Dyeing plants

Have you ever wondered how you get so many colors in fabrics? Despite the fact that synthetic dyes are used today, humans began using flowers to color fabrics. Currently, a wide range of so-called dyeing plants are still used at a domestic and ecological level: Plants suitable for dyeing fabrics.

If you are interested in the subject and want to know more about these curious vegetables, I recommend that you continue reading this article. Apart from providing information on the subject, we will also talk about some examples of dyeing plants, such as sunflowers.

What are dye plants?

Dyeing plants are all species that contain high concentrations of coloring principles

As we have already said before, dyeing plants can be used to dye fabrics, although they usually have other functions as well. All plant species that contain high concentrations of coloring principles , such as phenolic alcohols, flavonoids, tannins or anthraquinones, in one or different organs are considered part of this group .

These types of plants came to spread through the famous Silk Road. After the discovery of America, colors imported from the New World that did not previously exist in Europe were added. This is quite a curious fact, as colors can identify different peoples and cultures.

In most cases, plant pigments reside mainly in the fruits or flowers of plants. However, they can also be found on stems, leaves, roots, barks, seeds, or rhizomes. Depending on the species, the part of the plant that has many active ingredients varies. All dyeing plants have at least one useful part when making natural dyes. In some cases, even the entire plant can be used.

How is the color extracted from the plants?

Generally, dyes are extracted from dyeing plants by decoction in water.

Dye plant dyes are generally extracted by decoction in water. Depending on the group of pigments, different colorants arise. These are some examples of the colors that we can obtain according to the pigments:

  • Orange and yellow arises from carotenoids.
  • Anthocyanins turn red or blue.
  • As for the flavonoids, they become reddish, blue or violet tones.

Although most pigments must be fixed to the fibers through mordants, there are some that can be fixed directly to the fabrics simply by immersing the fabric and the plant in hot water. Mordants are chemicals that can be organic or inorganic. Among them are urea, tannins, alum, and iron.

What flowers are used for dyeing?

There are a large number of dyeing plants, including many flowers. Next we will talk about some examples and the colors that we can obtain from them.

Chamomile dyes

One of the dyeing plants is the chamomile of tines

We start the list with the chamomile of dyes, also called Anthemis tinctoria . It belongs to the sunflower family and its flower is very similar to daisies, but yellow in color. We should not confuse it with the usual chamomile that we drink as tea, as this chamomile is not used at the culinary level and has very few medicinal properties.

The main use of this flower is to dye , as its name already indicates. The flower is used for this, since it is the part of the plant that is richest in coloring principles. From it the yellow color is obtained.


Sunflower is one of the most famous dyeing plants

One of the most famous flowers is undoubtedly the sunflower, also called Helianthus annuus . This beautiful plant can reach up to 3 meters high and also stands out for the beautiful yellow color of its petals. It is well known that sunflowers are named for their orientation towards the sun throughout the day.

Besides being able to be used as a tinctorial plant, the sunflower can also provide us with oil or edible seeds. The latter are not only used for consumption, but are also one of the two parts with more coloring principles. From the seeds we can obtain the blue color, while the sunflower flower gives us the yellow color.

Echinacea purpurea

From the Echinacea purpurea the green color is obtained

Another dye plant is the Echinacea purpurea of North American origin. This beautiful flower, apart from being a decorative home plant, is often used medicinally, since it has properties that strengthen the immune system and reduce the symptoms of respiratory infections. Therefore, it is very common to use it in cases of common colds.

As for tissue staining, the part that is used from this plant is the flower. Despite the violet color of its petals, the color that we will obtain is green.

Tagetes patula

One of the tinctorial plants that gives us the yellow color is the Tagetes patula

We continue the list with the following dyeing plant: Tagetes patula . This beautiful flower is native to tropical America and may be familiar to us from its use in Mexican festivities related to the Day of the Dead. It is also known as carnation of moro, damasquina or flower pompadour.

Apart from being a tinctorial plant, it also has medicinal properties and is often used to create fragrances or as a decorative element in the home. In addition, its roots have pesticidal effects on some insects and parasites, such as ants or nematodes. For this reason, it is quite common to find these flowers near crops. Regarding the staining, the part used is the flower and from it yellow to orange tones are obtained.

Inula helenium

From the Inula helenium we obtain the blue color

Finally, we will talk about the Inula helenium flower, commonly known as elecampana, enfula or helenium. This dyeing plant is very common both in Great Britain and in central and southern Europe. Its scientific name “helenium” has its origin in a myth related to Helen of Troy, as they say that this flower sprouted from her tears. This plant was formerly known as elfwort and was sacred to the Celts.

Besides having medicinal properties, some countries such as France or Switzerland use Inula helenium to make absinthe. Regarding its function in staining, we obtain the blue color of its rhizome.

Botany is a whole world and plants have many very interesting properties and uses. I hope this article has helped you solve your doubts about tinctorial plants.

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