I’ve been researching natural dyes for textiles, and got interested in the possibility of using invasive species to make dyes. After all, if you’re going to pull up the plants anyway, why not do something with them? Here’s a list of invasive plants in Massachusetts, and also a list of plants likely to be invasive.
I’m still in the research phase, and haven’t actually tried any of these myself. Many of these appear to be recipes for dyeing wool yarn. Nevertheless, here are some possibilities I found:
- Japanese Barberry (Berberis thunbergii), European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris) — bark is said to make a yellow dye: Use plenty of plant material and steep for “several hours.” Then use the mordant appropriate to the textile.
- Japanese Knotweed — plants are said to make a greenish-yellow color
- Lesser Celadine (Ficaris verna) — plants/roots are said to make a “buttery yellow” color: Simmer the entire plant (roots, leaves, etc.) in 1 gallon of water for 30 min. Remove plants. Mordant the textile, submerge in dye bath, then simmer (don’t boil) for 30 min.
- Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) — whole plants are said to make a yellow dye, or pale green with iron mordant — and here’s a more detailed recipe from a reliable source
- Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) — leaves (or whole plant) are said to make a yellow-green dye with alum mordant
- Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) — said to make a purple dye, but I can find no one who has actually done it
- Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) — roots are said to make brown dye if used with Red Oak acorn mordant
Other non-native species that can be used for dyeing:
- Queen Anne’s Lace (Dacus carota) — flowers are said to make yellow dye — leaves are said to make bright yellow dye with alum mordant
- Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare), which can be locally invasive — tansy flowers are said to make yellow dye
- Black Walnut (Juglans nigrans), which is not native in SE Mass. — green husks are said to make a warm brown dye, no mordant needed — butternut hulls also work — these dyes may not require mordant
- Rosa rugosa — flowers are said to make dusty pink dye: To make the dye bath: water (quantity not specified), flowers, 1 tsp vinegar, 2 tsp alum. Simmer for 2 hours, then add fabric. Can also use the rose hips.
Unfortunately, much of the material I found online is not entirely useful. Some of the webpages linked to above just say that the plant can be used as a dye, but with no indication of mordants, length of time in dye bath, color-fastness, etc. And many of those dyeing are only interested in dyeing wool yarns, while I’m more interested in tie-dye projects for kids (here’s info on mordants for cellulose, e.g. cotton, fibers). Anyway, I’m planning to do some invasive species dyeing myself, and if I do I’ll give some more details.