Posts Tagged ‘Dye Plant’

Christmas Star – Euphorbia pulcherrima

Christmas Star
Christmas Star

Red leafed flower with poignant history
Reminds of life’s passion at Christmas time
Symbolic of seasonal light, glory


By Stephanie Eve Kane Arado


This plant, indigenous to Mexico is probably the most recognized flower associated with the Christmas season. It was held in such high esteem by Montezuma, the emperor of the ancient Aztecs that he had the plants potted and brought into the mountains where he reigned. The plant did not do well there (it does not tolerate below 50 degrees Fahrenheit), so had to be brought in frequently!

The Poinsettia has been referred to as the Christmas Star because of the resemblance of the bracts that surround the true flowers to stars. The bracts (or leaves) are pointed and circle the center yellow flowers in a radiant pattern. Among the Aztec the flower represented purity.


In Mexico there is a sweet story of how the Poinsettia came to be. According to the legend a young girl was on her way to celebrate the Christ child’s birth, but she was too poor to afford a gift. So she picked a bunch of scraggly green plants to present to him. She placed these before the alter and they blossomed with bright crimson star shaped flowers. This was a reminder that the most humble gift, given in love is perfection.


Among the Mayan people (at one time) these flowers were considered sacred. The Aztecs used the red bracts to produce a red dye. As a folk medicine it was used to treat skin issues, warts, and toothaches.


There is one other myth that needs dispelled. This plant is not a toxic killer…to people or pets!

In 1919 an urban legend was born after a child died after ingestion of the plant. The cause of death was never proven, but it never happened again! The latex of the plant can cause issues for those sensitive to it causing irritation to the skin, eyes and mucous membranes. If sufficient quantity is consumed it can cause nausea and vomiting, but NOT death.

Asiatic Dayflower – Commelina communis

Asiatic Dayflower
Asiatic Dayflower

This introduced wetland native of east Asia (southern China, Japan, and India) loves moisture, although it does not need to be wet at all times, like standing water and is often invasive in this country.  In northeastern China the Asiatic Dayflower has caused considerable financial lose due to damage that has occurred in orchards. This plant was introduced from Asia as an ornamental, but has now escaped cultivation, and is slowly becoming a problem.


The Daylily has a long history of use in China in herbal medicine. The leaves are depurative (purifying), diuretic, and febrifuge. An infusion of the leaves has been used for sore throat and tonsillitis, use it like a gargle. A decoction treats bleeding, diarrhea and fever.


The leaves, flowers and shoots can be eaten raw or cooked. Chopped it can be added to salads, or steamed like spinach. The whole plant can be rinsed and used in stir fries, sautéed into egg dishes. In China the entire plant is harvested, dried, and used later for tea. 3 teaspoons added to a cup of water makes a nice cup of tea. The flowers are bland in taste, but slightly sweet.


In Japan a dye industry revolves around the 2 blue petals. It makes a nice blue dye that was used for coloring woodblock pics in the 18th and 19th centuries. The only drawback is that if exposed to light the dye color fades to a greenish yellow within a short period (maybe 2 months).

English Walnut – Juglans regia


…I stand in the dark for a long time
        under the walnut tree, unable
                   to tell anyone, not even the night,
         what I know…

By Lynn Martin 

The English Walnut, the Common Walnut, the Persian Walnut, or the Royal Walnut are all variant names for one tree and its fruit that grows from the Balkans east to the Himalayas and southwest into China! It is not native to England at all, which the common name wal-nut reflects, as wal is Germanic for foreign.


In ancient Rome they were considered ‘food of the Gods,’ and were named for the god Jupiter (Jupiter’s glans being Jupiter’s acorn). The walnut is also associated with Juno, the goddess married to Jupiter, who is goddess of women, and marriage. This association to both God and Goddess led to an odd wedding practice of throwing walnuts at the new couple to ensure fertility! In fact in Poitou, France it was the custom for the new bride and her groom to dance around the large walnut tree there to ensure she produced copious amounts of breast milk for their children!


The earliest written record of walnut use is from the Chaldeans who left accounts on clay tablets of the orchards of English Walnut that were in the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The earliest cultivation of the walnut is credited to the Greeks who used walnuts for food, medicine, and dye for the hair, wool and cloth.


The Walnut has a long history of use in the field of herbal medicine. The nut, the bark and the leaves are astringent, laxative, purgative, styptic, vermifuge, and hepatic. It has been used to cause sweating, treat diarrhea, and treat sore gums, herpes, and swollen tonsils. The hulls were used to treat head lice, body lice, herpes, parasites, liver problems, and skin issues. A tea was made from the leaves to treat boils, eczema, hives, ulcers, and other sores. The nut was used to prevent weight gain, reduce cholesterol, calm anxiety and hysteria, treat morning sickness and to generally strengthen the whole of the body.


The walnut has also been used extensively for food. It is high in protein, Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and E, folic acid, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc. 3 Tablespoons of walnut oil will also provide all your daily need of Omega 3 fatty acids! The nut can be eaten out of hand, but the flavor improves with light roasting. It is often included in confections like candy, cakes and cookies. They can also be added to salads, meat dishes and stir fries. The oil can be drizzled over salads or steamed vegetables. The nut has also been powdered and a nut ‘milk’ made from it to increase the nutritional value for invalids.


The hull and leaves have been used to make dye stuff for centuries. A dark brown dye that is used for wool and hair is obtained from the leaves and mature hulls. If the dye is made in an iron pot the dye becomes black. The green hulls provide a yellow dye. Both types of dye required no mordant due to the high tannic acid content.  

Pokeweed – Phytolacca americana

Ripe Pokeberries
Ripe Pokeberries

This native of northeastern North America loves weedy, disturbed areas in fields, fencerows, clearings, waste places, roadsides, even natural forest clearings. This large herb has become increasingly more and more invasive, spreading its territory quickly. Here on the eastern seaboard you can almost not go anywhere without seeing it along the road or railroad tracks!

Europe was introduced to pokeweed after the Native Americans had first introduced it to the early colonists. The local peoples here on the east coast at that time used the poke for food, medicine, and dye. Even with the knowledge of the toxicity of this plant this was a popular plant. If the root is not consumed or the seeds cracked and eaten then you can avoid the poisons. But should you experience symptoms of poisoning the signs will be gastrointestinal irritation (colic, diarrhea which may be bloody). Rarely: anemia, possibly death.

In the spring the early shoots work as spring greens that are high in Vitamin C. In the 1960’s a song was written and sung about Poke Salad, which is what the boiled greens are called. This is a traditional rural dish in the southern US.

In traditional use the berries were used in the folk medicine of the Native Americans throughout its range of growth. It has been used in the treatment of syphilis, diphtheria, conjunctivitis, cancer, adenitis and emesis or as a purgative. Due to its toxicity it is considered a Heroic, toxic class herb and therefore should only be administered by someone with the proper training. Great caution should be exerted with its use!

The berries formed a crimson colored ink which could be used in writing, there are some records of it being used in writing of book of Magic (Grimoires) for it conveyed magic through the ink. In magic use Pokeweed was carried to help with courage.

Staghorn Sumac – Rhus typhina

Staghorn Sumac berries
Staghorn Sumac berries

…Now by the brook the maple leans

With all his glory spread,

And all the sumachs on the hills

Have turned their green to red…

by William Wilfred Campbell

This native to eastern North America grows where the soils are rich near streams, along roadways, railway embankments and at the edges of woods. From June through until September the fruit can be found ripe and ready for harvest. The seeds need to be fully ripe, deep red and sticky, or the flavor is not at its best.

When I was a young teen at Rock Creek Girl Scout camp in the mountains of western Maryland, we had a naturalist come to speak to us one summer. He told us about endangered species and also about those plants considered weeds that could become invasive, like the Staghorn Sumac. His logic was if we all harvested the berries every year, leaving enough for the birds in the winter, then they couldn’t become invasive. On top of that everyone would be drinking one of the most enjoyable natural, health drinks available.

He had us wash the berries, and then crush them in a pitcher. To that he added fresh spring water, a bit of sweetener (he used honey) and stirred well. About 4 hours later when we were hot and sweaty after tromping through he woods with him, he had us fill a glass with ice and he strained the water from the sumac berries over the cubes of ice giving us our first taste of wonder!

Although infrequently used in herbal medicine today Sumac was used by the Native American of this continent for centuries. Almost every part of the bush was useful in medicine.

            Leaves: are astringent

            Bark: are antiseptic, astringent, galactogogue, tonic

            Roots: are astringent, blood purifier, diuretic, emetic

            Berries: are astringent, blood purifier

            Sap: is astringent

The only caution in using this plant is that some sensitive people will develop a rash from contact with this plant. Even with the rash, it is NOT to be confused with its poisonous cousin Poison Sumac!

Staghorn has a large amount of tannin in its leaves and bark, which allows it to be used as a mordant in dyeing. The leaves also produce a brown dye. A yellow dye is obtained from the roots; and an orange dye is extracted from the inner bark when mixed with Bloodroot. A black ink can be had from the boiling of the leaves and the fruit together.

A practice that was popular many years ago, and is still is some small use today, is to take and dry the leaves and berries. These dried components are then added to other herbs and used as a smoking mixture by some Native American Tribes

Onion – Allium cepa



“What mean you, sir,

To give them this discomfort? Look, they weep;

And I, an ass, am onion-eyed: for shame,

Transform us not to women.”


William Shakespeare’s tragedy Antony and Cleopatra


This member of the Lily family is not found in a truly wild situation, but is related to wild species found in Central Asia. Under cultivation they make good companions with winter savory, dill, strawberries, cucumbers, chamomile, lettuce, carrots, beets, and chicory. They don’t do as well with beans, peas, and cabbage.


Onions have been under cultivation for a very long time. Traces of onion, dating back 5,000 years, were found in Bronze Age settlements in Canaan. Onions have even been found in ancient mummies from Egypt, and the Egyptians were known to pay workers with onions. A reference in the Ebers Papyrus mentions onions for medical use.


In modern herbal medicine onions can be made into syrup for treatment of cough; baked onions can be used as a poultice to draw infection from a wound; and fresh onion juice is useful in treating bee stings, insect bites, grazes and fungal infection of the skin.


The fresh juice has also been used in cosmetics to help remove freckles, and as an insect repellent. At one time it was believed that onion juice could restore hair to a bald head. The juice can also be used as a preventative against rust, and as a polish for copper and glass.


For edibility it can be consumed raw or cooked. Raw it can be sliced and added to salad, on top of sandwiches, etc. Cooked they can be chopped, sliced, or diced for use in stews, soups, chili’s, almost any recipe you would like. They are good as a pickle also. The flowers are often used as a garnish on salads, although the flavor of the bulb is much nicer.


The onion has even found its way into spiritual use, being considered sacred in ancient Egypt where it was worshipped in several cities. Onions are protective, used to encourage prophetic dreams and lust, and used in exorcism and to attract money. They are used to purify the blades of knives and athames.

Lady’s Mantle – Alchemilla vulgaris

Lady's Mantle - C.A.M.Lindeman's Flora
Lady’s Mantle – C.A.M.Lindeman’s Flora

“It collects the morning dew and wears it like fine jewels.

Its flowers are small, greenish, and lacy

like the green hair of the fairy queen, Tatiana”


Rosemary Gladstar,

excerpt from Herbal Healing for Women, page 245

This native of the mountains of America, Europe and Asia can be found growing wild in a variety of countries. From England, to Scotland, Greenland, and Northern Europe all the way to Asia it is held in great esteem as the woman’s helper. In Arabic countries it is believed to restore the youth and beauty to women. In magic use the ‘dew’ is gathered and used in potions to retain or restore youth. In Iceland it was considered sacred for its ability to help women retain their youth and for restoring their beauty!

In truth it is the woman’s friend in that it treats many female complaints. A tincture of the leaves is utilized in the treatment for menstrual pain, menopausal changes and stimulates menstrual flow. Being an astringent herb it is used also for the treatment of diarrhea and bleeding disorders. An infusion of the leaves and flower tops have been utilized as a douche, a mouthwash, and as a gargle.

The plant is considered a salad herb, the bitter leaves being chopped and added to a mixed green salad. There is also reference to the root being edible, but no further details!

Dewcup, as it is sometimes called, is oft used for cosmetic treatment of the skin…for soothing dry, sensitive skin, as an astringent for use on large pores, and as a facial steam for cleansing and treatment of acne. A cold compress made from an infusion is used to reduce inflammation of the eyes.

One last note…the leaves can be boiled to make a pale green dye for wool.

The above picture is from C.A.M.Lindeman’s Flora, By Carl Lindeman (from Sweden), 1901 to 1905

[Image in Public Domain]

Tamarind – Tamarindus indica

Tamarind pods
Tamarind pods

The exact origin of this Pea family tree is unknown, but is thought to be eastern Africa. Although India has had it under cultivation for so long that it is often thought of as indigenous there. The specific name is ‘indica’ showing that belief.


If you have gas or a sore throat and you happen to be in tropical America look for one of the young boys that will be selling bags of the pods. The fruit is good for relieving intestinal gas; it improves digestion, acts as a mild laxative and soothes sore throats. In the Philippines the leaves are made into a tea for relief of fever, being employed for malaria.


For food the tart pulp is used to make chutney, curries, beverages and sauces. The pulp is also an ingredient in making the popular seasoning Worcestershire sauce. It is also part of a favorite Indian dish Tamarind fish, which is a pickled product. The young leaves, flowers, and seedlings are cooked and eaten as greens. In Zimbabwe the leaves are added to soups and flowers added to salads.


Because few plants survive living under a Tamarind tree there is an old superstition that it is unwise to sleep under one or to tie your horse beneath one! African tribes in some areas held the tree sacred. And in Burma the tree is believed to be the dwelling of the Rain God.


In dying the leaves and flowers are used as mordants. The leaves provide a yellow dye for wool, and turns indigo dyed silk green.

Carrots – Daucus carota ssp. sativus

Baby Carrots fresh from the garden
Baby Carrots fresh from the garden

“There was an Old Person in gray,
Whose feelings were tinged with dismay;
She purchased two parrots,
     and fed them with carrots,
Which pleased that Old Person in gray.”

Edward Lear, English artist, writer;

 known for his ‘literary nonsense’ & limericks  (1812-1888)

Who among us hasn’t heard the old adage that eating carrots improves vision? This biennial root veggie is native to Europe and SW Asia, and has been known for ages to help the eyesight, especially night vision. The beta-carotene in carrots is the beneficial ingredient in this mix! It also helps preserve the eyesight of the elderly by reducing macular degeneration.

In times past it was not the root of this vegetable that was considered valuable, but rather the aromatic leaves and seeds. An essential oil is steam distilled from the seeds. The aroma is earthy, woody and warm, but not at all like the scent of carrots. This EO is often used in perfumery and is considered a middle not, blending well with bergamot, juniper, lavender, lemon, lime, cedarwood, geranium as well as all citrus and spicy oils.

The root of this vegetable is the traditional carrot used in cooking, but the greens are also edible and safe for consumption. Most humans though do not eat anything but the roots. The roots can be used in numerous ways in many styles of cooking. Add them to soups, stews, and stir fries; they are an integral part of the traditional Sunday pot roast dinner, and an invaluable part of the broth making. They can be grated and used to make carrot cake, and bread. In the early 1800’s in England they began using grated carrots to make a pudding also! Lastly the roots can be fermented to produce alcohol.

In the past carrots were used to give color to butter; and a dye can be obtained from the leaves that resembles woad. The roots give an orange dye, which you will see when cooking with it!

Peach – Prunus persica

Peaches on the tree
Peaches on the tree

…From laden boughs, from hands,
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat….

Li-Young Lee

This member of the Rose family originates in China, but today is not found growing in the wild. Long before the time of Christ they traveled the Silk Road from China to Persia and onto the Mediterranean. At some point later (what time is specifically unknown) it arrived in Greece.

As far back as 1100 BC Chinese writings note that peaches were in cultivation and use, being the prized fruit of the Emperors and Kings. After it made its way west along the Silk Road, Alexander the Great introduced the peach to Europe. The Spanish then introduced the peach to the Americas in the 16th century. Various Native American tribes were credited with its spread west across this great continent.

The Navajo Indians of the American southwest grew peaches in great orchards, until they were forced off their lands by Kit Carson in 1863-1864 onto the ‘Long Walk.’ Kit Carson’s troops promptly employed the ‘scorched earth’ policy of the government. The idea was to deny them their food source without inflicting actual death in the process, thereby forcing the Navajo to surrender to the military so that they might eat. In Canyon de Chelly alone 3000 peach trees were destroyed!

In herbal medicine the seed kernels, leaves, stems, bark, root, and flowers are used. The seed kernels are used in CTM (Chinese Traditional Medicine) it is used for blood stasis (hemorrage, congestion, thrombosis, and local ischemia), to counter inflammation and to treat allergies. Also used to treat constipation in the elderly; plus coughs, asthma, and menstrual disorders. The leaves are gathered and dried for later use, being used in the treatment of gastritis, whooping cough, and bronchitis. The flowers and bark treat constipation and edema. The root bark is for the treatment of dropsy (edema) and jaundice.

The real treat, from a taste stand point are the fruits! These juicy, fragrant fruits are eaten out of hand or cooked in a large assortment of recipes. From cakes, pies, crumbles, to jellies and jams. They are often canned for winter use. They can be used in appetizers, desserts, even entrees.

In 1995 the “Peach State” was officially claimed by Georgia, their self proclamation made their peaches sound tastier, juicier, prettier, even more nutritious. A little known fact is that many places grow very good quality fruit, and actually greater quantities than Georgia!

A green dye can be made from the leaves. A dark gray to green dye is available from the fruit.