Some of you may be familiar with my Colourway subscription where I explore and document colours from a new dye plant each month. There are too many plants out there to make my way through them all, thankfully the abundance provides a never-ending supply of material to explore & learn from. For the September Colourway we explored St. Johns-Wort as a natural dye source & the results did not disappoint! Of all the plants I have experimented with, this is by far the most surprising!
What is St. Johns-wort?
Saint John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum, is a flowering perennial, native to parts of Europe, Asia & most temperate regions. This plant has many names, you may know it as Goatweed, Klamath or Tipton weed. It can grow up to one meter tall, with bursts of yellow flowers that bloom from June to August. It grows with wild abundance here in Ireland, found throughout woodland paths, hedgerows & heaths. In more urban areas you can find it growing in crevices & roadsides.
St. Johns-Wort as a natural dye
St. john’s-wort is commonly used as a medicinal plant to boost mood & as a reliable source of natural colour. Depending on the parts used, some natural dyers can get 4-5 shades of colour from this unsuspecting beauty. The wonderful thing about this plant is that it gives a range of beautiful colours from taupe & brown to pink, red, maroon, yellow & green. All of which compliment each others so beautifully.
Harvesting St. Johns-wort as a natural dye
Depending on your region, plant tops can be gathered from when flowers begin to blossom until the end of September. The rest of the plant can be harvested throughout the year. Traditionally St.John’s-wort was harvested on June 24th, St. Johns’s day. In Ireland, the cuttings were hung over religious icons to ward off the devil. The yellow-petaled flowers can be gathered during the summer, used fresh or dried and stored for later experiments. As with all foraging, take a little from each shrub to minimise stress & encourage growth.
What parts can I use?
Dye is obtained from the roots, leaves, stems and flowers although I recommend working with the flowers and plant tops for the best colour results. The plant tops will produce shades of taupe, brown, pink & yellow while the flowers can produce shades of red, maroon, yellow & green.
How do you dye with St.John’s Wort?
Use equal weight of dyestuff & fibres, so if your fibre weighs 150g use 150g of plant parts. If you would like darker colours use twice or three times the amount of plant parts to fibre. To extract the dye, add your plant parts to a pot, cover with water & bring to a gentle simmer. Simmer until the water changes colour & the dye extracts. As soon as you have a strong dye to work with you can strain out the plant parts. Then add your scoured (cleaned) & mordanted (soaked in a mordanting solution to make the dye bind) fibre to the dye pot & simmer gently until you are happy with the colour.
As can be seen from the image above, I obtained a varied range of natural colour from my experiments with the plant tops. From taupe to pink, yellow, brown & rusty orange, the hues were a wonderful surprise. I will be sure to forage the flowers earlier in the season next year & explore the range of colours possible from the flowers.
If you would like to learn more about St. Johns-wort as a natural dye or how I achieved these colours check out my natural dye subscription to The Colourway.