Dyes from St. John’s Wort

Use St. John’s Wort to create a whole spectrum of homegrown dyes, from greens and yellows to maroons and browns.

  • St. John's produces the best dye result when collected mid-summer.
    Photo by Susan Beals
  • “A Garden to Dye For” by Chris McLaughlin walks you through how to create your own colorful dyes with plants from your garden.
    Photo by Deborah Lee

In A Garden to Dye For (St. Lynn’s, 2014), Chris McLaughlin teaches you how to make the most of your garden by harvesting different plants to create your own clothing dyes. She walks you through each type of plant, explaining where the color comes from and how best to get it for yourself. In the following excerpt, McLaughlin tells the secrets of extracting color from St. John’s Wort.

St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)

As a kid living in Los Angeles during the ‘70s, hypericum cultivars were the fill-in landscaping plant of choice. It was everywhere. St. John’s Wort is undemanding and isn’t concerned about heat. So, it’s not a bad choice. You know what I remember most about them? The bees. Bees hovered and rolled into these bad boys all summer long. Much, much later in life I found out that hypericum has both nectar and pollen available for pollinators. And upon closer inspection, I now find the sunny yellow flowers quite charming.

The perennial H. perforatum, specifically, is considered a noxious weed in some areas, so do your due diligence here. But if you have the green light, do try them out (perhaps in a container) because there's a variety of colors to be had if you toss in some modifiers, too. You can start them indoors during the early spring, but it's just as easy to start them in the bed in late spring. St. John's Wort prefers full sun, but tolerates some shade and isn't picky about its soil.

Where the Color Is

The flower petals from H. perforatum will give you greens and maroons. Other hypericum species will work, too, but you'll probably get yellows and browns. Collect them in mid-summer while they're fresh and toss in more than you think you'll need. Really play with hypericum, folks, because it can surprise you. Try dyeing both mordanted and unmordanted fibers in the hypericum bath.

More from: A Garden to Dye For

DIY Japanese Indigo Dye
DIY Madder Dye
Pokeberry Dye Recipe
Homemade Calendula Dye
DIY Yarrow Yellow Dyes
DIY Mint Leaf Natural Dye
Natural DIY Bee Balm Dye

Reprinted with permission from A Garden to Dye For, by Chris McLaughlin and published by St. Lynn’s, 2015.




Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


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