St.John’s Wort Natural Dye

Kathryn Davey

October 12, 2023

Dye sources
natural dyeing
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I’m a author, self-taught designer & natural dyer sharing the beauty of natural dyes and plant based colour with anyone that's interested :) 

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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.John’s 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!

St. Johns-wort natural dye
Botanical illustration of St. John’s Wort

St.John’s wort

Saint John’s wort,  Hypericum perforatumis a flowering perennial, native to parts of Europe, Asia & most temperate regionsThis 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. John’s wort flowers & flower tops are in the pot, ready to extract the dye

St. Johns Wort natural dye

St.John’s wort, used as a mood-boosting medicinal plant for centuries, is also 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.

How to harvest St.John’s wort as a natural dye

Gather plant tops when the flowers begin to blossom until the end of September. The rest of the plant can be harvested throughout the year. Traditionally the plant was harvested on June 24th, St. Johns’s day. In Ireland, the cuttings were hung over religious icons to ward off the devil. Gather the yellow-petaled flowers during the summer, then use fresh or dried or store for later experiments. As with all foraging, take a little from each shrub to minimise stress & encourage growth.

What parts can I use?

The dye comes 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 produce shades of taupe, brown, pink & yellow. The flowers can produce shades of red, maroon, yellow & green.

How to naturally dye with St.John’s Wort

Use equal weight of dyestuff & fibres. For example, if your fabric weighs 150g then use 150g of St.John’s wort. If you would like darker colours use twice or three times the amount of plant parts to fibre.

  1. To extract the dye, add your plant parts to a pot, cover with water & bring to a gentle simmer.
  2. Simmer gently for 1-2 hours.
  3. Next, strain out the plant parts.
  4. Add your scoured & mordanted fibre to the dye pot.
  5. Simmer gently until you are happy with the colour.
  6. Turn off the heat, let the dye bath cool.
  7. Remove your fibre from the pot, rinse & hang to dry.
  • Scoured = fibre that has been cleaned & prepared for dyeing.
  • Mordanted = The process of adding an ingredient that makes the dye bind to the fibre.
Colours from St. Johns-wort natural dye
Swatches of linen, silk & cotton dyed in St.John’s wort dye

Natural dye colours

I obtained a varied range of natural colours from my experiments with the plant tops. From taupe to pink, yellow, brown & rusty orange, the hues were a wonderful surprise. I know there are more colours to discover from this plant. With this in mind, I’ll be getting out early to gather St.John’s wort this year. I’ll be sure to gather an abundance of flowers before they disappear.

If you would like to learn more about St.John’s wort as a natural dye or how I achieved these colours check out my natural dye subscription to The Colourway.

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