Tuesday, June 05, 2012

dyeing with bedstraw - galium boreale

While reading through some posts in a foraging group I belong to on fb, I noticed a plant that looked familiar.  The group was referring to it at "Cleaver" an edible plant, and I felt sure that I had seen it somewhere in the yard.  I did a little reading and found that the Cleavers, or Catchweed, or Bedstraw, (and many other names attached to it) have many different species and are in the Rubiaceae family...the madder family...MADDER!  Now I was excited, as I knew madder roots to be a good dyestuff but one I hadn't tried before.

Out to the yard I went and I immediately spotted clumps of Bedstraw, mostly Galium boreale or northern Bedstraw.  The more I looked, the more I saw.  They were everywhere.

I gathered up a pile of them in my basket and sat down to extract just the roots.

After all of my processing I was left with a small tangle of roots.  I felt like this dye experiment would be akin to dyeing with saffron threads.  A lot of effort for very little dye material.

I tried to be tricky and leave some of the reddish stalk on the root but after rinsing and drying briefly, it was clear they would be of no help.  The tiny roots came off too.  If you look closely you can see an orangish color to the root part that is good for dyeing. 

I had read that madder is sensitive to heat so I didn't put this on the stove, rather I tucked all of my washed and (briefly) dried roots into a dye jar, covered them with water, and allowed them to sit.  Within an hour there was color in the water, which caused me to squeal excitedly, to no one in particular.  (it happens a lot)

After letting the roots stew in the dye jar for a few days I got a little anxious for results and decided to simmer some down.  I put the whole batch in the dye pot and let it simmer for about an hour.  After straining out the dye stuffs I added my wool and cotton that I had mordanted with alum, brought the temp just up to a simmer then turned it off and let it sit overnight.

From left to right on the photo above - alum, an overdye on dandelion flower (pale yellow), an overdye on black walnut (cocoa brown), and an exhaust bath.

Cotton fabric and floss took on an earthy pink.

I wanted to see how well the wool would hold its color once felted so I wet-felted a stone with it.  It retained its carrot-orange color.  I haven't gotten a true orange before with natural dyeing so this was pretty exciting.  I'm going to try thoroughly drying the roots next time to see if it changes the color.

I found two other species of Bedstraw that day too, galium triflorum, which smells like a weaker version of sweetgrass (which I love), and galium aparine which is fuzzy and the aptly named "catchweed".  The northern bedstraw was by far more abundant, which is why I chose to use it for dyeing.  It's believed that bedstraw used to be dried and, you guessed it, used to stuff mattresses.  The catchweed can be used as a sieve with its tiny hairs acting as a strainer.

Pretty cool stuff, and abundant here.  Though, as with all of my foraging, I only take a few from each spot so as not to deplete any one area.

Amazing what you can find in your own backyard.


Sonia / COZY MEMORIES said...

my goodness me, lady !!!!!!
look at these results ! I am so happy for you !
except onion peels, nothing gave me such an orange color !
what a discovery ! I'll be looking online if it's something that grows over here, but given the dryness of our region, I doubt about it.

Sonia / COZY MEMORIES said...

just did a little research & apparently Galium verum grows over here ... now I'll have to look for it ..... (easier said than done ! LOL) oxox

joanie said...

What beautiful colours you've ended up with, I love that shade of pink so much.
The only thing abundant enough in our new garden to harvest is Ground Elder, brought over by the Romans for food and now taking over gardens everywhere. I like the bitter taste and it's scent but haven't found any info on dyeing with it. After seeing your experiment maybe I should chuck it in a pot and see what happens!

lynn bowes said...

Is this the same plant that feels sort of 'sticky' when you pull it out of the ground? Catches on your pant legs and socks? Beautiful color you're getting with the root, for sure :: lynn

Anonymous said...

What a bonanza!! And in your own backyard!
I planted madder this year.... we'll see how it does.
But now I want to plant bedstraw too!

Katerina said...

You always have such interesting posts.

A Deegan said...

at last a plant i recognise :) we have loads of "sticky buds" or cleavers here, i'll try this out on the next batch i uproot

redwitch said...

How fascinating! I used to have Lady's Bedstraw growing in my garden but it died off but I have plenty of cleavers - always pulling them up! Now I shall try experimenting with them. Thank you :))

KristĂ­n Hrund said...

It´s so very fascinating to experiment like this, and discover some new dyeing-material! :-) What a beautiful colour you got!!

Tara said...

I love reading about your foraging experiments, Lisa. I have also been meaning to email you but life gets away from me sometimes. I received my necklace a couple of weeks ago and I love it. It is as beautiful as I imagined and has become one of my favourite pieces. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

fantastic find and colour!

Anonymous said...

fantastic find and colour!

kris@thebigboat said...

I've spent much time pulling the sticky catchweed/cleavers out of my father's garden, now I know what to do with this quick-growing plant! I love the pink and the orange.

Sandies' Patch said...

Love the colour(s) esp. the pinker the better!
When you said 'cleavers' my heart skipped a beat, as we have an abundance of the one with the 'sticky' seeds on. Will that one do the same job I wonder?
We just call it 'sticky buds'!

I hope you are keeping careful notes on these dyeing processes and the colours you achieve? We'll be asking questions!

Have a great weekend,

Sandie xx

Margie Oomen said...

you are a wonderful root puller and the orange tones are just great. I think you dye pot is cheering for Holland in the Euro cup 2012:)

Mia said...

A wonderful colour you got from your roots :)

Teresa said...

Thanks for all the great info. I'll try this soon since there is a LOT of bedstraw growing in my gardens in Saskatoon. Missed the dandelions but there are lots of leaves on the fruit trees and creeping bellflower, etc.
There was very little snow cover last winter so a lot of plants didn't show up. Miss them.


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