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How to Dye with Goldenrod

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

Dyeing with Goldenrod!

Here in North Carolina in late summer, many fields and the edges of the roads are awash with the yellow color of Goldenrod (Solidago). It's an amazingly versatile wild flower. According to Foraging Cook Book

"All aerial parts of the plant can be used. The flowers are edible and make attractive garnishes on salads. Flowers and leaves (fresh or dried) are used to make tea. Leaves can be cooked like spinach or added to soups, stews or casseroles, and can also be blanched and frozen for later use in soups, stews, or stir fry throughout the winter or spring."

What the edible food folks do not say is that it has long been used as a dye to create beautiful colors from olive green to bright yellow!

It is easy to achieve those glorious colors on protein fibers such as silk and wool with just a little help from some basic mordants OR cooking vessels!

So how do you go from a plant along the roadside to stunning yellow? I am happy to share my methods and the way that I do it! I am an advocate of "keep it simple." There is an innate joy using Nature's gifts to create something beautiful by hand! Embrace it :-)

How did I do what you see in the collage?

  • Collect Goldenrod (some attached leaves are fine) It is the flowers that give the color!

  • Heat water in an enamel pot (or stainless steel) over a hot plate or on stove,

  • Add 1 Tablespoon of Alum (Potassium Aluminum Sulfate) You can also find in the grocery stores in the spices for pickling

  • Increase temperature dissolving the alum salts

  • Add Goldenrod and simmer 30-40 minutes stirring until color is achieved

  • Pull out plants and add silk (If you are dyeing wool skeins, strain dye to remove plant matter)

  • Stir at a simmer until desired color is achieved! (25-45 minutes)

  • Let dry, then later wash in cold water.

Here a friend of mine from the NC mountains, dye expert Dede Styles, simmers Goldenrod in her copper kettle over a propane burner. The copper will bring the simmering dye to a golden yellow without the use of a mordant! She uses an iron kettle to achieve the olive color! You can use your stainless steel or enamel pots and add 1 Tablespoon of iron (ferrous sulfate) to the water to also achieve the beautiful olive color as seen below in one of Dede's wool skeins!:

The same technique can be used for other dye plants such as sumac, joe pye weed, marigolds.....the point is to experiment and enjoy the discoveries! To get a brighter yellow with cellulose fibers such as cotton or linen, use Aluminum Acetate as a mordant to help reach optimum brightness!

So what are you waiting for? Natural dye seasons are short unless you collect and dry hanging bunches. Share with the bees and late summer pollen insects and encourage NO cutting of roadside wildflowers! These are not weeds!

Happy dyeing!


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Marsha Lawrence
Marsha Lawrence

Some of my neighbours like me because this time of year, I run around "weeding" their yards for them. Only one guy yelled at me, and it wasn't even in his yard. The plant was on the outside of his fence.

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