21 Garden Plants to Use as Natural Dyes

You’ve heard of vegetable and cut flower gardens, but what about dye gardens? Dying yarn and fabrics with plant-based dyes allows you to create beautiful hues and develop a new appreciation for plants. If you’re not sure where to get started, join Briana Yablonski to learn 21 plants you can use as natural dyes.

Close-up of a blooming Blue Butterfly Pea - one of the natural plant dyes. The Blue Butterfly Pea (Clitoria ternatea) is a striking vine with delicate foliage and mesmerizing flowers. Its slender stems bear compound leaves consisting of three ovate leaflets. The flowers, reminiscent of butterfly wings, are a vibrant sky-blue color with a distinctive shape and intricate patterns.


Every so often, a new question strikes me. A few years ago, I found myself wondering how people transformed neutral-colored wool, cotton, and silk into shades of pink, blue, and yellow. I knew I could find synthetic dyes in tie-dye kits and commercial clothing factories, but I wondered how people colored their clothing, rugs, and linens before these products existed. Amazingly, many natural plant dyes can be grown right in our home gardens!

While not all natural dyes come from plants, there are more than a handful of flowers, leaves, and fruit that offer beautiful colors. Since dyeing is a chemical process strongly affected by pH, adding materials like soda and citric acid allows you to use one dye source to create multiple colors.

You’re welcome to experiment with natural plant dyes of any species, but some plants are known to produce particularly vibrant colors. Try dyeing with a few of the following plants to see the range of colors the botanical world offers.

Cabernet Bulb Onion

Cabernet Bulb Onion Seeds

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Cabernet Bulb Onion Seeds

The Watchman Hollyhock

The Watchman Hollyhock Seeds

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The Watchman Hollyhock Seeds

Zeolights Calendula

Zeolights Calendula Seeds

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Zeolights Calendula Seeds


Close-up of blooming 'Hopi Red Dye' amaranth in a sunny garden against a blurred background. It showcases erect, burgundy-red stems and lanceolate leaves with deep red veins. Tall spikes adorned with densely packed clusters of crimson flowers emerge, adding to its visual appeal.
‘Hopi Red Dye’ amaranth offers vibrant hues for natural dyeing.

If you mention amaranth to anyone involved in natural plant dyes, one variety will come to mind: ‘Hopi Red Dye.’ The plants produce beautiful deep pink foliage and flowers that the Hopi people use to create a thin, red bread known as piki. You can also use the flowers and their bracts to dye other foods shades of red and pink.

When used to create a dye bath for yarns and fabrics, the seeds and flowers yield colors ranging from deep magenta to light pink to orange. However, people primarily use this plant to dye food rather than textiles.

One great thing about amaranth is that it’s quick and easy to grow. The plants are warm-weather annuals that take about 100 days from seed to flower. They prefer full sun and well-draining soil. Try cutting the impressive flowers for arrangements and use the tender young leaves like you would use spinach.

Bachelor’s Button

Close-up of blooming 'Black Magic' bachelor's buttons in a sunny garden. 'Black Magic' bachelor's buttons (Centauria cyanus) are captivating annual flowers cherished for their velvety, deep purple to nearly black blooms. The flowers, borne atop sturdy stems, boast a classic button-like shape with fringed petals and a prominent central disc.
‘Black Magic’ bachelor’s buttons offer rich hues for eco-printing.

There are many varieties of bachelor’s buttons; some are better dye plants than others. If you want to go with a tried and true dye plant, look for ‘Black Magic.’ This variety has deep purple blooms that lend themselves well to eco-printing.

Bachelor’s button plants are easy to grow from seed. Sprinkle the seeds on the ground in the early spring or fall so the plants can emerge as soon as possible in the spring. Once the seedlings are a few inches tall, thin them to six to nine inches apart.

Mature plants can tolerate drought, so you don’t have to worry about keeping the soil moist. However, you should remove open flowers to encourage the production of new blooms.


Close-up of 'Purple Petra' basil plant in a sunny garden. Its leaves, shaped similarly to traditional sweet basil, showcase hues ranging from rich violet to near-black, creating a captivating contrast against its green counterparts. The plant forms compact, bushy growth habits.
Add vibrant blueish-purple hues to fabric with purple basil.

If you want to add color with herbs, purple basil like ‘Purple Petra’ basil is your friend. Not only do the deep purple leaves add vibrant color to culinary dishes, but they also serve as interesting plants to ecoprint. Plus, the leaves are delicious!

Eco-printing involves laying plants onto fabric and then pounding the plants so the pigments transfer to the fabric. Any fabric can work, but using mordanted fabric will lead to longer-lasting dyes. If you eco-print with purple basil, expect the leaves to impart a blueish-purple color and the flowers to leave a yellow shade.

Like all basils, purple basil is a warm-weather annual. Plant it out after the danger of frost has passed in an area with full sun and well-draining soil. Cut the stems just above leaf nodes for a continual harvest.

Black Hollyhock

Close-up of a Black Hollyhock plant in bloom in a sunny garden. The plant is a striking biennial or perennial flower characterized by its tall, sturdy stems and deep, velvety-black flowers. These elegant blooms resemble large, single-petaled hibiscus. The leaves are large, round in shape, bright green in color with finely serrated edges.
Create stunning dye colors from black hollyhocks in your garden.

Hollyhocks are biennials or short-lived perennials that start their life as an unassuming rosette of leaves. In their second year of growth, the plants send up towering flower stalks covered with large flowers that resemble hibiscus. Black hollyhock varieties like ‘The Watchman’ produce deep purple or burgundy flowers that look almost black from a distance.

These plants grow best in areas with cold winters, so try growing them if you live in zones 2-8. As long as you keep the plants well-watered and remove old flowers, the stalks will send out new flowers throughout the summer months.

This variety yields intriguing natural plant dyes. The deep-colored petals can turn yard and fabric colors, including green, blue, and gray. Playing around with the pH of your dyebath and the mordant (the material that helps the dye adhere to the material) can result in various colors.

Black Walnut

Close-up of a Black Walnut tree in a garden against a blue sky. The Black Walnut tree is a large deciduous tree distinguished by its compound leaves and round, green-husked fruits. Its compound leaves consist of 15 to 23 leaflets arranged in an alternate pattern along the stem, each with a serrated edge and a slightly pinnate structure.
Turn black walnut husks into natural plant dyes for beautiful browns.

If you’ve ever harvested black walnuts, you probably know how the round green fruits can stain your hands, clothes, and counters. While unwelcome stains are something to avoid, you can utilize the nut’s color to dye fibers beautiful shades of brown. The compound juglone is responsible for the deep color and is most present in the green husks.

Rather than planting a black walnut tree on your property, search for one of these trees lining a forest edge or shading a friend’s yard. Keep an eye on the trees in the early fall when the walnuts (technically fruits) fall to the ground. Wear gloves when gathering the fruits to prevent staining on your skin.

If you have a black walnut tree on your property, be aware the same juglone that acts as a dye has a toxic effect on many other plants. Therefore, don’t be surprised if flowers and veggies fail to thrive around your black walnut tree.

Blue Butterfly Pea

Close-up of a Blue Butterfly Pea plant in bloom. It features delicate, pinnate leaves comprised of slender leaflets arranged opposite each other along the stem. Its vibrant, sky-blue flowers, reminiscent of butterfly wings, boast a unique shape with five petals and a distinctive central yellow stamen.
With its vibrant hues for beverages and food, the blue butterfly pea plant is gaining popularity.

Thanks to its ability to turn drinks like teas and sodas bright blue and purple, the once-unknown blue butterfly pea (Clitoria ternatea) is now becoming more well-known. The plant is native to Southeast Asia, growing as a wild vining plant with delicate tendrils. Although it grows as a perennial in tropical regions, you can also grow it as an annual in temperate climates.

The plant is beloved due to its bright blue flowers. Not only are these flowers beautiful on the plant, but they can turn food and drink brilliant blue. When you add acid like lime juice or vinegar to your dish, watch the blue change to vibrant purple!


Close-up of flowering Calendula plants against a blurred background. The Calendula, also known as pot marigold (Calendula officinalis), presents a delightful display with its bright, daisy-like flowers and lanceolate leaves. Its leaves, arranged in opposite pairs along the stem, are smooth-edged and slightly hairy, providing a verdant backdrop to the vibrant blooms. The flowers are bright orange, feature multiple rows of petals surrounding a prominent central disc.
With its versatility and usefulness, calendula takes the spotlight as an annual flower.

If you’re looking for an annual flower that you do it all, move calendula to the top of your list. These plants produce baskets full of round flowers useful for medicinal purposes and natural plant dyes. Since the blooms appear on long stems, they also work well as cut flowers.

Growing calendula is easy if you have a sunny location and well-draining soil. Wait until the danger of frost has passed, and then add transplants to the ground or directly sow seeds. The plants expand some, so leave 12-18 inches between each plant. When you notice the plants have begun producing flowers, make sure to stay on top of harvesting—these plants are prolific bloomers that benefit from multiple harvests per week.

Although calendula flowers come in various shades, the most common are yellow and orange. When added to a dye bath, they transform white or cream materials into golden shades.


Close-up of a flowering Canaigre plant (Rumex hymenosepalus) in a sunny garden. The Canaigre boasts robust, arrow-shaped leaves and inconspicuous flowers. Its large, lanceolate leaves feature prominent veins and a slightly fuzzy texture. The plant produces slender stems adorned by clusters of small, delicate pink to reddish flowers.
Known by various names, Rumex hymenosepalus provides prized roots for natural plant dyes.

This member of the dock family goes by many names; you may hear people refer to it as ganagra, sand dock, wild rhubarb, or Arizona dock. Regardless of what you call it, Rumex hymenosepalus produces chunky roots that natural dyers love. Depending on the dyeing process, the roots produce shades of brown, gold, orange, and green.

Since it’s native to arid areas, it’s no surprise sand dock is extremely drought tolerant. It can easily survive rocky and dry areas, where it produces lush green leaves despite the seemingly adverse conditions. Although the plants can tolerate dry soil, wait until the soil is moist to dig up the valuable roots.

If you can’t find canaigre or live in an area with lots of moisture, use other types of dock roots as natural dyes. A few species to experiment with include curly dock (Rumex crispus) and broad-leaved dock (Rumex obtusifolius).


Close-up of flowering Coreopsis plants in a sunny garden. The plant features slender, wiry stems adorned with lance-shaped leaves that are deep green in color and finely textured. Atop these stems, vibrant daisy-like flowers bloom profusely in shades ranging from sunny yellow to deep gold, with contrasting centers in hues of brown.
This resilient native plant offers vibrant blooms for botanical dyeing.

A hardy and easy-to-grow native plant, coreopsis fits well in pocket meadows, dye gardens, and cut flower beds. The plants begin producing warm-colored flowers in the early summer and continue blooming until the first fall frost. Cutting flower stems or pinching off old blooms will encourage the plants to produce new flowers, but this isn’t necessary.

Depending on the variety, expect to see flowers in colors including yellow, red, and orange. Regardless of which coreopsis variety you grow, choose a location with full sun and well-draining soil.

The colorful flowers are the source of dye. When added to a dye bath, they color materials shades of brown and orange.


Close-up of flowering Cosmos plants in a sunny garden. Cosmos, renowned for its airy and graceful presence, showcases delicate foliage and vibrant blooms. Its feathery, fern-like leaves provide an elegant backdrop, while its tall, slender stems bear an abundance of daisy-like flowers in shades of white, pink, magenta, and deep crimson.
For cut flowers, cosmos offers a diverse range of colors.

If you’re interested in cut flowers, you’re probably already familiar with cosmos. These annual plants produce feathery foliage and loads of simple flowers that sway in the wind. Since there are so many different varieties of cosmos available, you can find flowers of various colors and petal arrangements.

Use colorful cosmos flowers to eco-print or create a dyebath. The flower color is generally a good indicator of the color that will end up on your fabric, but there are exceptions to this rule. So don’t assume that orange cosmos flowers will turn white cotton bright orange. The pH and mordant may affect the results.

Dyer’s Chamomile

Close-up of Dyer's chamomile plants in bloom in a sunny garden. Dyer's chamomile presents a charming appearance with its feathery, finely divided foliage and cheerful yellow daisy-like flowers.
Cota tinctoria yields a delicate yellow hue for natural dyes.

When you think of uses for chamomile, you probably imagine steeping the flowers in hot water to create a calming tea. While Roman and German chamomile lend a sweet flavor and relaxing touch to herbal preparations, dyer’s chamomile (Cota tinctoria) is renowned for its subtle yellow color rather than aromatic properties.

The plants produce feathery foliage similar to other chamomile species. However, they send out entirely yellow flowers on elongated stems. New blooms continue to emerge throughout the summer, allowing for a continuous harvest. The plants prefer full sun to partial shade and dry to semi-dry soil.

These sweet yellow blooms produce a cheerful yellow color that’s more lightfast than many other yellow plant natural dyes. You can also use dyer’s chamomile to transform blue indigo-dyed fabrics into shades of teal and green.


Close-up of flowering Goldenrod plants in a sunny garden. Goldenrod, characterized by its vibrant and cheerful presence, showcases lance-shaped leaves arranged along sturdy stems. Atop these stems, clusters of small, bright yellow flowers bloom profusely, creating a striking contrast against the deep green foliage. The blossoms are composed of numerous tiny florets.
Capture late summer’s golden hues with roadside blooms.

One of my favorite parts of late summer and fall is watching goldenrod blooms transform roadside edges and meadows into seas of yellow. Fortunately, you can capture this golden color by using the flowers as natural dyes. By altering how long you leave the material in the dye bath, it creates shades ranging from pale yellow to deep mustard.

While all goldenrod plants produce bright yellow flowers, there are many different species native to different regions. Some produce flowers arranged in upright plumes, others have a cluster of flusters arranged in a flat shape, and others send out horizontal branches topped with flowers. Each species has a preferred soil type and moisture level, so it’s beneficial to spend a few minutes finding a species well-suited to your property.

The flowers send out lots of seeds to collect in the fall and sow in the spring. You can also divide mature goldenrod clumps to propagate new plants.


Close-up of Greenthread plants blooming on a blurred green background. Greenthread displays a delicate yet vibrant appearance with its slender, thread-like leaves and petite yellow flowers. Each stem bears multiple small, daisy-like flowers with bright yellow petals surrounding a central disk of bright burgundy red color.
Bring sunny hues to your landscape with greenthread flowers.

Also known as Navajo tea, the Thelesperma genus brightens up landscapes with sunny yellow flowers and thin green leaves. From a distance, it’s easy to mistake the plants for a yellow-flower cosmos or coreopsis. And while these plants all belong to the aster family, they’re in separate genera.

It’s native to the Central Plains, where its deep taproot helps it survive prolonged droughts. However, the plant really shines when given regular access to water. Moisture helps the plant produce the bright yellow flowers it’s known for. Since the plant has a taproot, aim to direct sow rather than transplant.

When it comes to using greenthread as a natural dye, you’ll want to harvest the flowers and boil them in a dye bath. The dye will add a pleasing yellow hue. Harvest the foliage and create an herbal tea.

Japanese Indigo

Close-up of Japanese indigo plants blooming in a garden. Japanese indigo, scientifically known as Persicaria tinctoria, presents a striking appearance with its lush, oval-shaped leaves and delicate clusters of tiny white to pink flowers. The leaves have many purple-pink spots.
Achieve beautiful blues with Japanese indigo’s vibrant foliage.

People use the term indigo to refer to shades of blue as well as numerous plants that create blue dyes. One of these plants is Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria). These vegetative plants are members of the buckwheat family and produce elongated green leaves.

Since Japanese indigo produces a lot of vegetative growth in a single season, it’s a great option if you live in an area that receives frosts. Start seeds indoors during the late winter and transplant the seedlings in full sun after the last frost. The plants remain compact, so space them an inch or two apart.

Keep the soil moist and fertilize with nutrient-rich compost. After a month or two, your plants should be a few feet tall. Use pruning shears to trim the stems a few inches above the ground—the remaining foliage will continue to grow and allow for another harvest. You can use the fresh leaves immediately or dry the leaves for future use.


Close-up of a flowering Madder plant in full sun in a garden. Madder presents an elegant appearance with its sprawling vines adorned by lance-shaped leaves arranged in whorls along the stems. The plant's inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers bloom in clusters.
Unlock vibrant reds with the ancient dye plant madder.

Madder (Rubia tinctorum) has been used for centuries to add bright, deep red hues. It’s native to the Middle East and Mediterranean, but trade routes spread throughout Europe and North Africa. That explains why you can find madder-dyed linen in the tombs of ancient pharaohs and the remains of Mt. Vesuvius.

The herbaceous above-ground portion of madder plants isn’t anything special, but the bright red roots are amazing. Madder grows as a perennial, and it requires a few years to develop a robust root system you can harvest. Therefore, it’s better to add to your dye garden sooner rather than later. However, note that the plant’s spreading rhizomes can cause it to become an invasive plant in some areas.

Madder can overwinter successfully in zones 5-9. The plants prefer loose, well-draining soil and full sun. When you harvest the roots and rhizomes, leave a portion of the plant in the ground to continue growing.


Close-up of blooming marigolds in a sunny garden. Marigolds boast sturdy stems adorned with fern-like leaves arranged in pairs. Atop these stems, clusters of semi-double daisy-like flowers bloom profusely in shades of fiery red with thin yellow edges on the petals and with contrasting centers of golden yellow.
Transform your garden blooms into vibrant natural dyes.

Since marigold is a popular garden plant, you may already have a few of these flowers growing in your garden. Whether you’re growing signet marigolds, African marigolds, or another marigold variety, you can use the flowers as a botanical dye. The warm-colored flowers produce colors ranging from yellow to orange to brown.

Transplant marigold plants into your garden after the last spring frost in an area with full sun. The plants will start flowering in the early summer and produce blooms until the first frost. Since both fresh and dried flowers work well as dyes, you can preserve excess flowers for winter dyeing projects.


Close-up of a female gardener wearing a green glove holding freshly picked onion plants in a sunny garden against a blurred background. Onion plants exhibit a distinctive appearance with their upright stems topped by long, slender leaves that emerge from a basal rosette. These leaves are hollow and cylindrical, with a waxy texture and a rich green color. Onion s develop a bulbous, tear-shaped structure composed of tightly packed layers of yellowish-white color. These bulbous are covered with a thin, golden-brown husk.
Turn onion skins into stunning botanical dyes for textiles.

Not only are onions a must-have vegetable in your kitchen, but they also lend themselves well to natural dyeing. Since the onions’ skins are the valuable item for dyeing, you can eat the onion bulb in the kitchen and use the skins in your dye vat. Yellow onion skins produce beautiful shades of gold and yellow while red onion skins turn textiles colors ranging from light pink to deep reddish-brown.

If you want to grow onions at home, you can start with seeds, sets, or transplants. In most climates, you can plant onion sets or transplants in the spring a few weeks before the last frost. Start seeds indoors in mid-winter so they’re ready to transplant outdoors when the weather warms. Growers in zones 7 and above can plant onions in mid-to-late fall and overwinter them.

Osage Orange

Close-up of an Osage orange tree with ripening fruits. Its distinctive fruit is large, rough-textured, and bumpy, resembling a wrinkled green brain. The leaves are broad, glossy, and a vibrant shade of green. They are arranged alternately along the branches and have a distinct ovate or elliptical shape with a pointed tip.
Produce vibrant yellows and earthy greens with Osage orange.

If you live in the Southeast, you’re likely familiar with the Osage orange (Maclura pomifera)… even if you don’t know it. These native trees produce knobby, bright green fruits the size of softballs. People also refer to the trees as hedge apples since they use their quick-growing wood to form living hedges.

Cutting open an Osage orange branch or trunk reveals vibrant yellow wood. You can use wood chips or sawdust to create a dye bath that produces a yellow color. Adding iron to the dye bath will lead to earthy olive greens.


Close-up of a flowering Scabiosa plant against a blurred background of green foliage. Scabiosa presents a charming appearance with its slender, wiry stems adorned by lance-shaped leaves that form a basal rosette. Atop these stems, intricate spherical flower heads bloom in a rich, deep magenta hue, each composed of numerous tiny florets surrounded by delicate, fringed bracts.
Indulge in the versatile hues of scabiosa blooms.

Also known as pincushion flower, scabiosa is a popular cut flower with long, thin stems topped with whimsical blooms. Scabiosa comes in various colors, but deep magenta flowers are the most popular for dyeing. These flowers can produce shades ranging from blue to purple to pink, and the color depends on the pH and mordant.

If you’d like to grow scabiosa at home, keep in mind these plants prefer moderate temperatures rather than intense heat or cold. That means they grow best in the spring, early summer, and early fall. Starting seeds indoors and then transplanting the seedlings outside allows you to get a jump on the growing season.

Scabiosa plants prefer full sun and well-draining soil. Keep the soil moist when the plants are establishing in their new homes. Once they’re settled, they can tolerate moderate drought. Spend time deadheading old flowers to encourage the plants to produce new blooms.

True Indigo

Close-up of a flowering True Indigo plant against a blurred background of green foliage. The plant presents a picturesque sight with its slender stems adorned by pinnate leaves composed of small, oblong leaflets. Atop these stems, clusters of tiny, pea-like flowers bloom of delicate pink color.
Embrace the timeless beauty of true indigo’s rich blues.

True indigo (Indigofera tinctoria) is a leguminous plant that’s one of the main sources of natural blue dye. Not to be confused with blue false indigo, this plant grows as a medium to large shrub with round leaves and long clusters of pink flowers. Since people have cultivated true indigo for such a long time, it’s hard to say exactly where it originated. However, most experts believe it’s native to somewhere in Asia.

When you look at true indigo plants, it’s difficult to imagine how these green plants produce such vibrant blues. The truth is it’s a particular process. First, dyers ferment the leaves so the plant’s compounds convert into an insoluble indigotin dye pigment. Then, they add a reducing agent and a base to make the dye compounds soluble. The resulting solution will appear green, but when items are dipped and exposed to air, they will oxidize and turn blue.

True indigo plants can’t survive hard frosts, so they’re best grown in zones 10 and above. You can treat the plants as annuals, but they won’t produce much foliage in a single year of growth. Japanese indigo is a suitable alternative if you live in a temperate climate.


Close-up of a flowering Reseda luteola plant in a garden. Reseda luteola presents an elegant appearance with its slender, erect stems adorned by lance-shaped leaves that are smooth and slightly gray-green in color. Atop these stems, clusters of tiny, inconspicuous greenish-yellow flowers bloom profusely.
Harness the vibrant yellows of weld for your botanical dyes.

Also known as Dyer’s rocket, weld (Reseda luteola) is one of the best plants for producing vibrant, lightfast yellows. While many plants add a yellow color to wool, silk, cotton, and other natural materials, few people would argue that weld is one of the best plants for producing a long-lasting color. The color comes from a pigment called luteolin, found throughout the plant.

Weld is native to Europe and Western Asia, but it has become naturalized in some parts of the United States. Since it thrives in poor soil where few other plants can survive, it’s become a common weed in some regions. So, take care if you decide to plant it at home.

Since weld has a taproot, it grows best when directly sown. You can harvest the leaves and stems anytime if you’d like to dye with weld. However, the plants contain the largest concentration of luteolin just as they’re starting to flower.

Final Thoughts

The next time you’re looking for a fun and creative plant-related project, keep natural dyes in mind. Whether you’re seeking a specific color or want to experiment with plant pigments, the plants I mentioned above are a great place to start.

Close-up of blooming wild violets in the garden. Viola sororia presents delicate, heart-shaped leaves in a lush rosette formation, tinged with shades of green. Its dainty, five-petaled flowers bloom in clusters on slender stems, showing a deep purple color. The flowers feature intricate veining.


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