• Harvesting Color from Weeds: Pokeberry Dye

    by  • September 26, 2012 • Featured, Fun or Funny, Learning at Home, What's Growing • 8 Comments

    dying wool with pokeberry

    When I wanted a natural dye for the Homestead Studio: Wool class, I turned to the library and discovered Harvesting Color by Rebecca Burgess. The book, arranged by seasons, is a field guide for making homemade dyes from plants with descriptions of plants, their native locations, and how to make them into dye. Each step is illustrated with clear, engaging photographs.

    Autumn features a bright red wool dyed by pokeberry, also called pokeweed, pokeroot, and just plain poke. This weed litters our alleys, some plants reaching upwards of seven feet tall.

    poke berry in alleypicking poke weed
    Alex, Lil and I collected several pounds of berries on a walk and juiced them by hand. Eating the berries or seeds may be toxic, but many herbalists believe they have antirheumatic properties. The juice stained our skin but washed away with a few soapy scrubs.

    pulling berries off for dyecooking wool in pokeberry dye

    I cooked the juice, skins, and seeds with some water and vinegar (1/2 cup per gallon) for an hour, being careful not to boil per the book’s directions. Then I let the mix cool and steep overnight. I strained out the seeds and added washed, carded Navajo-Churro wool from Cota Farms. I cooked the wool in the same way as the dye. After it cooled and steeped, I rinsed the wool in several pots of fresh water. Throughout the process I was careful not to agitate the wool so it stayed fluffy instead of felted.

    wool dyed with pokeberry

    The resulting wool is the color of a sunrise with tangerine and pinks. I repeated the process for a second batch, one which ended up a more evenly dyed crimson red. We used some of the colored wool to felt soap at the Homestead Studio. You can see Lil’s bar with natural white, natural black, and pokeberry-dyed crimson wool.

    felted soap with pokeberry dyed wool

    The pokeberry wool project represents so much of what I love about my crazy homesteading life. I took a local, seasonal item, played around with lots of time and some effort, and created something beautiful and useful. By taking an idea out of a book, I learned more than words could teach me.

    This type of learning always leads to more questions. I wonder if the dye might work on cotton or silk. And why did one batch turn out so much more intensely colored than the other? Can I grow indigo and make blue dye next year? Maybe I will play with weeds again and find out.

    Have you ever made natural dye?


    I live to eat and eat to live, planning every meal to include as much local and seasonal abundance as possible. My favorite color is purple, my favorite vegetable is whatever is fresh and local, and my favorite drink is whatever you're pouring. Follow me @racheltayse


    8 Responses to Harvesting Color from Weeds: Pokeberry Dye

    1. September 26, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Oh gosh what a gorgeous color! I bet you could use it to dye cotton since cotton takes colors so well (think like tea staining). It may need to soak longer and be gentle with washing but I think it could be done!

      • September 26, 2012 at 11:47 am

        Thanks! I’m thinking cotton would work well too. I have a bit of dye left over that I might try with a kitchen towel.

    2. September 26, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      That is really cool. I grew up eating poke sauteed in a skillet with scrambled eggs. The goal was to pick the poke while it was still small. I never knew about the berries. That dye is beautiful.

    3. Pingback: Wool Carding, Dying, Felting and Weaving {Homestead Studio Recap} | Hounds In The Kitchen

    4. Ro Parker
      September 26, 2013 at 10:38 pm

      I can’t wait to dye some cotton with the poke berries. I want to make a quilt out of the colors of fall. Black walnut dye and golden rod for a yellow dye and turn it into a dresdenplate or ohio star quilt….love simple, it’s awesome..

    5. Pingback: Magnificent poke | Leaving Babylon

    6. Gail--Infinite Possibilities
      October 9, 2015 at 9:49 am

      POKE BERRIES are only toxic if they are ground up, blended, or otherwise masticated.

      The only reported fatality was a baby fed berries ground up in a blender. (Online resource somewhere)

      A friend used Poke Berries to help her heal from a Black WIdow Spider BIte. Do not know how many she took each dose.

      A 13 day Immune Boosting Treat.
      Day 1, swallow 1 berry.
      Day 2, 2 berries,
      and on up to Day 7 take 7 berries.

      reduce on day 8 back to 6 berries,
      Day 9, take 5 berries, and down until
      you take 1 berry on day 13.

      I have been honoring Poke Berries throughout their season, by mouth, for over five years and have not experienced any toxicity issues.

    7. October 25, 2015 at 1:00 pm

      I’m glad I’m not the only one utilizing these crazy weeds! I found out that you can actually get a pinker color (more like the stains from the fresh juice) if you don’t heat the dye at all. From what I’ve read, some dyes are very sensitive to heat. On the other hand, if you wanted an orange color, heating it for longer will turn it orange.

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