cheiranthus cheiri) Flowers (orange-pink)

Black Walnut (Juglans nigra). Nuts (browns).Leaves (green/yellow)

Weld (Reseda luteola) Yellow

Willow (Salix caprea, S.alba  and spp.) Leaves (yellow) Bark (brown, grey)

Woad (Isatis tinctoria) Blues

Yarrow (Achillea spp.) Flowers (greens)

Yew (Taxus baccata) Bark, needles

24 Responses to “Dye Plants for Eco Printing”

  1. Odi Gerzina Says:

    Hi, Yesyterday was the first time ever I have become aware of something called Eco Printing. What I saw is just what I have wanted to achieve on papper for a very long time. Could you please let me know if it is possible to use paper instead of Fabric and where I could find some info regarding basic instructions and techniques. Thank you, Odi

    • wendyfe Says:

      Yes, Od, you can eco print on paper. Check my blog for info.


      • wendyfe Says:


        Check the tutorial by Cassandra Tondro on her blog “Soliloquy” This is the tutorial I have referred to on my blog to describe how I make my prints on paper and I recommend it highly as a basic starter process. Annette pointed out to me that my answer was not that helpful so I hope this is a better one! I know of no other information as helpful as Cassandra;s

        Good luck


  2. Dana Says:

    Ah perfect, just what I was looking for; plants to use that are in Ontario, like me :)
    Thanks so much

  3. Anja Says:

    I just found your blog, and your work is so inspiring! The leaves are just starting to fall here in Milwaukee and I am so inspired to try some eco printing! The leaves are forming colorful “shadows” on the ground beneath the trees! Time to start gathering materials! Thanks so much for your inspiration!

  4. Paper prints « Colour Cottage Says:

    [...] Threadborne list of plants to use [...]

  5. wendyfe Says:

    Hope your printing experiments have been successful, Anja! I am still collecting fallen leaves for printing in November. Thanks for your visit.


  6. Annette Says:

    Such beautiful work, having just found it i was wondering how to Eco Print on both fabric and paper. Odi above asked the same question and you mention your blog. I have found your blog but I must be being a bit slow – i can’t seem to find the bit were it tells you how to try these brilliant ideas.

    Can you help?

    Thank you – Annette

    • wendyfe Says:

      Thank you Annette. For the info you are looking for on mu blog, choose topics from the ” cloud” of tags you see on the right hand side of the page. EG, red cabbage or dyeing with eucalyptus or eco prints. That click will bring a long list of blog posts dealing in some way with the topic captured by the tag.

      My blog is not (yet) a book with a table of contents and an index where you can skip quickly to the info you want. A willingness to slog through the blog is often needed.

      You can always check the dye references page and see what books I recommend on similar topics. The list of artists I provide can also lead to more info about eco prints

      I started blogging on the topic about eighteen months ago so my blog posts are not yet in the thousands.

      Good luck with the research here and in other blogs!


  7. Annette Says:

    Thank you so much for your reply. Ive been using computers for years, but am new to blog’s and have to say i find it all a bit confusing!

    After sending you the message i did spend more time looking and i think i may have found what i was looking for. It was getting late (for me!) and i just bookmarked what i needed and now just need to trawl through again.

    Thank you again

    Best Wishes


    • wendyfe Says:

      I have posted an article that may be of help. I thank you for the reminder that blogs can be a pain sometimes for finding the core info that one is looking for. I am going to post a page woth basic info. Yours was not the only request


  8. Annette Says:

    Thank you so much for that, i cant wait to look.

    Best Wishes


  9. Tarla Says:

    Thank you for sharing. o When using Eucalyptus sp. could you please tell me how they should they be treated ie. dried (for how long) soaked (how long) fresh soaked or just fresh cut. Would like to achieve those lovely orangy reds if possible. Thank you so much I so enjoy your information. cheers Tarla

    • wendyfe Says:

      Hi Tarla!
      That is a great set of questions about eucalyptus leaves. I do not think it is possible for anyone to answer all of them definitively. Your local conditions will determine so many factors: pH of water, age of plant (dry or fresh), origin of plant (local or imported), (place of growth on the tree), age of the plant in seasons, type of fabric (cellulose or protein),mordants or not, method of processing (steaming, steeping, composting), new or vintage fabric…on and on. That is why the whole eco printing process is fascinating. And one needs to check a lot of data from many dyers. My experience, for what that is worth- I am not sure you will be able to replicate it is as follows: On mordanted silk broadcloth with dry euc globulus leaves, after two and a half hours of steaming, I obtained a range ofvorange, yellow and chartreuse greens plus a few streaks of red. On mordanted wool challis, euc. globulus bundled with catalpa pods for tannin, the euc was deep coral orange. On paper, seeded euc was yellow and brown-rust; on silk organza, euc. glob. was deep orangey yellow. My euc. comes from the florist. Who knows the country of origin – the florist rarely does. I am now growing my own in a pot. It is 2 inches high…Best two “rules” over all are 1. high heat (boiling) and 2. long processing (over hours) Pre soaking? If you like. But no need.


  10. Tarla Says:

    Hi Wendy, Thank you.

    I live on Mount Tamborine, the Hinterland of the Gold Coast in Queensland Australia. I have managed to grow a silver dollar gum in my front yard and was wondering if I should use fresh leaves or dry them, I think I have read somewhere that you get a better colour from dried leaves. We have just had a really long period of dry weather, so thought this would be a great time to steal some little branches from her. I have soaked my silk and some cotton in Alum and cream of tartar for 2 days and it is rinsed and dried and ready to go. Rain water, aluminium pot. I would like to have a go at eco printing onto the silk…..and would just love to have a go without doing a workshop……miss independence!! Thank you again. Tarla

  11. wendyfe Says:

    Hi Tarla

    Yes, dry euc does seem to give better colours. Windfalls, leaf litter is what I understand works best – as well as being “eco”. I tried some fresh seeded euc tonight on paper, pre mordanted with alum acetate. Colours dull yellowy brown, not impressive at all. Of course, I have no access to euc trees in Ottawa so no windfalls, ever. But I have some very dry euc. globulus from a florist – that will be next. Does your tree drop leaves?Good luck and do report.,


  12. klruth Says:

    This is a great list of dyes which could be grown or gathered in Canada! I live out in Winnipeg Manitoba and I’m avidly learning to grow as many dye plants as I can fit in my little inner city garden. I wanted to ask, if you have found many of these dyes to be fugitive such as the red cabbage? I have heard that red cabbage will wash out. I would love to hear some of your experience with the more fugitive dyes so that I might avoid using them…or maybe you have a blog post related to my question?

    • wendyfe Says:

      Yes, I did several posts last year about Red Cabbage. Click on the name of the plant in “The Cloud” (all those words in different sized letters you see on the right of the screen) and follow the links

      Good luck


  13. wendyfe Says:

    About fugitive dyes: In my work, I am not that concerned with the fugitive nature of dyes. I am not making clothes or things that get washed. Art should not be hung in direct light where it can fade – any art.
    I think it likely that Red Cabbage will fade on clothing if the traditional dyers say it does. So I can see that would be of concern for makers of wearables. However, there are different opinions out there. So if you are not selling the dyed cloth, you might want to try it yourself. You can also do fade tests.


  14. heta davey Says:

    hi, i am textile design student and presently working on a project for which i am experimenting with natural dyeing. specifically with marigold. while doing my research i came across ur blog, and i m in love with your work. it is just inspiring to see how you’ve given plants and nature as a whole a different dimension all together.
    i would love it if you could give me some tips, which i m sure would be of great help. i am mainly looking at muslin cotton and silk organza. thankyou so much!

    • wendyfe Says:

      Hello Heta

      Start by redading the blog entries that deal with topics that interest you – you said marigold. In the Cloud, click on “dyeing with marigold” and see what comes up. For info on dyeing cotton and silk, read up on the web links that deal with dyeing cellulose fibres e.g cotton and protein fibres, e.g., silk. Get a good book – check my list of references for suggestions. Jenny Dean has written a great guide.



  15. heta davey Says:

    alright.. thank you for the lead.

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