Natural Dyes

Since a few years ago, when I read a very intriguing article, Eastertime has become a time for experimentation – for experimenting with natural dyes! For the eggs, obviously.

Now, tradition has it that you use onion skins – gives a nice warm reddish-brown tone, and if you stick little leaves and shoots and spring flowers around the surface of the egg and wrap it in some extra onion skin and gauze (or old pantyhose), you can get some wonderful imprinting and marbling on your egg, in tones of yellow and green.

My original break with tradition occurred about 5 years ago, when I read about red cabbage – apparently, using boiled red cabbage produces a lovely shade of blue, plus you can also do the usual addition of shoots-and-flowers, and also get marbling effects.

It works.

Also with snowdrops and an onionskin direct on the shell. One of this year’s efforts – and boy is it difficult to get some good focus on eggs! © rq, all rights reserved.

That blue tone at the bottom? If you use red cabbage correctly, it gets even more vivid.

However! In subsequent years I have read about other plant-based materials that can be used as dyes: beets (for raspberry red), turmeric (for deep yellow), blueberries (for dark blue/black), etc. This year I decided to experiment a little again, since I have transferred my knowledge of red cabbage to the immediate family, and it’s time to try something new (the blue colour is no longer original once everyone is doing it).

Meet this year’s subjects:

From left to right: curry and chamomile; red cabbage; beets; hibiscus tea; onion skin. © rq, all rights reserved.

To review the results:

  1. I expected more from the turmeric, but this just proves you can’t trust online blog posts raving about the wonderful shades of golden-yellow, even if you follow their instructions word for word;
  2. Red cabbage is both a stable value and also quite versatile with the patterning, adding an onion skin for colour will not ruin the dye;
  3. Beets are fakers – I tried beets a few years ago with similar results but was willing to give them a second chance, but alas, if this is raspberry red, then someone needs to review their colour wheel;
  4. Hibiscus tea is a keeper and shall be repeated because it has a wonderful deep shade of blue-black and also holds up well with patterning for some very interesting colouring;
  5. Onion skins is old reliable onion skins and to ensure at least a few good-looking eggs should be used every year.

A few close-ups:

Hibiscus tea with dandelion and a few other new leaves. © rq, all rights reserved.

Curry and chamomile, plus some directly applied onion skin, which is what provides the brilliant colour; probably will not repeat this shade in future. © rq, all rights reserved.

Raspbery red, tplrplrplr. The applied botanicals is what saves this one. © rq, all rights reserved.

Paired red cabbage with onion skin again – this colour pairing, along with hibiscus with onion skin, are my favourites for the contrasts it provides. © rq, all rights reserved.

Onion skins with new leaves of goutweed and dandelion blossom. Classic. © rq, all rights reserved.

The family portrait: a nice spectrum of naturally produced colours. © rq, all rights reserved.

So there you have it – low effort and high quality coloured eggs from ordinary things you can find in your kitchen (or get for cheap). If I don’t forget, I might do a tutorial post for next year, because the whole process is ridiculously easy.

(Choir Juventus  cover, original here.)


  1. kestrel says

    These are amazing.

    I spent some time working with vegetal dyes for fiber, but of course there, you have to use a mordant and that can take a lot of the fun out of it. This is way better.

    One thing I’ve always wondered: how do birds manage to turn elderberries into the most permanent stain ever (I have sheets that were out on the line to dry as evidence), yet I have a hard time getting it “fast” on fiber. One of the mysteries of life.

    Also this reminds me of a certain dish where you hard-boil eggs for like, 12 hours. They turn the most amazing color (inside the shell) and apparently the flavor really changes too.

  2. says

    I think they all look pretty, even though the red is not red at all. Have you tried nettle roots? Allegedly they are a good natural dye as well.
    We used to have books with dye recipes for easter eggs, I wonder where they are. There certainly was red and black in there.

  3. ridana says

    I’m kind of curious what red (and green) bell pepper juice would yield (and if that doesn’t totally flop, maybe red chilis too). When I chop up red peppers for salads or just to snack on, they turn everything red. :)

    I’m also wondering why the trio in the center of the 2nd row from the front are so different from their counterparts in the other rows.

  4. voyager says

    They’re wonderful. I’m partial to the blue ones, but I love the look of them all together in the basket.
    When I was a kid my mom and I dyed eggs at Easter, but we used packages of colour dye. This is so much nicer.

  5. Bruce says

    These eggs look really nice -- true art.
    Just to add a note of chemistry, the red cabbage works by releasing dye molecules called anthocyanins. The color of these molecules depends on the pH or acidity.
    Try taking some red cabbage extract liquid and distributing it among several cups. Then to each cup add different drops of vinegar, baking soda, or lye, to have different acidities. You should be able to get several different color tones from one batch of red cabbage juice. Have fun.

  6. rq says

    Most methods do recommend adding vinegar to the dye soup for better colour adherence. And the hibiscus tea colour was quite water soluble, while the red cabbage isn’t. I haven’t delved too deep into the actual chemistry, but my basic method is: choose vegetable for dye and chop up lots; add water, enough to cover vegetable and leave some headspace, but not too much; add about a tablespoon of vinegar (some ‘recipes’ recommend salt too but meh); boil. Subsequent steps differ (for onion skins, the boiling is enough; for a good red cabbage colour, the dye soup should be cooled and the eggs left in for something like 3 hours, etc.). But yeah, any stains I get on my clothing wash right out…
    As for birds and elderberries, that one is also beyond me. :D


    I’m also wondering why the trio in the center of the 2nd row from the front are so different from their counterparts in the other rows.

    They have added onion skin, their other colour partners did not. What that means is that, once I have applied the leaves and flowers and other items of decoration, and prior to wrapping in gauze / placing inside pantyhose, I add a leaf or two of onion skin, which has the additional role of helping keep the decorative elements in place. Some of the onion skin is in direct contact with the eggshell, and these are the rusty-brown parts you can see. Due to whichever dye soup in which I place them, the ‘basic’ colour will be that one, but the onion skin is strong enough to keep its colour. If that makes any sense. For the trio specifically, the dye soup each received is simply a shade that is in high contrast with the onion skin colour, and so the effect is that much more dramatic.
    I will try and prepare a how-to tutorial next year to explain these steps so that you all can see the preparation and match uncoloured eggs with the finished product.

    That sounds like altogether too much work, but thanks for the idea! :D

  7. cherbear says

    curiously enough, avocado skins and pits make a pink dye. I haven’t done it myself, so don’t know how you would do it.

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