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Some Plants for Dye Plant Gardens in Northeast US (trees not included) that were used in Medieval Europe:

Latin Name Common Name(s) Color Range Part Used Native To Growing/Harvesting Notes
Alchemilla mollis Lady's Mantle Green-yellow Leaves Europe Perennial. Good as shade groundcover. Must be kept moist.
Alkanna tinctoria,Anchusa tinctoria Alkanet Purples Roots Europe Annual
Anthemis tinctora Golden Marguerite Yellows Flowers Europe Perennial; can get bush-like
Carthamus tinctorius Safflower Pinks and Yellows Flowers Asia Annual. Needs full sun.
Chamaemelum nobile, Anthemis nobile Roman chamomile Yellow Flowers Europe Hardy perennial; spreads like carpet
Rubia tinctorum Madder Red Roots S. Europe Easy perennial can be harvested after 2-3 years. Leaves can cause rash on some individuals.
Galium mullogo Bedstraw Orange-Red Roots Europe Invasive perennial; dig up roots and harvest to leave just a small plant each year. Other Galiums (woodruff, cleavers) may also contain dye in roots.
Allium cepa Onion Yellow-Orange Skins Europe Easy annual
Reseda luteola Weld Yellow Leaves Europe Easy biennial can be harvested either year. 2nd year bolt will contain LOTS of seeds; be very careful to bag & cut off tip if you do not want to re-seed for next year.
Crocus sativus Saffron Yellow Flower Stamens Central Asia? Takes a lot of flowers to get enough saffron for dyeing
Genista tinctoria Dyer's Greenweed, broom Yellow Stems, leaves, and flowers Europe Easy bush perennial, harvest as needed
Indigofera Indigo Blue* Leaves Asia Non-hardy annual (best in pot), needs long growing season
Isatis tinctoria Woad Blue* Leaves Europe Easy biennial can be harvested either year. Blossoms produce lots of seeds; cut off before seeds mature or bag the seeds so they don't spread.
Matricaria recuitita German Chamomile Yellow Flowers Europe Annual
Tanacetum vulgare Tansy Green-Yellow Flowering tops Europe Easy invasive perennial. Cut flowers before they go to seed.

*Blues from indigotin require a special vat-dyeing process.

Invasive Plants: 

Some dye plants are considered to be noxious weeds in some states. Check http://invader.dbs.umt.edu/Noxious_Weeds/ for information on your state's laws. The classification of "Noxious" is NOT a joke and you can face serious fines if you grow a plant that is outlawed in your state.

Woad is considered to be noxious in most of the Western US and can be found wild in many areas. It spreads through airborne seeds. If you can find woad natively, DO NOT grow it in your garden. 

Tansy may also be considered dangerous, especially in areas where livestock graze because it can be toxic in large doses. It spreads by both seeds and rhizomes.

Helpful Hint from Experience: Don't tell your mother over the phone that you're growing a Dyeing Garden. She can't hear the "e" in "dyeing" and will question your mental health (or at least your gardening skills)!

Sources for Dye Plants and Seeds:

Richters Herbs
Goodwood, Ontario, Canada
L0C 1A0

Brush Creek Woolworks
(Merchants at Pennsic and MDSW)
Meyersdale, PA 15552
(814) 634-9276

Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival (annual event)
Various vendors… The Herb Farm is usually right near the entrance

Landis Valley Herb and Garden Show (annual event)
Sometimes conflicts with MDSW. Go early and know what you're looking for; some dye plants sell out quickly and aren't always labeled well.

All content copyright the author, Jennifer Munson munson.jennifer@gmail.com The author makes no guarantees for instructions and recipes on this site; neither does she accept responsibility for their outcomes. Verbatim copies may be made for educational purposes only provided they contain original copyright marking.

This page created May 14, 2001

Last updated May 17, 2003