Colorful Easter Eggs... Naturally

With a little know-how, you can forego purchasing dyes and still have colorful Easter eggs.

| March/April 1983

  • colorful easter eggs - collection of eggs dyed red, yellow, and blue
    Believe it or not, dyes made from beets, onion skins, and red cabbage will produce colorful Easter eggs like these.
    Photo by MOTHER EARTH NEWS Staff

  • colorful easter eggs - collection of eggs dyed red, yellow, and blue

Springtime is traditionally a season to be spent appreciating the new life that appears all around us and renewing our ties with nature. It's especially fitting to celebrate spring's arrival by dyeing Easter eggs with natural tints. After all, coloring doesn't have to come out of a box: In fact, a couple of generations back, folks couldn't buy "quick-fizz" dyes. When they wanted colorful Easter eggs they gathered familiar materials (berries, roots, twigs, fruits, vegetables, and flowers) to make their own — and if you do the same, you'll be able to develop a wide range of subtle, earthy colors to make your "rites of spring" truly appropriate to the season.

The System

The basic method for preparing a natural dye is to chop up whatever ingredient you've chosen and put the pieces, with enough water to cover them, in a stainless steel or enamel pan. Don't use aluminum utensils: the chemical reaction could inhibit the effect of the dye. [EDITOR'S NOTE: Many wholistic health experts believe that cooking should never be done in aluminum.] Next, add a teaspoon of vinegar to each pot of color you're concocting (except any made with onions) to help the dye adhere to and permeate the eggshell.

At this point, you can proceed by either of two methods: If you want to color your Easter decorations as speedily as possible, simply place fresh eggs right in with the dye fixin's, bring the pot to a boil, and allow the orbs to simmer for about 20 minutes. This way, the eggs will cook and color at the same time. If you prefer, though, you can put the dye materials alone through the same 20-minute brewing process, then strain out the solids and (using a slotted spoon) lower the eggs which you've hard-cooked, drained, and allowed to dry while the dye was simmering into the "broth." Either way, of course, the longer you let the eggs stand in the solution, the deeper their hue will be.

Should you want to decorate your Easter charms with more than just color, you can arrange fresh leaves and flowers on their surfaces and wrap them in cheesecloth — or draw designs and messages on their shells with wax  before dipping them into a dye. (See Natural Easter Egg Designs for further details on how to imprint such designs on Easter eggs.)

One thing to be aware of when using any natural coloring materials is that the shades produced will likely not be as brilliant as those hues that come from packaged dyes. So don't be disappointed by muted results. Instead with a little experimentation — go on to turn out a whole basketful of softly colored eggs. The following time-tested "recipes" can provide you with general guidelines, but once you've begun to experiment with plant dyes, you'll probably want to branch out and try some of your own concoctions.

The Warm Colors

You can produce varying shades of red, from pastel pink to dark maroon, by using the juice of pokeberries (the glossy purplish and generally considered to be poisonous fruit of the pokeweed plant), blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, or cranberries, but you'll probably achieve the most consistent results with beet dye. To make it, first cook several whole, fresh beets until they're tender and then chop them into tiny pieces. Next, turn off the heat and soak the minced vegetables in their own cooking liquid for several hours. Later, strain out the beets, add a bit of vinegar to the color bath, lower the eggs into it, and leave them there until they take on the degree of rosiness you like.

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