Pokeberry Dye Recipe

Learn how to make your own natural Pokeberry Victorian Christmas-red dye from your own garden.

  • The red color from Pokeberry can be described as Victorian Christmas.
    Photo by Liz West
  • Pokeberry can be a frustrating plant to work with, but Carol Leigh spent 18 years experimenting with the plant to find a way to work with it.
    Photo by Anthony Deffina
  • “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 explains how to extract color from Pokeberry with her favorite Pokeberry recipe.

Pokeberry (Phytolacca americana)

aka Pokeweed, Poke bush, Pokeroot, Inkberry

Even the most avid gardener probably isn’t growing pokeberry this year. But if you get your hands on some by foraging or a perhaps from a friend, I’m willing to bet they’ll be in next year’s garden. Pokeberry’s color is irresistibly gorgeous. It’s also fugitive... maybe.

Perennial pokeberry grows wild throughout the United States, so take a drive through a foresty area and look along the roadside to see if you can forage some for yourself. Or make friends with other dyers and they just might share some of their stash with you.

Color from pokeberries has long been considered frustratingly fugitive until a weaver named Carol Leigh – who had been experimenting with pokeberry for 18 years – made it a university research project as part of her master’s program and found a way to make it colorfast. The term “colorfast” is subjective, which makes sense because even “permanent” synthetic dyes fade eventually. But I’m talking impressively darn colorfast here.

Carol has generously contributed her pokeberry recipe to our book (crafters are big-hearted!). She says, “Pokeberry color will last for several years by following my recipe. Three factors seem to greatly affect the color and color retention: the concentration of dyestuff to fiber, the degree of acidity of the mordant and dye baths, and the length of time fibers remain in each step of the process.”

Where the Color Is

It’s all about the berries (surprise!). Pokeberry’s colors are described as cranberry, raspberry, fuchsia...think Victorian Christmas. Got your attention now, don’t I?

7/9/2020 10:26:49 AM

Call me dense, but where is the acid water for the pokeberry simmer coming from? The recipe indicates that the full acid water was used to simmer (float) the fibers. Also, how much acid water is used in the pokeberries? One cup? Half gallon? I know she doesn't measure, but perhaps something as a guide would be helpful. After that, when the two are combined, it says to use the "leftover acid water". Is that from the fibers simmer or from another stash?



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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