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