Natural Dyeing with Invasive Plants

As an amateur baker, I am not unfamiliar with the idea of dyeing. When I bake breads and cupcakes for special occasions, I always add food dye to make the product more visually appealing. When I want my chiffon cake to look springlike and floral, I will swirl a hint of red dragon fruit extract into the mix. For the St. Patrick’s day, I added pandan essence to my cookie dough to resonate with the greenness of avocado’s skin. 

Prior to attending this workshop, I have never thought about the idea of extracting natural dye from the invasive plants. I am fascinated by the idea of controlling invasive species while producing useful dyes for art creation. As introduced by the speaker, Ms. Emma Akmakdjian, I am surprised by the sources of natural dye we can obtain. Aside from the commonly known sources of natural dyes from various parts of plants, insects, lichens, fungi, and minerals all can be extracted to give dye. We talked about the history of using these dyes starting back to the Stone Age, when our early ancestors used natural pigment for their textiles. And we have evolved our history of textile dyeing. Tyrian purple, which is made from a mollusk, represents a color of high achievement. Cochineal red is made from parasitic insects that live on cacti. And the “redcoat” of the British Army were dyed with cochineal. Madder red is from the roots of the plants and it’s found in mummies, while the indigo blue is from the process of fermentation and oxidation. 

Aside from the history of natural dyes, we have also discussed the environmental concerns that give rise from the invasive species. And how the idea of making dyes from those invasive species sparked. We explored several invasive plants which can be used as natural dyes. Some examples are hibiscus, lantana, and pandanus species. Unfortunately, we can only attend this workshop virtually and I don’t have the supply for extracting dyes. And it would have been an interesting experience that we can have no guilt about peeling off the bark or pulling up the whole plant to make these natural dyes, while saving the environment.