Have you grown any dye plants this year or foraged for anything that gives good colour? Many dye plants can give colour as a fresh leaf/flower/bark/seed, but you may not want to use them immediately so how can you store them for later? Let me tell you how I dry and store natural dyes so that I can use them all year round.
If you are going to forage for natural dye plants to use or store for later, here are some rules:
- Know your environment and be able to identify any toxic, invasive or at-risk species
- Know what you are foraging and collecting. If you can’t identify it, don’t pick it.
- If its toxic, don’t risk it, don’t pick it.
- Never take more than 1% of any plant, and only pick up windfall lichen, NEVER pick it from branches and trees.
- Be sure that you are allowed on the land you are foraging from. Keep to footpaths and don’t cross fields or private land.
I prefer to use foraged dye stuff straight away if I can. Things like dock roots don’t store or dry well because they are really woody and tough. They can be stored fresh for a week or so, but any longer and they start to go mouldy. I only use dock roots from my own garden, never dug from the roadside or fields.
Its always best to harvest natural dye plants etc when they are in full growth and will give the strongest colours. Pick what you need on a dry, still day, ideally in the morning so the plant has chance to recover a bit before the heat of mid-day. Depending on what the plant is, you may prefer to wear gloves. Tansy, for example can be a skin irritant and of course stinging nettles will give you an obvious, itchy rash. Put your fresh dye stuff in a colander or bucket where it won’t get squashed and bruised. Aim to use the same or the next day, or prepare it for drying and storing.
I use a food dehydrator which I bought from an online supermarket. I have used it a lot and its still working well so its probably not worth spending a lot of money when a cheap one does the job. Simply spread out the dye flowers etc on the drying trays, layer them up and switch on. Remember, don’t use anything for food after you have used it for natural dyes.
If you don’t have, or don’t want a dehydrator, dye plants can be dried on a piece of kitchen paper, on a tray, on a sunny window ledge. This works best for dry texture flowers like chamomile or tansy, and thin, woody dyes like madder. Its not so good with fleshy dye stuffs like calendula flowers or weld.
Fresh dye stuff can be also dried in paper bags in an airing cupboard if you don’t have a dehydrator. If I have used a dye in a dye pot, and I’m not ready to use it again but there is still good colour potential in it, I pour the dye into a large lidded bucket or plastic container. Label the contents and the date, and use within 6 months ideally. It may go a bit mouldy too. The colour can sometimes darken and dull a bit.
Freezing natural dyes
I freeze some dyes in their fresh state; walnut husks for example freeze well and I haven’t noticed any difference in the intensity of dye colour they give. Generally speaking, I only freeze dye stuff when it’s been in dye solution, eg. when I’ve had one dye from it and want to store the exhaust for another time.
Strain out the dye stuff and put it in a clear freezer bag, labelled, and pop it in the freezer. Its obviously essential to clearly label it, you don’t want to defrost dye stuff thinking it’s tonight’s supper! I try to use frozen dye stuff up within 6 months too.
Some natural dye stuff needs infusion techniques to develop colours and these dye solutions can be stored for a lot longer. I have infused Cudbear Lichen (Orcholechia Tarteria) in water and ammonia in a Kilner jar and then used the solution to dye with.
Whether you buy dyes already dried, or you dry them yourself, you need to store them carefully so they don’t get damp and go mouldy.
I like to use the clip top kitchen jars in different sizes, all labelled with the contents. These should then be stored in a cool, dry, dark cupboard, Natural dyes are so colourful though that I can’t resist having a few out on the work surface!
I hope I’ve given you some ideas and you’ll be able to enjoy summer natural dyes all year round.