When it comes to finding natural dyes, what’s available will vary greatly depending on your location. In this section, I’ll share some of my favorite central Kansas dye plants that are fairly common throughout the US. I’ll also share my process for experimenting with new dyes – there are many surprising colors hiding in plants that have very little written down about their historical uses.
Harvesting Dyes 101
The cardinal rule of dye plant harvesting is this: get the landowner’s permission! Nobody wants a trespassing charge on their record when all they were trying to do was find some neat plants to make pretty colors! Most of the time, landowners are totally fine with somebody coming to pick flowers on their land, as long as they know what you’re doing. With some plants, they’ll practically do a dance of joy, since some dye plants are classified as noxious weeds in parts of the US.
Rule number two is harvest responsibly! Never harvest an entire stand of plants. If you pick them all now, what will you harvest next year? This is also important when you’re talking about berries and some roots – if you take them all, what will the wildlife eat? Be considerate of nature – my personal limit is no more than a third of any individual group of plants.
Third, make sure you’re aware of a plant’s status in your area. A plant that is so common it’s almost invasive in one region may be so rare that it’s a protected species in another. The USDA Plants website is a great place to start looking if you’re wondering about a particular plant. Your local Cooperative Extension office is another useful group of people to get to know.