Cindy Shapton is the former owner of Hyssop Hill Herb Farm in Franklin, Tennessee. These days, Cindy writes, speaks, blogs and gardens with her canine helper, Sweet Annie. Get a copy of her book, The Cracked Pot Herb Book at www.cindyshapton.com.

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Color Eggs with Natural Dyes from the Garden
by Cindy Shapton       #Colorful   #Crafts   #Holiday: Easter   #How to

Eggs soaked in dyes from garden plants vary from pastel shades to deeper, more vivid hues. Have fun experimenting with veggies, fruits, spices and herbs to create a rainbow of colors.
 

Brightly colored eggs were often given as gifts by the ancient Greeks, Persians and Chinese at their annual spring celebrations. Early Christians gave decorated and dyed eggs as a symbol of Jesus’ Resurrection as early as the Middle Ages to friends, family and servants on Easter Sunday.

Our German ancestors then brought this tradition of coloring “Easter eggs” to America and interestingly, it didn’t really take off until after the Civil War.

Hard to imagine but folks in those days couldn’t go to the department store and buy egg coloring kits. So, what did they use to dye their eggs? If you read the title then you guessed it: flowers, leaves and fruits of plants growing nearby or in their gardens.

It is interesting to note that many of the plant materials that were used as dyes often were cool-season crops that were ready about the same time as Easter. Beets, cabbage, carrots, kale, onions and spinach were some of the vegetables chopped and simmered for dyes. Herbs and seasonings that had been dried were steeped into teas, or canned fruits and vegetables from the pantry were available if needed.
 

Carrots are two dyes in one: Use the tops for a yellow color and the roots for orange. • Chopped beets are an old-time favorite for dying eggs pink. • Kale is readily available in the garden in early spring and makes a lovely green dye.
 

Here are some suggestions for plant dye materials to get the colors you like for the hot or cold process, but feel free to experiment.

Generally speaking, 4 cups chopped vegetables or fruit and about 3 tablespoons of spices in a quart or so of water with 1-2 tablespoons of vinegar will give the best results.

Blue – Violet blossoms; canned, frozen or fresh blueberries (crushed); chopped red cabbage leaves; purple grape juice
Green – Chopped spinach or kale
Yellow-green – ‘Yellow Delicious’ apple peels from four to six large apples
Yellow – Orange or lemon peels, chopped carrot tops, celery seed, ground cumin, ground turmeric or ½ teaspoon of saffron threads (continue soaking in refrigerator overnight)
Orange – Yellow onion skins (about 12 – this is a good time to make onion soup!), shredded carrots
Pink – Chopped beets, cranberries, raspberries, red grape juice
Salmon – ½ cup of paprika
Burgundy – Red wine used in place of water (add vinegar)
Brown-tan – Strong coffee (about a quart)
Red – Red onion skins (lots – you can save them up ahead of time), cranberry juice (use in place of water but remember the vinegar), canned cherries with syrup

Dyeing eggs with herbs, veggies and fruit is an easy and natural process that the whole family can enjoy. Like the petrochemical dye kits, this can get messy and will stain clothes, countertops, floors, pets and whatever else it comes in contact with, so plan accordingly by wearing old T-shirts and covering the work area with a plastic tablecloth.

There are three basic processes using natural plant materials to color eggs:

1.  A hot process where plant material and eggs are boiled together.
2.  A cold process where plant material and eggs are prepared separately.
3.  Eggs soaked in herb tea.

For the hot method: This is a quick process that boils and dyes eggs at the same time. Place a single layer of white eggs in a non-aluminum pan covered with cold filtered water. Add a splash of white vinegar (about a tablespoon) to set the dye. Add plant material to produce the color you wish. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 10 -15 minutes. Check the color with a slotted spoon periodically.

If the color is good, pour off the hot liquid and rinse eggs until they are cool, then store in refrigerator. If you want a deeper color, strain the hot liquid through a coffee filter and cool while you are rinsing the eggs. Then place the boiled eggs in a glass bowl and cover with the strained, cooled dye liquid and place in refrigerator until desired shade is achieved. It won’t take that long, less than a day or overnight. More than 12 hours will only make colors muddy looking.
 

Grapes in the form of juice or wine can be used to dye eggs shades of blue to burgundy. • It’s no surprise that cool-season vegetables like red cabbage have a long tradition of egg dying for springtime Easter eggs.
 

Here are some easy color combinations to try for the cold-dipped process:

Pale yellow – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes.
Orange – Soak eggs in onion skin dye for 30 minutes.
Light brown – Soak eggs in black coffee dye for 30 minutes.
Light pink – Soak eggs in beet dye for 30 minutes.
Light blue – Soak eggs in red cabbage dye for 30 minutes.
Royal blue – Soak eggs in red cabbage dye overnight.
Lavender – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes, then cabbage dye for 30 minutes.
Chartreuse – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes, then beet dye for about five seconds.
Salmon – Soak eggs in turmeric dye for 30 minutes, then beet dye for 30 minutes.

For a mottled look, wrap uncooked eggs with leaves or onion skins followed by a piece of cotton muslin. Gather and tie up tightly with some cotton string. Cover wrapped eggs with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Drain and rinse with cool water before unwrapping.

For the cold-dipped method of natural dye, place natural plant material (about 4 cups) or spices (3 tablespoons) in about a quart of filtered water. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of white vinegar and simmer for about 30 minutes. Cool to room temperature and strain into glass bowls. Place cooled, boiled eggs in dye for about 30 minutes; for a darker hue place in refrigerator overnight. This is another easy method with children. Use the same plant materials as used in the hot method above.

Herb tea can be used to dye eggs naturally. Simply pour boiling water over herbs in a covered non-aluminum pan, quart jar or tea pot. Steep for 10-15 minutes then place cooled, boiled eggs in the tea and soak for 30 minutes. For darker hues, continue soaking eggs in tea overnight in the refrigerator. This gives some interesting soft shades of color and is easy for kids to help with.

Use 1-3 teaspoons of dried herbs for each cup of boiling water (use three times the amount if herbs are fresh). For darker shades, add a little more. I usually make about 3-4 cups of tea for each herb I choose to use. Added vinegar works well for spices but isn’t necessary for herbs.
 

Steep the flowers of calendula for a natural herb tea dye. • Eggs soaked in lavender tea have a light blue-green color and smell like a warm summer’s day in the garden.

 

Herb tea egg dye combinations:

Yellow to peach – Calendula flowers
Yellow – Chamomile flowers
Dull green – Dill weed
Sage green – Sage leaves (no surprise here)
Medium green – Green tea
Light pink – Rosehips
Yellow to orange – Safflower petals
Red – Hibiscus flowers
Light brown – Cinnamon
Light blue-green – Lavender buds
Light purple – Blackberry leaves
Brown – Oolong tea
Mottled orange-brown – Rooibos tea

If you plan to eat your naturally dyed eggs, be diligent to refrigerate after the coloring process is complete.

To make dyed eggs that can be used for several years, poke a hole in both ends of fresh eggs with a pin or small nail. Blow the yolks and whites out into a bowl (quiche fixings). Be sure to pierce the yolks so it is easier to blow out without passing out! These beautiful eggs can be displayed by hanging from branches or wreaths on the front door.

It is a good idea to write down what dye or combination works well – I know you think you will remember next year but just in case, go ahead and make a note. Dyeing eggs from natural plant materials is fun for the whole family and makes a great science project for the kids.

Try brown eggs too, I love the different shades they produce.

Make this the year you go “green” and start a new tradition of dyeing Easter eggs the natural way, just like great-great-grandmother did using materials from the kitchen and garden.

 

A version of this article appeared in a March 2011 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photography courtesy of Cindy Shapton.

 

Posted: 03/12/18   RSS | Print

 

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